Monday, April 23, 2012

My Guarded Heart

I am back.  The past 3 days can't be described as a retreat.  The best word I could use is "experience."  I write on this blog often but find that I struggle for the words that can bear the magnitude of the things I experienced in the past 3 days.

And I think that's exactly why so much of events like Walk to Emmaus are kept "secret."  With a secret, there are perceived potential negative consequences if the secret is told.  The "secrets" of the Walk aren't kept private because there could be a negative impact or consequence- it's because those who have been through this know that to share everything, to show the details would mean that you will lessen the experience for those who will go in the future.  And the experience was so indescribable that I wouldn't want to influence or detract in any way from someone else's journey.  There are things about my experience that I can't share simply because there aren't words for it.  There are things about this experience I wouldn't want to tell someone considering going because a key element is keeping yourself open to any and all possibilities.  If you are anticipating or expecting specific events, your focus isn't in the right place.

The things I share aren't going to be about the events of the Walk to Emmaus but, instead, about some things I experienced that have impacted my life in a way that I believe I will carry with me for a very long time.

I was fortunate to attend this experience with other women from my church- some I already called friends and some I was eager to get to know better.  I come away from this time with them knowing they are more than friends- they are my sisters.

Some of those women had anxiety and fear going into this experience.  Concern about the family or other obligations going on at home without them, fear of the unknown of the experience itself.  I went in excited and eager.  I felt like I was open to whatever would come my way- as I often work to be most of the time.

But I was quickly shown that my heart wasn't nearly as open as I thought it was.

My friend Ashli, who knows my heart well, had given me a bit of advice about all of this as she had attended this Walk previously.  She told me to make sure I take time for me and my purpose in being there- that I don't spend my time caring for everyone else.  My purpose in attending this experience was to deepen MY personal relationship with Christ- not to attend to whatever was around me.  And she was right.

What I wasn't expecting was that the part of me that I needed to attend to on my spiritual journey was my guarded heart.  I've felt like I'm pretty open and loving and accepting, right?  I've demonstrated that in my life, in my writing, in how I relate to others.

But what I had to work through right away was that my guarded heart had already decided things about the other people attending this experience and working and running this experience.  I had already decided that, aside from those I did know well, these other Christians were obviously not nearly as open minded, loving, accepting, or tolerant as I am.  (Oh, hello, ego!)  My life experience and experiences shared with me by others had hardened my heart against people on my same path.  Yes, there are some who are bigoted, prejudiced, and have their own hearts hardened against others based on labels, the unknown, and ignorance.     I don't deny that.  But there are also more that are seeking to truly love all people based on God's love only. I just didn't realize that I was holding on to the first stereotype of Christianity.  I've realized that I do have some shame in being known as a follower of Christ because I don't want others to use that label to define what they think they know about me.  By saying "I am a Christian," my fear is that others will decide that means I am judgmental and self-righteous.  If I say, "I follow Christ's teachings," I want to follow it up with "But."  "But I'm different from all those other Christians..."  And when I encounter other Christians, I've been putting that judgement on them immediately instead of allowing time to see God's love in them and recognize that they, too, might be trying their best to love all of God's children.  I've not been recognizing that other Christians might be in different places on the journey to fully love, accept, tolerate others who are different from our own beliefs or definitions.

"We may not all believe alike, but we can all love alike."  - John Wesley

I was almost immediately presented with people that I know God specifically placed in my path to demonstrate to me that my heart was guarded.  I was immediately challenged because I encountered a couple of women who seemed to "fit the bill" of my concerns- even before I had identified that my heart was guarded in this way.

Then I came to understand a deep tension, a coil tightly wound in my gut, as a particular subject was briefly touched upon and identified for me clearly where my own prejudices were holding me back.

And I was able to let it go.  I was able to unlock those guards that I hadn't even realized I had put up.

There is no shame or apology in my faith.  Instead, I feel even more compelled and empowered to continue to live my faith authentically and naturally as I have been doing- but to be cautious that I am not passing judgment on others in my faith.  Again- I still recognize that there are those who use the word "Christianity" as their basis and reasoning for their hate, their prejudices, and their harmful choices.  I don't dismiss that in the slightest.  That is still a battle I will continue to fight with love, strength, and absolute resolve.  But when I first meet someone and they tell me they are a Christian... or when I listen to a sermon... or when I gather with a group of others in my faith... my heart will be open to who they are and where they are instead of assuming that I already know what they feel and believe and have been taught.

And once I unlocked my heart, some truly miraculous things began to happen.

There will be more to come, more I want to share.  I don't know when I will have processed all of it enough to be able to find the words. It might come quickly, it might take time.  And some things will never be shared, I suppose.  I learned so much about listening to God's nudges the first time, about the intentional family that God has placed in my life, about what I want for my children and my husband, and about the ongoing impact that something that feels like it's small and intimate can end up having on others (even beyond any scope we could have imagined).

Most of all, I am blessed to know that I have an even larger capacity to love others than I knew.  And I have been blessed to feel an undefinable amount of love.  Freeing my guarded heart was the first step to fully experiencing my Walk to Emmaus.  Looking back, it was such a small part of the weekend.  But if it hadn't happened, if I had stayed closed off in that way, then I wouldn't have been fully engaged in what the rest of the experience held for me.

Edited to add:

One of my friends, who attended the walk with me, contacted me after reading this post to share a poem with me.  She has this on her fridge at home and my post reminded her of it.  I'd not read it before so went and did some research on it when I realized how well it fit what I was saying here.  It is sometimes credited as "author unknown" and sometimes credited to Maya Angelou.  However, it turns out it was written by a woman named Carol Wimmer.

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting, “I’ve been saved!”
I’m whispering, “I get lost!
That’s why I chose this way”

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I don’t speak with human pride
I’m confessing that I stumble -
needing God to be my guide

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong
I’m professing that I’m weak
and pray for strength to carry on

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success
I’m admitting that I’ve failed
and cannot ever pay the debt

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I don’t think I know it all
I submit to my confusion
asking humbly to be taught

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect
My flaws are far too visible
but God believes I’m worth it

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain
I have my share of heartache
which is why I seek His name

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I do not wish to judge
I have no authority
I only know I’m loved

Copyright 1988 Carol Wimmer



C. Beth said...

It sounds awesome, Liz. :) Good for you, for being open to hearing and learning.

Anonymous said...

Great post and thank you for sharing. I am on the path of Christianity but also struggle with the negative implications of saying "I am a Christian". I really enjoyed reading about what you are learning.

Cherie from the Queen of Free said...

Happy 4th Day! :) You should listen to Andy Stanley's podcast series "Christian" that he's been teaching over the last 6 or so weeks. Last week in particular was the but it addresses all that you've mentioned in your post. Loved my "experience" too and was humbled by learning from those I least expected to teach me. It's been a joy sponsoring friends as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this today. I needed to read it very much.