On Making Our Hearts A Little Lighter by Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace

”Be on guard so that your hearts
are not weighed down….”
(Luke 21:34a)

It’s that season again – that time of the year when everything seems to ramp up at the same time. Whether it is church, school, community activities or home – the demands on our time seem to grow exponentially during this time of the year. I have once again found myself working hard to maintain a spiritual centeredness in the midst of what feels like perpetual motion. As I have talked to many of our leaders, I know I am not alone. This has me thinking about those things that get in our way, that cause us to lose our spiritual center; things that we as leaders of the church – wrestle with along the way. I came across a quote reflecting on this Lukan verse in chapter 21. It has been a gift for me in this time of, what seems like, unending commitments – one I share with you as we together witness to the hope of the Gospel.

In Rev. Dr. Craig Barnes’ book, Spirituality for Restless Souls, he lifts up this verse of wisdom Jesus imparts on his disciples as part of their preparation for ministry- “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down.” He reminds us that our hearts will be weighed down by the reality and pain of forces outside ourselves as well as forces inside ourselves. What struck me was the words from Rev. Dr. Barnes, “Don’t overload them, he warned, because whenever the heart is full, it cannot handle another thing. Not even a savior.” Barnes goes on to end this paragraph, “Some days it feels like the heart is so heavy that it will pull us back into hell. So we have to unload all that guilt or we will never make it home.”

Think about this – What are those things that cause your heart to be so weighed down that you cannot see God at work around you? What are those things that cause your heart to be so weighed down that you cannot see God at work within you? These are real and important questions to ask of ourselves as we seek to be vessels and ambassadors of God’s great message of hope in Christ.

I clearly cannot speak for you, but it is easy for me to think about all the things that cause my heart to weigh more. It is clear that the negatives always seem easier to identify. They weigh us down, not allowing us to see the positives around us. So I began the discipline of thinking about those things that make my heart a little lighter. Just one month ago, it was in front of me – as I greeted nearly 2,000 brothers and sisters as we gathered for our 300th Anniversary Celebration. Your faithful presence, the sounds of your singing and prayers, made my heart a little lighter. This was not and is not a cliché moment. Through that historic gathering, we together reaffirmed our call into the next 300 years. We were inspired and encouraged by the faith we proclaim. Our hearts were filled with gratitude and joy – even in a season as challenging as this one, when violence and hate continue to frame the daily newsfeed.

I suspect you, like me, can also easily come up with the list of what makes your heart a little heavier, but as we enter what will be an even busier season – Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas – I invite you to resist the forming of that list for a while. I invite you to name and affirm those things, people and places that make your heart a little lighter.

My extroverted self has had to learn what it means to seek respite for my restless soul. It has not always been an easy road. I wrestled with traditional forms of spiritual disciplines. I wondered where I would find the kind of space that would speak to me. Perhaps you have never wrestled with this – I envy your ability. I eventually have grown to understand that healthy spirituality is that process by which I can empty out that which occupies my heart and mind in order to allow for a renewed spirit to shape me. I have found it swimming laps in my pool (yes – still swimming outside). I have found it in silent retreat monastery in Cambridge, MA. Affirming that which is rich and good and godly and life-giving has become an important part of how I shape my service and ministry to the Gospel. Although I fail at times, I believe that whatever spiritual disciplines you use to center your life (nature, prayer, worship, fasting, study, and much more) it is a vital and necessary part of our spiritual health and journey, lest we become so weighed down with the forces outside and within ourselves, that we lose sight of our God, causing us to lose our way home.