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On Having a Heart

I was out driving around running errands and listening to sermon podcasts today when I was confronted by one of those religious clichés that drives me nuts. I’m not talking mild irritation here, but full-on, pull-out-your-hair (if one is fortunate enough to have hair) and scream-at-the-steering-wheel-in-self-righteous-indignation nuts. It is a term or a way of speaking that I have loathed for a very long time—a hatred that undoubtedly says more about me and my own private insecurities and neuroses than it does about the term itself or the person who is using it. But still. It is an expression/way of speaking that I really, really don’t like.

You might be wondering what term could possibly inspire such an intemperate reaction. Ok, here it is: “I just have a heart for ____.”  I simply cannot stand “heart” language. In today’s case, the guest preacher began with the solemn declaration that today, rather than reheating an old (apparently heartless) sermon, he would be sharing “from the heart.” This was followed by an earnest prayer (from the heart, I assume) asking that God would give us all a “heart for” some ministry or other and that we would catch “God’s heart for” the kingdom and the world. So much heart. I thought I would burst.

Now, maybe I was just feeling unusually grouchy after an unexpected encounter with a couple of nasty Dachshunds, but for some reason hearing this phrase today really set me off.

[Side bar: I had gone to our local Anglican parish to drop off a book I had borrowed. Upon attempting to leave, I was confronted by two very loud and apparently agitated dogs. At first, I just laughed and continued on down the path (yeah, keep barking little guy… so tough!)… And then one of them clamped on to the leg of my pants… At which point this didn’t seem quite so amusing any more. I’m not sure if anyone was home at the parsonage or not, but I can only imagine the spectacle that would have presented itself to their curious gaze had they peered out their window… A grown man leaping and dancing around the courtyard of the church, trying desperately to escape the apparent (wildly disproportionate) terror of a couple of four-legged hot dogs in pursuit… Today’s moment of levity provided free of charge.]

What I usually feel like saying after someone shares that they “have a heart for ___” or that they are going to share “from the heart” or when they pray that God would give them “a heart for ____” is something like, “But wait! What will handle the pumping of blood for your body while your heart is otherwise preoccupied in all these exciting directions?

[I don’t say this out loud, you’ll be relieved to know. At least I haven’t yet. As it happens, the only match for my self-righteousness and sarcasm is my timidity and utter distaste for any and all confrontation.]

It’s not that I don’t understand what “heart for” language is meant to (vaguely) communicate. When someone shares “from the heart” they are, I suppose, sharing in an unusually personal or revealing way. They are sharing from the deepest part of who they are about things that really matter to them. I get it. And asking for “a heart for ____” or declaring that you already have “a heart for ___” is, I guess, a way of saying that you feel really strongly about something. For example, a “heart for worship,” in my experience, usually seemed to mean that someone had really, really strong and deeply cherished preference for poppy three-chord praise songs.

(Oh dear.  That sounded very grouchy, indeed.  Those nasty dogs…)

The list could (and frequently does) go on and on and on… A heart for the poor, a heart for justice, a heart for missions, a heart for addicts, a heart for kids, a heart for cynical bloggers… I’m so very glad that these things (and others) all matter deeply to people, but why, oh why can’t we just say, “justice really matters to me” or “one of my deepest theological convictions is that the gospel is good news for the poor” or I feel very strongly that bloggers shouldn’t so carelessly inflict the disease of their stupidity on the Internet” or even, gulp, “I am very passionate about global mission” (I hate the word “passion” too—see above comment about private insecurities and neuroses). However we do it, there are perfectly good and serviceable ways to say that we care about something without dragging this wretched “I have a heart for…” language into it. Aren’t there? Aren’t there?!

As I was (smugly) driving home after finishing my errands and mentally composing this blog post, a passage from the book of Ezekiel uncomfortably came to mind. Here are the well-known words spoken to weary exiles:

 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  

I believe this is what is referred to as  having one’s “bubble burst.”

Ok, well then perhaps a rethink is in order. Perhaps “heart for” language isn’t quite as silly as I am so often pleased to think that it is. Perhaps it communicates something important and true about the nature of our hope and the character of our God.  Perhaps we do need “a heart for” a wide variety of the things that lead to life and light and truth and righteousness, because the old, stony one is poorly suited for newness and just seems to do more harm than good.  Flesh for stone. Yes, the trade certainly seems a good and necessary one.

Perhaps, behind all the misuse and overuse of heart language lies the simple conviction that the God of promise, the Lord of hope will one day reclaim and remake us, and that this reclaiming and remaking must occur from the inside out.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ryan Robinson #

    Amazing. I sent this to a former housemate who often ranted about this phrase. I do generally agree that it is very overused but I also appreciate the bubble-bursting at the end that there is at least a little bit of rationale to use that language.

    January 15, 2014
    • Thanks, Ryan. I guess perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that overuse does not necessarily equal useless 🙂 .

      January 15, 2014
  2. Kevin K #

    You should just start using “bowel” language (ex. Phil 1:8 in the KJV “8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”)… I’m told it’s a more literal application of the biblical word ‘heart’ as it appears in the NIV.

    January 16, 2014
    • mike #

      hahahahahaha…..that’s good,Kevin 🙂

      “…..My heart/bowel is overflowing with good news……” Psalm 45:1 (God’s Word translation)

      January 17, 2014
    • That’s a good suggestion, Kevin! If nothing else, it would lead to some interesting conversations 🙂

      (You know, I just feel like you should know that I think God is really giving me a bowel for the kingdom… )

      January 17, 2014
      • Kevin K #

        If you find yourself listening to a speaker using heart language, just make the mental switch yourself and try not to let anyone see you snorting back laughter… annoyance to bliss in one fell swoop.

        January 17, 2014
      • 🙂

        January 17, 2014
  3. Paul Johnston #

    “Heart language” is an awkward apologetic…..”foolishness to the greek” I suppose :)….but when someone speaks it sincerely, knowing the truth about themselves and their purpose, irrespective of the opinions of others, I can’t help but admire them.

    I pray for a similar sense of conviction and simplicity.

    January 20, 2014
  4. I think it’s okay for you not to like the phrase. In my mind, it’s laziness. It’s like LOL which I don’t use. It bugs me because people write LOL after things that aren’t even funny. It’s a cliché. I would encourage everyone to shy away from clichés, as an English teacher of mine once did and she did me a favor. If everyone endeavored to speak with their own distinct voice what an interesting world this would be!

    June 2, 2017

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