My sweet 84-year-old friend Elodia recently told me she has learned a great deal in the last five years. While I rejoice in her spiritual growth, it’s a bit overwhelming for years 79 through 84 to bring newfound wisdom. I do not wish to simply maintain who I am today at 47 so I am also encouraged to witness how sanctification is a lifelong process. Like Elodia, I want to always be growing more Christlike even when growth comes with discomfort.
From Deuteronomy in the Old Testament to the Gospels in the New Testament, we are instructed to love the Lord with our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30). Soul, mind, and strength make immediate sense to me. Loving the Lord with my heart takes a bit more explaining. We can be assured the distinction between these quadrants is important. Jesus speaks of these parts of our being as separate knowing we have a unique coupling of neurological complexity and laziness in understanding. Add original sin and the brokenness of the world and we can become a big mess in a hurry!
I love the Lord in how I focus on His Kingdom work above my own agenda. As the Holy Spirit permeates my soul, he solidifies my convictions through his word. God is always present, always sustaining me, always loving me fully, regardless of my mistakes.
I love the Lord with my mind by gaining an understanding of who he is and maintaining a healthy perspective of the world around me. I love the Lord with my mind by considering others. I dwell with those in my path in order to see them in a way that comforts them so I can help process their suffering, and act as an ally against their shame.
I love the Lord with my biological self. I expend physical energy loving others through the ministry of presence. I take care of my body with exercise and a diet consisting of more than just twinkies.
I love the Lord with my heart as I work to understand what I feel. Emotion is not negative or positive. It is not good or bad. Emotion is a smoke signal that something internal needs attention. It is a signal that we have work to do. If I am to love the Lord in my emotion I must take time to sit with the feelings they produce to rightly align them to their catalyst. Sin has the potential to creep in as a lack of vigilance allows feelings of devastation and panic to ensue. Throughout the lifelong endeavor of sanctification, it is paramount for previous wounds to be acknowledged in order to recognize the emotion they produce in our hearts. This can be a miserable process. God is present in our misery. Jesus grieves with us and sustains us as we learn and grow.
Why does the Bible convey these distinctions? Conviction alone does not drive our behavior. God respects the boundaries he created us to need. He allows us to process and understand the thoughts in our minds that promote our love for him. Our emotion drives our behavior which is why we must love the Lord with our hearts. Without taking the time to glean from a knowledge of self we often react through past experiences. This results in expressed words having little to do with our present circumstances. Rather than acting out of our love for the Lord and for others, we react out of feelings from past wounds. We must prayerfully seek a right understanding of what we feel so we can then act out of the obedience we desire.
As I enter the 47th year of my life, I am following the example of my dear sister Elodia. I pray for deeper self-awareness, a truer understanding of my emotions (heart). I’m seeking a healthier perspective of myself (mind). This will drive action (strength) and a pursuit of holiness as a result of conviction from the Holy Spirit (soul).
“No matter what our stories tell us, there is always time to retell that story, to create in our lives what God created us to do and be.”
Dr. Curt Thompson, MD