Last week I began posting my notes from a Bible study session I taught on Losing Heart at my church’s women’s Bible study. The overall structure and theme of the study is based upon Paula Rinehart’s book, Strong Women, Soft Hearts.
Here is the next installment in the Losing Heart series.
We’ve talked about what it means to lose heart (reminder: losing sight of who God is + losing sight of who we are). Now let’s look at how it happens. Our main text of study is Jeremiah 17:5-8.
You may remember that Jeremiah is often referred to as the weeping prophet. He had the difficult assignment of bringing charges against Judah and Israel for their unfaithfulness to God and declaring the consequence, which was God’s wrath (not just his discipline). By the end of Jeremiah, Israel has fallen. Our passage begins in the midst of his warnings.
The first two verses set up for us how we arrive at this place of losing our hearts and what the consequences are when that happens. Let’s look at how this happens as Jeremiah outlines for us the progression of losing heart.
Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind,
Already we see the first step: misplaced trust. Rather than trusting in God for our identity, our validation, our security . . . we place our trust in people for those things. One definition of trust says it is a state of being responsible for someone or something: a position of trust. When we trust in mankind, we are giving that position to man, and we let ourselves believes that others are trustworthy enough for that.
But it still makes us nervous, because deep in our souls, we know this isn’t right. Mankind is ultimately not that trustworthy. So we hedge our bets. Paula talks about this when she says that we play it safe and only present a piece of who we are. We show them only the parts of ourselves we think are attractive and lovable and worthy, and we stuff the rest. Unfortunately, after a while we begin to forget about those hidden parts of us, and that’s when we take a first step into losing heart: we lose sight of ourselves, our true selves.
I can remember the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I interned at a local company, and as a part of the program the company put us up in corporate apartments. Almost immediately I made a group of friends. We were a cool crowd, and we had lots of fun going out, playing sand volleyball nearly every Saturday, and hanging out. And I made sure that I continued to fit in by only showing the parts of myself I knew the others would like. Over about two weeks worth of time at the end of that summer, I found out tidbits of information about every single one of those friends that completely changed my perception of them. The friends I thought I knew were not at all who I thought they were. I was devastated. And yet, in some ways I had done the very same thing myself. I put my trust for my identity, my enjoyment, my acceptance in mankind. I played it safe to protect myself. And in the end, I was left with a feeling of emptiness because I not only lost the friends I thought I knew, but I also lost myself.
The text continues:
And makes flesh his strength,
Instead of depending upon God for our strength, we look to mere flesh and blood. Our society has a long history of reinforcing this idea. As Americans, we are besieged with phrases like, “You’ve got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps” “No one is going to take care of you but you”. Mariah Carey tells us to just look inside ourselves and be strong, that the Hero is in us. Those kinds of ideas shape tell us that we must find strength within ourselves.
Even as Christian women we can get caught up thinking we can be the picture of perfection if we just put our minds to it. We can teach our children good manners, to memorize the book of Revelations, and to do long division by kindergarten all while we do the laundry, sew our own clothing, and put a home-cooked, balanced meal on the table every night, never yelling at our husbands or kicking the dog. I even read a Christian book that said, “In the end it is a woman’s work that speaks of her worth.” We get caught up in the doing, doing, doing that we forget where the strength comes from that enables us to do anything.
And when God isn’t be responding in the way we want or expect, we pick up his slack too and set out to take care of ourselves.
We muscle through life. We strong arm our way through difficult or stressful situations. We pin our hopes and expectations on ourselves. Our success is determined by the limits of our strength. Our hope for “making it” through this life is placed within ourselves.
But at the end of each day we are wearier than the last. We are drawing from a finite pool of resources for strength. And just like with our misplaced trust, deep down we know that this kind of strength will not last.
So we begin to pre-empt the inevitable disappointment. Paula talks about this as pouring acid on hope. We do things like pretend not to have expectations so we don’t have to grapple with the loss of something. We sabotage ourselves, or even set others up for failure, so we can avoid the disappointment. And then sometimes we twist it into an issue with God – he’s the one withholding or not answering our prayers.
And you see how we arrive at the second step in losing heart: we lose sight of who God is.
We forget that he’s in control and sovereign. And that he’s big enough to handle our issues. That he desires to be our strength. The Psalms repeatedly talk about him being our fortress and our defender. We let ourselves believe lies about him – that’s he doesn’t care, that he’s too busy, that we’ve messed up too much. We put him in a box. And eventually, that box gets moved to the top shelf in the back of a closet, collecting dust.
And then look, here’s where it happens. Read the last part of the verse.
Whose heart turns away from the Lord
We reach the point where we turn our hearts from the Lord. We’ve lost sight of God and ourselves. And the word “turn” in Hebrew isn’t just that we turn our heads and look away, but rather than we depart and avoid.
Have you had that happen? Have you reached a point where you feel so beat down, that you can’t even talk to the Lord? We prefer to hide and avoid God.
And this is usually when we make a silent vow in our hearts. I’ll never be burned again. No one will ever make me feel stupid like that again. Paula says, “We live by inner statements born out of experienced pain, and they shape our lives profoundly.” She goes on to explain that those inner vows us on a path, often without our knowing it. The become the lens of our lives, and often determine what we are able and willing to risk of our hearts with others.
You see, the grid of our lives has changed. We’ve lost heart.
Have you ever been in this place? I’d love to hear your answers and any general responses to this post.