Construction of a Heart

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It is such a cliché.

It is a new year and in a new year, people resolve to make changes.

I hate to admit this, but maybe I have fallen prey to this type of thinking. Yesterday I set a “benchmark” for my health. I weighed, I took my blood pressure and got my heart rate: 67 beats per minute.

The human heart is a big deal. My 67 beats are important. Pastor Mark Labberton says we use the word heart “about something that seems so central to our life: intimate, powerful, emotional, vulnerable, defining. Whatever we are and whatever we are seeing and doing, our hearts respond to and shape what happens” [Labberton, 19].

It is a metaphor. When someone says that a person has a big heart, we don’t take that literally. When someone says that their heart is broken, we don’t think that anything is really broken. A worker who puts their heart into their work is not really taking an organ out of their body and doing anything with it.

The heart is indeed an organ that is central to everyone’s life and heart is a word we use to describe something that is important to us, a way of discussing what we see and what we feel. Heart can describe how we respond to life.

We may think that our hearts are personal just to us and of course they are, but Christians should consider that our hearts are of immense interest to God. The Bible says our hearts have been made to love God and one need not look any further that the oft-quoted Scripture of Mark 12: 30-31 for confirmation of that. Many read these verses and focus on the heart that is made to love God, but the words have a dual focus: we are to love our neighbors. That flows from our love of God.

How can a guy like me love my neighbor? I am a Caucasian from Western Kentucky, product of a father who was a school teacher and mother who worked various office jobs over the years. By any measurement, I had very loving parents. I lived on a small farm, eleven miles from a small town of three thousand people. I loved going to school; that was an environment where I felt at home so it was natural for me to go to college. I loved English and history and majored in those subjects. The college I attended was mostly Caucasian but there was some diversity. I encountered other viewpoints in my educational experience as I studied with students who were not from my race and ethnicity. I took a full-time job as a college teacher at a community college where I was asked to teach speech communication. I went back to college to take course work and felt so fascinated by this new discipline that I eventually attended the largest university in my state, where I got a Ph.D. in speech communication. I could have taught at other colleges with my new degree but I did not want to. I felt that teaching was my strength, not research, and I liked the part of the country where I was located.

I tell you all this to illustrate where I come from in my life. My “heart” is the heart of someone who lives a pretty privileged life. I have never been poor, I have always been busy in my life with mentally challenging work and I have always had professional associations that were for the most part pleasant.

This is the way I have seen life. Some would say this is how my heart was constructed. It is my viewpoint. The social system that has surrounded me for most of my life has built my heart. I guess I should not feel bad about it. Things could have turned out differently but they didn’t. We are all social beings and as we live life, what we encounter and how we respond to life constitutes our makeup. Pastor Labberton says “we think our hearts are just our own construction. But our hearts are shaped by the cultural and social assumptions around and within them. We hold all of this in our hearts, and our hearts reflect both our own story and our collected stories.”

With this as our foundation, what do we do with our life experience? Do we wall off others we encounter who have lived a life that is very different from us? Do we shrink from opportunities to help others because they are so different from us? Do we denigrate others who have a wholly different life experience from us, casting judgement on them, putting them down and building ourselves up?

It is a choice we have to make. We can try to reinvent ourselves but probably most people don’t really try to do that. Most of us just respond to life as we have lived life, how life has “constructed us.”

Pastor Labberton sprinkles personal stories into his book and he recounts a moment when he read a story to his son about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. His son’s response to the story was so wonderful, a moment that a parent clings to: he said “Daddy, Jesus is in my heart.”

I know my heart beat 67 beats per minute yesterday and for that I am thankful, but what am I going to do with my life? Am I going to resist loving my neighbors, am I going to express prejudice, am I going to live a life of total self-absorption? I hope not, for Jesus expects me to do more with my life than that.

I am to love Him with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself.

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