But test everything; hold fast to what is good.
I Thessalonians 5:21
Part VIII—My Secret Heart
Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Deep inside each person is something Psalm 51 refers to as “my secret heart.” This is the place where a person has his or her internal battles, his or her secret hurts, his or her most profound joys. The secret heart is our soul, our conscience. There are some people in society, I believe, who have a conscience that is for all intents and purposes, dead. These people are called sociopaths, because they do wrong but believe they are right. And perhaps to a degree, all of us exhibit sociopathic tendencies at times. However, for more people and most times, we know deep down what is right and what is wrong. And the battle is to stick with what is right, even when we are tempted by ourselves or others to do what we know is wrong.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying something. There is nothing wrong with having an ice cream cone, or a beer and a pizza. There is something wrong with eating ice cream every day, it’s not healthy. There is something wrong with having six beers with pizza if it makes one incapable of rendering aid to someone in need. There is nothing wrong with taking an afternoon off to watch a ballgame. There is something wrong with doing that every day.
There are some boundaries that have to be sacred, that can’t be crossed no matter what. During college, I saw plenty of pot around. It was offered to me on more than one occasion. I never tried it. I felt pressured to drink until I stopped hanging around with those people. I’ve been with people who wanted to shoplift, and when they went to make their move, I ran out of the store. Not only did I not want to get caught with them, I didn’t want to associate with them anymore. Because these people were willing to cross boundaries that were sacred to me. I got plenty of ridicule in college for going to church on Sundays but that was a boundary for me. And I lost just about all my friends when I told them I was going to go to the seminary, that God’s call was also a sacred boundary I could not ignore. In my professional life, there have been times I’ve been asked and even pressured to do things I knew were wrong, and I stood up and did the right thing (at least I hope I have), even though it came at personal cost.
Everyone has their own secret heart, their own lines that they draw between what they know is right and what they know is wrong. Certain things, we are not sure on, and that’s part of learning and growing, but most things we know what is right and what is wrong. If it is illegal, it is wrong. If it degrades ourselves or someone else, it is wrong. If it profanes God, it is wrong. If it hurts someone else, it is wrong. We all know that deep down.
Here’s where it gets difficult. There is a definite boundary for when you are in my office. Once you cross the threshold and leave my office, you are not in my office. If you were sitting just outside my office and someone called and asked where you were, most people would probably say, “I’m at Father’s office.” Even though the correct answer is “I’m just outside the office.” If you were in the parking lot near the office, one might still be tempted to say “I’m at the office.” Same thing if one was down the street from the office—they might be tempted to say “I’m at the office” knowing that they will be at the office momentarily or had just left it.
This is where we get in trouble. Because we all rationalize “I’m almost 21,” or “just this one time” or “just one more,” or “everyone is doing it,” or “no one will get hurt,” or “it’s not that bad,” or “it’s not like I killed anyone,” to mitigate behaviors that we all know are wrong that we still want to do. Even worse than this is when we use these phrases to pressure or goad other people into doing things that we and they know are wrong because we want to do them.
This is why we need to continually pray for wisdom in our secret hearts, to know right from wrong and to stay the course for the right while steering away from the wrong. Some things have to be sacred, untouchable by anyone, not taken away by peer pressure or even personal temptation.
One of my favorite all-time quotes comes from a Greek Orthodox priest named, Fr. Nicon Patrinacos, who wrote the following:
Whenever I think of a church Cathedral, I find myself thinking of the Cathedral of one’s own soul in which he, in absolute solitude, and face to face with God, lives the most earnest and most decisive moments of his life. The Cathedral encloses within its splendid architectural line something more than a physical achievement. In fact, if the walls and the art of this edifice could speak, I am sure they would voice the presence here and now of the joys and sorrows of our hearts as well as the upward flying of our souls. They would attest to the fact that this building is a living entity, heart-beating and breathing, a treasure that is becoming constantly augmented as we grow in the life of Christ.
(Fr. Nicon Patrinacos, from the 1970 Yearbook of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)
Our secret hearts are where the battle is fought. We are aided when we are encouraged. We are tempted when we are pressured. No one can steal our secret hearts though. They are ours. And we must guard them for the sacred entities that they are.
Lord, deep within me is my secret heart, my soul, my being, the place where there are certain things known only by You—my secret joys, my secret fears, my secret struggles. Lord, help me with these things with which I struggle. Help me to always know right from wrong. Help me to have courage of conviction to do right and avoid wrong. Bring people into my life who can support and encourage me as I carry my heavy burdens, even the ones I cannot share. Help me to define my boundaries and hold fast to them. Teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Amen.
Some boundaries we set must be sacred, unable to be touched by anything and anyone!