At 44 years old, I find myself under the care of a cardiologist. Oh, don’t worry. I’m not dying. At least I’m not dying any more than any of us are, I suppose. I have had some interesting heart quirks since I was in my early twenties, and I recently sought out a doctor who seems determined to figure out what makes my heart act the way it does.
I had another cardiologist, twenty-two years ago. He wasn’t as determined. He told me it was nothing. And for these two decades I often repeated his diagnosis to myself, realizing of course that whatever it was, it was not killing me. But there are times when you wake up one day and say to yourself, “I think I’ll find out what this ‘nothing’ is.” Thus, the new cardiologist. Thus, the determination, both on his part and mine. I’d like to figure out how to curb this bit of nothing during the phases when it is bothersome.
It’s an interesting thing, looking into the state of your own heart. Last week I laid on a table and watched a screen that revealed the different ways that my heart moves, the valves as they opened and closed, the hot way the blood flow shows up in reds and yellows on an ultrasound monitor. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into what is happening inside, while a technician measured and made all kinds of calculations of which she told me nothing. I laughed to myself lying there, thinking of how rarely I have ever in my life considered how this extremely important organ accomplishes its goals in there. I have always just trusted that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
Of course, there are all kinds of heart problems, and not all of them are physical. I have had other heart issues lately as well. A few weeks ago I had one of those intense confrontations with my own heart condition. Maybe you know the kind: when you say something that reveals rotten things inside of you, a heart that is shriveling, even while the Spirit of Christ resides there. A heart that, despite every opportunity to blossom into something stunning, tends to constantly edge toward the ugly. The selfish. A heart that makes excuses. A heart that blames. A heart that cannot be hidden any longer, that spills out in words that can’t be retrieved. It was like I was lying on the table, watching my heart on display, knowing that another person, a person that I hurt, was calculating all of the ways that it is deficient.
For days afterward I couldn’t stop the flood of tears every time I thought about it. I believe that I was experiencing what the Bible calls “godly sorrow.” That is, sorrow that leads to repentance. (2 Cor. 7:10) How many times in those days did I whisper prayers of lament to my God, admitting that I had seen the state of my heart and that I knew what it meant? How many times did I apologize to the one I hurt, begging forgiveness even though it was granted immediately? When I think of it even now I feel like rainclouds threaten to overshadow my very soul. If only my heart weren’t such a problem.
Yet, in this incident I also found hope. You see, godly sorrow only comes to those who know Him. So even in my failing, even in my sad realization that my heart has issues, the Lord renewed my mind and spirit and, yes, even my heart, by reminding me that this type of sorrow is only possible because I am truly His child, and the Holy Spirit dwells inside of me. Godly sorrow is the gift of a good God who refuses to allow our hearts to remain stony, cold, and dead. It is godly sorrow that leads to salvation, and godly sorrow that helps us become more like Christ.
Knowing this, I am not buried underneath my sin problems. I don’t have to crawl into a hole when my heart acts up. I can look into the face of a gracious and loving God, knowing that He is teaching me how to confront all of the darkness in my own heart, and He does it by shining the brightest light into every single corner. It hurts. It’s a sorrowful thing. But there is joy in it, too–the joy of realizing that I am His, and because He loves me, He won’t let me ignore the state of my heart.
Next week the doctor plans to hook me up to machines while I walk on a treadmill. They call it a stress test. He wants to see how my heart reacts under pressure. I don’t expect that he will find anything out of the ordinary, but there’s something comforting about knowing that I don’t have to figure this out on my own. My doctor will figure out what’s happening inside, and he will help me with it.
How much more comforting it is to know that when it comes to the real heart issues, the eternally important ones, I have a God who knows exactly what’s happening inside, and He never leaves me to deal with it on my own. I remembered that recently, through a bout with godly sorrow and a clear look at a God who is always working on me. My heart will never be perfect, not on this side of Heaven. But because I am His and He is mine, I know that the Lord will continue to sanctify me in and even through my true heart problems. I love Him. And, because of Him, that’s the state of my heart.