When Your Heart Hits A Wall
In the ecourse I’m facilitating, A Heart of Prayer: Book of Hours, we’re currently studying the noonday hour of prayer, called Sext. That’s right; it is really the name. The monks had it first, I promise. Sext is the hour of wholeheartedness, represented by the fullness of the sun as a picture of the wholeness that comes from the power of God’s Spirit working in the hearts of believers. It fills them so fully they can’t help but let it overflow into the world. They radiate the light as they wholeheartedly embrace the work of their calling.
Some days I’m not feeling it; I come across other people filled with the enthusiasm of a life lived in God and I assume they must be faking it. I forget what it is to have the humility and grateful acceptance of a childlike spirit. I still have a lot to learn in the way of thinking the best about people. It’s hard to believe in fullness if I am feeling empty, and there are still plenty of days that look this way; when the sun is blazing but the heat does not reach my center or set my heart on fire.
That emptiness can feel heavy. It can even result in feelings of shame, as though I somehow caused it through my actions or inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. This restlessness is not a "sin," but rather more like reaching the end of myself and realizing, thank heaven, there is more. Much more. The early Christian mystics used the term “acedia” to describe this emptiness; when we are doing everything in our power to live fully and bless the world, but our hearts hit a wall.
The desert father, Abba Poemen said, “[Acedia] is there every time one begins something, and there is no worse passion, but if a man recognizes it for what it is, he will gain peace.”* See? This struggle has been around for a very long time.
Nowadays, we call this acedia experience by the name of “resistance,” but it is the same idea. When our hearts move into wholehearted action, we are being love to the world, and love is a power that threatens every evil thing. Of course there are going to be walls in our way! Love is life, and therefore, the opposite is death. And death keeps on trying to win in any way possible, whether it be the end of a life, the end of relationships, or the end of a dream.
As believers we hold the tension of knowing death will not triumph, but we also know we’re going to encounter it around unexpected turns in our lives. And it hurts because what else is there to do but the work to which we are called? Why are we feeling so opposed? Because resistance, or acedia, is death trying to win. Let me say that again. Resistance is death trying to win. Death is threatened by the power of love, and has launched an offensive, knowing emptiness leads to desperation or apathy, which are essential tools for the destruction of a soul.
The emptiness can be redeemed, though. It is not without hope, I have found. I was recently reading a fascinating article about how designers use white spaces as part of their business logo creation. What seems like a space between letters might actually be an arrow, or another letter. What looks like emptiness is instead a symbol that subtly brings the whole picture together. The emptiness is turned toward purpose.
What if this were true about me? I think maybe it is. In the moments of my own struggle with emptiness, I begin to understand the height and depth and width- the great expanse of divine Love. This emptiness is a middle place. It’s a piece of the journey; not the final word. It’s not the definition of who I am or the measure of my worth. Death does not get to win. When I come to the end of myself, it is in that place I begin to see love continuing far beyond my limits. Love fills all things- it encompasses me and can fill me, too.
Remind yourself of that the next time you experience it. Remember love is a force that overcomes death. And once more, invite that love to go with you and be within you. It’s not a magic formula or resolution, but it is a conscious effort to fight back the darkness. Now, there’s something we can throw ourselves into wholeheartedly.
My prayer is “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”**
I believe in that prayer.
I believe in that possibility.
I believe it’s a promise. May it light a fire within to rival the noonday sun.
*Quoted from Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings. (Annotated and Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD.)
**Ephesians 3:17-19 (NKJV)