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Wholehearted Spirituality

When I was 25, my older brother was killed in a plane crash. The tragedy left me devastated; I was overwhelmed with grief. All these years later, I still have significant memories of how people responded to me during Mike’s wake, funeral, and the days that followed.

Some of those who mourned with us connected with me at a deep, emotional level that didn’t involve words. They supported me with a caring look, a gentle touch, or a warm embrace. I also encountered others who fumbled with awkward words and pious sayings that were intended to help. Sadly, some of those interactions left me cold and sometimes even angry.

There are times in life – and grief is one of them – when we need the power of deep human encounters. In those times, we long to connect more deeply than words and more profoundly than simplistic answers to questions we can’t grasp. In those moments, we need a wholehearted spirituality that can stand up to the depth of our humanness and vulnerability.

At the core of a wholehearted spirituality is the experience of being moved. It touches us at a deep emotional level at the core of our beings. It’s there that empathy and compassion lead to intimate connection. When we experience the death of a loved one, we are moved to grieve. When a child is born, we are moved with gratitude and awe. When we are touched with love, we are moved by a profound sense of unworthiness and joy. A wholehearted spirituality evokes what is distinctively human within us: our deepest feelings, all that we hold dear, and the commitments we devote our lives to fulfilling.

Our longing for a wholehearted spirituality may force us to admit that all too often we experience something less. At times, that “something less” may leave us disappointed with ourselves. Our prayer may be half-hearted, our efforts to cultivate a relationship with God may be inconsistent, and our response to the needs of others may be superficial. At other times, the “something less” may leave us disappointed in others. The welcome and belonging we hope for may not happen, the preaching we experience may fail to inspire us, and the worship we participate in may not touch our hearts.

In the face of these disappointments, we can choose to soldier on – putting up with our frustration or blaming others for what we don’t have. Another option is taking positive steps to cultivate a more wholehearted spirituality. If we choose wholehearted spirituality, the path forward begins with a blinding flash of the obvious. Cultivating a wholehearted spirituality begins with the heart. The journey begins in the depth of our longing where we discover our heart’s desire.

What is my heart’s desire? There is a deep ache within each of us, a longing that shapes our lives. Faith is trusting that God is present at the core of that longing, calling us to become the unique persons we are meant to be. That longing urges us to acknowledge that we are God’s beloved, to embrace discipleship as our true identity, to use our unique gifts to serve those in need.

If we have the courage to embrace our heart’s desire, the mundane and ordinary will slowly be left behind. If we stay faithful to that longing, our hearts will begin to reach for God, and our ache will gradually become a prayer.

What prayer emerges from my heart’s desire? The prayer that emerges from our deepest longing is a prayer of the heart. It emerges from a place within that is deeper than words and more profound than our thoughts. It may shape and clarify our thinking, but it is heart-driven rather than head-driven. The prayer of our heart moves us at a profound level and focuses our longing on God. It may be the sacred sigh Paul describes in his letter to the Romans.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26) 

Where does the prayer of my heart lead me? The prayer of our heart – wholehearted prayer – requires great patience. If we are able to stay faithful to it, consistently going to the center of our longing, a way forward will slowly emerge. We may be moved to leave behind the baggage that is holding us back. We may gather the courage to overcome our fear and do what we need to do. We may be empowered to move out of the safety of our comfort zone in order to take on a new challenge. The prayer of our heart begins as an inside job. Then, it slowly moves us outward – sometimes in ways that are simple, other times in ways that are dramatic.

When I was grief-stricken in the aftermath of my brother’s death, those able to simply be with me in that moment taught me something about wholehearted spirituality. I connected with them in the midst of my grief and brokenness. We experienced a profound solidarity in that vulnerable time when no answer is adequate. For me, it was a spiritual heart check.

A spiritual heart check takes us to the center of our longing, to the deepest desires of our heart. It is there – in the prayer of our heart – that we encounter God. It is there that wholehearted spirituality is born and deepens. In the deepest desires of our heart, we discover that no two hearts are the same and that ours is a gift to be shared. It is there that we learn to grieve with the broken, celebrate with the joyful, and give thanks for every encounter we experience.

Invitation to Prayer

I hope this prayer of the heart leads you to the prayer of your own heart.


You know me Lord, and all my ways are open to you . . . 

You know the depth of my heart . . .  

My deepest desires

My every fear and

All that I love.

Help me discover your presence in the center of my longing . . . 

Calling me to be the person I truly am

Urging me to live as your beloved and

Claiming my identity as your disciple.

Receive this prayer of my heart . . .

My longing expressed in words and

My sacred sighs too deep for words

That flow from your Spirit within me.

Give me the patience I need to stay faithful to this prayer . . .

Trusting you will guide me on the path forward

Leaving my fear and baggage behind and

Finding the courage to do what you urge me to do.

In all of this, draw me ever deeper into your love and 

Ever deeper in surrendering to your will and your way.

I praise your name and give you thanks,

Now and forever.