Walking Our Faith: Rend your heart
February 16, 2018
On Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. I joined my fellow parishioners at St. Mary's to celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten journey.
The first reading of the mass that morning touched my heart deeply because it so beautifully expressed the goal of our journey over the next 40 days, our goal and God's invitation:
"Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, offerings and libations for the Lord, your God." (Joel 2:12-18)
Every day of the year, the invitation to "return to me" is extended by God to us. But somehow, as I enter the Lenten journey knowing it will end at the foot of the cross with the crucified Christ until we wake with Him on Easter morning and turn our mourning into joy, it is especially poignant to stand here at the threshold.
“To rend” means to tear violently, split or rupture. And God expects nothing less from us when we return to him. He doesn’t want our half-hearted, lukewarm affections. Ticking off a weekly hour in the church pew does not create a rent heart. When we return to God he wants our hearts torn open in unconditional surrender, ready to give love and accept love.
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I know the emotional journey we share with Jesus is not only a remembrance of his journey, but a reflection of our spiritual journey through life. A journey which is never a straight line from sadness to joy, but one in which we go out in gladness, return weeping, spend years in desolation and receive unexpected moments of blessing beyond our expectations. And this cycle will repeat throughout our lives.
And through it all, the Lord says, "Rend your heart and return to me."
On Wednesday morning, I didn't feel like returning to the Lord. I felt he had turned his back on me. But when I heard God's invitation to rend my heart, the words pierced my heart.
What does it mean to rend our hearts? My first thought was "to open," but the full definition is much more dramatic. According to my dictionary, "to rend" means to tear violently, split or rupture. And God expects nothing less from us when we return to him. He doesn't want our half-hearted, lukewarm affections. Ticking off a weekly hour in the church pew does not create a rent heart.
When we return to God he wants our hearts torn open in unconditional surrender, ready to give love and accept love.
After Mass on Wednesday, Larry, who was sitting next to me, told me about a weekly small group that was starting that evening and going through the next four weeks at the home of Matt and Lisa. I was ready with my usual excuse that I don't drive at night. But Larry interrupted and said he'd drive since we live in the same neighborhood.
We began the evening gathered in the kitchen of Matt and Lisa's home. Matt explained that the idea of this gathering was one he learned of at the Agape Outpost Baptist church in Breckenridge, called Missional Communities — small group gatherings of neighbors who get together and share "life in the Word and life in the World." The idea is that we are more than our weekly attendance at church and when we meet as neighbors in one another's homes we can see each other as individuals.
There were about 10 of us gathered on Wednesday evening. Lou shared a video from Formed.org on forgiveness and led us in a discussion. But what I received most from the evening was that when God asks us to open our hearts to him, he also asks us to open our hearts to others.
That Wednesday evening was an answer to a prayer I had not even prayed. I had closed myself off, which I do easily. What I was shown on Wednesday is that we need one another, I need this communion with others. We strengthen one another when we come together with a singular purpose, to open our hearts to God, to realize that we are a community held together in God's love.
I believe there are small groups like this going on all over Summit County through many different churches. I encourage you to find one this Lent, find a spiritual home where you can share your journey to return to God with a heart torn open to receive his love.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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