“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezekiel 36:26
Throughout my whole life, I wanted the flesh heart that Ezekiel talked about. I remember this verse and being intrigued by the idea of a real heart in terms of the interior life. I knew that I had a physically real heart beating within my chest, but in terms of my spiritual life, the landscape of my heart looked more like a stone mountain range instead of a fertile planting ground for God to take root in.
So I took my desires to adoration and prayer and began to ask God to give me this real, fleshed out spiritual heart for His plan and will in my life – even though it would mean having to daily, if not hourly, combat the pride that stood in the way of the destruction of my cold, dead heart.
Yet instead of giving the hammer to God and asking Him to do exactly as He said He could, I pridefully took control of the hammer and began to chip away at my own heart.
Chipping away was probably an optimistic overstatement. It was like I had a huge boulder to break down inside of my soul, but instead of pulling out a jackhammer and dedicating every waking moment that I had into smashing that stone encasement to smithereens, I was scratching at it with my fingernails in my spare time.
It wasn’t working. The stone was still there and but I was hurting, aching, longing for anything different. Although it was cold and hard, the stone was at least familiar and comfortable. Having a flesh heart would hurt – the vulnerability and lack of control of a tender heart scared me to death and I was content with my stone.
“Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”
– Fulton Sheen.
God had the incredible ability to, if he so desired, simply glance at my stone heart and do the shatter-and-replacement mission in a split second. Yet He, out of complete love for me and the desiring of my good, chose to break my heart first so it would mend and bind to His heart in the healing process.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, the character of Eustace, an English school boy, is turned into a dragon because of his selfish desires and hardened heart to his role in the Narnia quest. There is a beautiful scene that resonated with my own story within the pages of the book. Eustace returns to camp, transformed back into a boy, and tells his cousins the story of his transformation.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sorts of things and snakes can cast of their skin. Oh of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place….
Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of His claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right through my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I had ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure feeling the stuff peel off.
Well he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only even so much thicker, and darker and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why, I’d turned into a boy again.
When Eustace tried to scratch away his dragon scales himself, he readily admitted that it hadn’t hurt. It was only when he lay vulnerable to Aslan’s claws, although they terrified him, that the transformation back into His real self was possible.
The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it is the only religion that makes sense out of suffering. In light of the cross, the suffering that we have is transformed and redeemed into a beauty from ashes. Because Christ’s death is outside of the limits of time, each time trials or hardships are placed in our spiritual journey, we have the unique opportunity to unite those sufferings with those of Christ crucified.
My heart isn’t all the way transformed into it’s best-version-of-itself flesh state. There are still many areas along it’s surface that are rough with calloused, hardened stone that God is still ripping off and breaking off in front of my eyes. And, like Eustace’s transformation, I look at the pieces of my stone heart that lie in front of me, knowing that those are chunks of stone that would have taken me decades to smash myself.
God is good.
I feel like I say that everyday, but it is the only phrase that my simple heart can utter in light of the incredible mercy and grace He has shown me.
The process still stings, but when I’m thrown into the waters of grace through confession, the pain is but moment and the joy is life-long. And the tender heart that God is slowly transplanting into my chest is one of the most beautiful things that I have seen – tender and vulnerable, but protected by His hand and heart in ways I could have never imagined.