It happens so easily to us…
Sometimes it can happen when we are enjoying coffee with a friend. Conversation is flowing back and forth and then our friend hesitates and doesn’t continue with where the conversation was headed. The unfinished communication can leave us hanging and wondering. If we know the person well, we may ask about it but often we will not take that risk and later we start to fill in the empty spots in that part of the conversation with various speculations.
It can happen when we sent a note to someone and there is no response. The silence leaves us wondering if the note arrived, struck the wrong tone, or any number of other thoughts that might crop up. We are ripe for doubts about the relationship and whether or not we matter or are valued by the other person. Depending on what we do next determines whether we draw a little line in our hearts that make us less open to the person in the future.
There was a time not so many years ago when the pace of life was slower. Friends would “sit a spell” and visit on front porches over iced tea or lemonade. The fine art of writing letters gave opportunities to express yourself in depth without interruption. Back then even the handwriting and the paper used gave us a sense of the person and we often saved the letters to reread when we felt a need to reconnect with the other person’s heart or thoughts. Those were the “good old days.” But invention and options changed and before we could even catch up, we were moving from a phone that hung on the wall in our kitchens to a phone we could hold in our hand that could connect us to the world in seconds.
Communication became quicker and easier, but it wasn’t necessarily better. We started to catch up with each other in sound bites with abbreviations that not everyone knew. There was more and more room for misunderstanding and temptations to fill in the blanks of incomplete sound bites.
Be honest – how do you react when you send a text message or video clip and get no response?
Incomplete communication or silence when we have reached out stirs up our inadequacies and offers us lots of space to start having doubts. And it doesn’t just happen in personal relationships. It happens in our various groups and organizations, when we watch or listen to news of any kind, and even in our ministry connections. We start to fill in those empty spots with our own questions, uncertainties, and disappointments.
And it can happen in our relationship with the Lord as well.
“While many sounds can hurt our ears, I think silence is the most painful because it can hurt our hearts. In the silence, we are tempted to fill in the blanks in our life, our future, and our relationship with God. And that’s dangerous. In the silence, we are tempted with doubt and fear, and, worst of all, we may resort to godlessness that sprouts from trying to make things happen on our own. Meanwhile, we’re prone to make agreements that are not founded in truth. Thoughts like God is not good, God is not trustworthy, and God does not care sink into our souls. Like a barbed hook, they don’t leave easily. Once the wound is inflicted and the hook ensnared, the infection of disappointment and disillusionment sets in. Before we know what has happened, anger surfaces, followed by guilt. In an effort to handle the guilt, anger, disillusionment, and disappointment, we draw a line. After all, lines are simple. Lines are straightforward. Lines make us feel safe.”Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo
It can and does happen in potentially any and all relationships. Trust erodes and the next attempt at interaction comes from a little distance and as a result adds to the dissatisfaction and the gap widens and the line gets reinforced and with it a callus starts to form on our hearts.
We become self-protective. We decide it is better not to pray so we aren’t disappointed more than we already are.
“I won’t ask God for anything he won’t give.”
“I won’t ask God for anything too specific.”
“I won’t ask God for anything too personal. Too meaningful. Too miraculous.”
“That way, neither God nor I have to cross the line. The line of self-protection works perfectly, except for one little problem: whenever we draw a line with God it’s as if something inside of us dies.”Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo
If the habit continues as it can easily do, we can find ourselves in a very dry and desolate place. We tend to isolate ourselves from others as the process is occurring and then lament that no one cares about us. We don’t reach out to others as we once did. We skip going to the group gatherings we used to attend. We sit by ourselves in a concert or congregation and each time we make those choices, we die a bit more inside and our hearts become more callused and can harden as well.
It’s not unique to this time and place. We see that many like David or Elijah believed they were alone, and God had deserted them along with everyone else.
The good news is that God continues to try to reach our hearts.
“…when we draw lines with God, he does not draw them with us. He is committed to breaking us out of our imprisoned thinking and renewing our minds and hearts and spirits with the truth. God wants to set us free and often he will use others to do it.”
“He wants to erase the lines, even the hidden ones, and bring redemption and restoration. No place is off limits for God. No hurt, pain, or disappointment is beyond his healing power.”Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo
That is truly good news, but there is another piece we need to recognize as well. If we drew lines that resulted in our hearts that made them callused or hardened, He longs for us to own that truth, confess that, and repent of shutting Him out. Scripture makes clear that He will pursue us, but He will not knock down the door to our hearts. Only we can open them to the Shepherd’s gentle knock.
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!”Isaiah 30:18 (NIV)