I wonder if it is a coincidence that the word “heart” begins with “hear”.
I learn by taking things apart. When I was a little boy, I took my toys apart to see how they worked. As an “old guy”, I still take things apart. Now instead of making my toys into a mess, I tend to take my thoughts apart to see what makes me tick. Sometimes I get all worked up and emotional and it leaves me wondering if the world is really the mess I have made it out to be. Thankfully, the One who put the wonder in me, who put the take-things-apart in me also built me with a reset button (called a good night’s sleep). You see, I started writing this over two weeks ago when it was heavy on my heart. I was feeling all mixed up inside and felt like I just had to get it out. I got as far as writing an outline then the distractions began… It was time to go out shopping for a while. When I came back home, I sat down to finish it and my web server was missing. It took all weekend to finally get the web hosting folks to admit that there was really a problem and that they would fix it. By that time it was Monday with all the distractions of the work week. Two weeks later, my internal reset button has evened all out those knotted up emotions, but the topic is still very real…
I feel like I am just learning to hear my own heart; my “heart’s desire”, the longings that are deep inside me. Although my squelch knob usually catches them before they become part of my outside voice, my heart frequently expresses itself to me in extremes like a toddler. You always listen to other people but you never listen to me! I know that it’s not true exactly. I can think of lots of times I have listened to my heart over the years, but it feels like something new to me. Maybe I’m beginning to listen better.
So what happens when a 50 year old codependent mess–a guy who likes to take things apart begins to listen to his heart? He watches things unfold and learns from what he sees and feels. There’s another thing you need to know about me. I am a learner. When I take things apart, I am learning about them. The learner is deep inside my soul. Here’s what I have learned about hearing my heart. There are at least three ways I can discover my hearts desire…
Having what I want – When I have what I want, I am content with it. Contentment is an easily ignored emotion. Things are good. They are just the way I like it. I’m happy. No need to take this one apart. Except… I want to be more aware of it. I want more of whatever has me feeling content. It’s a clue to who I am. The places I find contentment are not likely the same places you find contentment.
This reminds me of the way the mind works as described by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee in On Intelligence. The mind is constantly taking in information and predicting the future. As long as what it predicted is what happens, the mind ignores it. For instance, my mind expects the letters to appear on the screen as I type these words. I don’t even think about it because it happens the way I expect. (Of course I’m hyper-aware right now since I’m writing about it). Think about all the sounds we tune out like the hum of our computer. Have you ever turned of your computer and only then realized how loud it was? We tune them out because we don’t need to be aware of them. Our minds predicted those sounds and so it ignores them. If there is a unexpected, loud noise, or suddenly there is silence, we become instantly aware. Why? What we predicted didn’t happen.
Getting what I want is like that. It is what I want to happen. I’m satiated, comfortable, relatively pain free. So this is not a particularly effective way of learning what I want. Unless I intentionally focus on what is causing me to feel content, I won’t know. Funny isn’t it? The most pleasant way of discovering my hearts desire is the very one that is easiest to ignore.
Not getting what I want or getting something I didn’t want – Unawareness is definitely not the problem with this method. I am usually painfully aware when I didn’t get what I want… although I might not understand the pain I feel. As I am thinking of examples, I realize that it is not so much about getting things. I have more than my share of things to be sure, but tangible things is not really what I’m talking about. It’s less about that one special gift I didn’t get for my birthday and more like finding out my friend isn’t going to make it to my party after all… or I won’t be able to make it to their party. The feeling of disappointment doesn’t care why.
I feel a bit of disappointment and that disappointment tells me that there was something that I wanted. It doesn’t tell me that someone is against me, nor does it tell me that I should have it. Mining these emotions is not about letting the emotions have their way, it is about learning what they are trying to tell me. The emotion is a clue to my own hearts desire. Unless I am intentional about reflecting and examining them, I am likely to react to my feelings of disappointment by trying to fix them; to make the feelings go away and make me feel better. When I do that, I miss a great opportunity. Not only does it not help the situation, I miss a great opportunity to mine for gold. There’s gold in them-thar desires! God has put great desires in my heart and He is for me! I want to know more and more about what these desires are. Not so I can get everything I want, but to know who God has made me to be.
Seeing someone else who has what I want – Again, for me this is not about coveting a nicer house or fancier car. I figured out a long time ago that every time I own something new, it owns me even more than I own it. I just got a new computer when the old one called it quits. As much as I love my new computer, in the couple of months I have had it, it has already taken many hours of my life that I will never see again. First there was the whole weekend I spent setting it up and learning things I never wanted to know… (like Money 2004 won’t run on Vista and the new version of Money called Money Essentials won’t open files created from any other version of Money). Then there was the weekend I spent trying to figure out why it decided to reboot itself over and over for no apparent reason. My things serve me well… when I’m not serving them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above getting more stuff… even coveting every once in a while. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice digital SLR camera… of course that means the images will be larger than my current cameras, so I’ll need a bigger hard drive and…
So if it isn’t about stuff, what is it about? Frequently it is seeing someone living in their strengths which happen to not be my strengths. I see God in them and I admire them. Who am I kidding? I feel jealous. When my friend Curtis asks one of his penetrating questions that cut straight to the heart, I am impressed, thankful for his gifting and a little jealous. When I see my friend John meet someone and connect with them in such an engaging way that they are immediately talking about important things, I am amazed… and jealous. When I experience the artistry and courage of my friend, Dave to step out and follow his dream of painting hot rods, I am impressed, inspired and jealous. I really don’t want to be Curtis or John or Dave… but my heart’s desire is trying to come through in my emotion.
Warning, I’m going to open up a little more than is comfortable and let you see the silly man behind the curtain… A few years ago, Jeanie and I went with Dan and Hope to see Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire in concert. When I was a young trombone player, I wanted to be James Pankow… understand me… not just be like him, but to be him. So here I am, a middle aged guy in the audience, ostensibly singing the horn parts… but in my heart, I was on that stage. I was playing those trombone parts just as clean as Jimmy P ever did. I danced his dance. I laughed with the band. I received the applause. I felt… jealous! Not too long ago, I told someone I love, “We see things in the lives of others that we want, but it’s just one small facet. We don’t get to see their whole lives. If we could wave a magic wand and trade places, it would not be fair to trade for just the good stuff. You’d have to trade everything for everything. My life for theirs.” Do I really want to be Mr P? Not likely. No other whole life would be worth trading for. I don’t know James Pankow. All I see is a 60ish guy who looks like he’s having the time of his life on stage… My emotion is not really about wanting to be him. It is about something that I want from what I see. It’s my hearts desire… and I believe deep down it is good.
My heart’s desire is not ultimately about my comfort. It’s surely not about leaving my family to go on the road with a band. My heart’s desire is a clue to who God made me to be. I don’t know exactly what it will look like when he’s done with me, but it will be somewhere in the middle of loving God and loving my neighbor. For me, the journey itself is the destination. The taking apart, hitting the reset button, learning and applying what I can along the way is what it is all about. My prayer is that living my journey “out loud” will help others find their way too.