You are currently viewing Where Your Heart Is

Where Your Heart Is

My friend Bruce has been a source of clever sayings. One of my favorites is: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” The size of the fight – the will to overcome challenges – is a force to take seriously. We see its power in the spirit of a Cinderella team pulling off an upset, the coping power and will to live of a cancer patient, and the guts of any modern David taking on a Goliath. 

When my grandson Alex was in his early twenties, he had to summon the strength of his will to face a significant life challenge. His dream for the future took him to a strange city. Once there, he had to endure loneliness as he struggled to make his way both professionally and personally. He later described his experience saying: “I needed to build a life.”

Strength of will gives us the wherewithal to choose our purpose in life and focus our energy on carrying it out. It drives us to make love commitments and gives us the strength to stay faithful to those commitments. Strength of will allows us to overcome obstacles, survive setbacks, and keep trying when the odds are against us. In short, our strength of will is an essential trait in building a life.

Strength of will is a powerful dynamic in our spiritual lives. It is at the heart – quite literally – of our longing, the motivation that drives us, and the desire that shapes our lives. We can choose to use the power of our will to carry out a worthwhile purpose, or we can focus it on achieving selfish ends. Throughout our lives, we face choices and challenges in deciding where to focus our strength of will: what do I have my heart set on? What treasure am I investing my life in pursuing?

Jesus is clear: when it comes to treasures, we have a choice. Some treasures are passing and will fade. Other treasures endure.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6: 19-21)

What I treasured when I was Alex’s age is quite different from what I treasure today. With age and experience, my heart has led me to a different place. Now I am much more open to and focused on treasures that endure – at least on my good days. Early in adulthood, I used the strength of my will to take initiative, attempt to control my destiny, achieve success, and earn recognition. Sometime after midlife, a significant shift began to occur.

Describing the shift that occurs in the second half of life is not exactly breaking news, and it certainly isn’t unique to me. Father Richard Rohr has characterized the first half of life as the way of ascent. During it, we create an identity, achieve success, and come into our own. Father Richard sees the second half of life as characterized by descent – confronting limits, letting go, and surrendering. As we make the shift from ascent to descent, we set our hearts on different treasures.

David Brooks echoes a similar theme, and he uses a powerful image to capture the contrast. He points out the difference between the view of ourselves that we present in a resume and the way we want to be remembered in our epitaph. In the first half of life, our focus is on resume – the skills we offer to the world. In the second half of life, our focus shifts to epitaph – the enduring legacy we leave behind.

The shift in the second half of life is a spiritual invitation to set our hearts on treasures that endure. For some, the invitation comes as a crisis – a career setback, a cancer diagnosis, the end of a relationship, or the death of a loved one. For others, the invitation is more subtle – creeping into our lives almost undetected until it has become a force we can no longer ignore.

As we consider the spiritual invitation to set our hearts on treasures that endure, Paul’s famous love chapter provides helpful guidance: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three. And the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13: 13) In the second half of life, the spiritual journey urges us to focus the strength of our will on faith, hope, and love.

Faith: Faith is deep confidence in God, a profound trust that anchors our life in God. Faith has always been a part of my life. At times, however, it has been more implied than explicit. In those times, it was more like background music than the dominant melody. As I have grown older, the melody of faith has become more central; it has moved closer to the core of my life. Discipleship has slowly shifted from being one aspect of my life to becoming my core identity. As that shift has unfolded, faith has become an enduring treasure, the place where my heart is.

Hope: It is nearly impossible to reach the second half of life without experiencing setbacks, disappointments, and difficulties. The issue is how we respond to these inevitabilities. One response is anger or cynicism. We can play the victim, lash out at life, or pretend the pain doesn’t hurt. The other response is focusing our heart on hope as an enduring treasure. Authentic hope isn’t naïve: it names disappointment, acknowledges anger, and recognizes evil. In the face of all that, however, the enduring treasure of hope refuses to give in to despair and the relentless struggles of the current situation. It holds to the firm conviction that redemption will come, evil will not triumph, and God will ultimately be all in all. No matter what comes, we need to set our hearts on the enduring treasure of hope. 

Love: The desire to love and be loved accompanies us through every season of our lives. It is born when we are young, and it gradually grows and matures. Paul describes and celebrates authentic Christian love. (I Cor. 13: 1-13) It is the mature love that leaves ego and self-interest behind so that we can pour out our lives for others. It is the love that Jesus embodies: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15: 13) It is the love that extends beyond friends to include enemies. (Matt. 5:44) Setting our hearts on the enduring treasure of love calls us to focus the strength of our will on adopting the mind of Christ (Phil. 2: 5). It urges us to empty ourselves so that our hearts are open and ready to “do whatever he tells you.” (John 2: 5)

In the second half of life, the spiritual journey invites us ever deeper into our life with God. It urges us to surrender to the way of descent and to set our hearts on three treasures that endure: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Questions to Ponder

Ponder these questions to explore what you treasure and where your heart is.

  • When have you had to summon your strength of will to make commitments, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals?
  • How has your strength of will helped shape your spiritual journey?
  • What do you treasure? What is most important to you?
  • In what way does what you treasure influence where your heart is?
  • What are your enduring treasures?
  • In what way do your enduring treasures claim your heart?