What Does It Mean to Take Heart?

When the idea for Take Heart was birthed about three years ago, I fell in love with our theme verse, John 16:33:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I confess, however, that I had a lot to learn about what it means to take heart.  I owe thanks to many of you for teaching me the lessons that I’ve learned. Over the next several weeks, I’ll share my thoughts about what it means to take heart, and I hope you’ll join the discussion by posting your comments.

Week One: What Taking Heart Isn’t

Before I began to understand what it means to take heart, I had to learn two things that taking heart doesn’t mean:

1. I’ve learned that taking heart doesn’t mean pretending that everything is fine. 

I was amazed after the first Take Heart conference to hear that many women from my own church didn’t come because, as they said, they didn’t have problems.  Hah! One of the things I love about our Take Heart verse is that Jesus himself pronounces that “in this world you will have trouble.”

Jesus doesn’t say you might have trouble or that some of you will have trouble.  The Greek word used for trouble, thlipsis, is alternately translated anguish, burden, persecution, or tribulation. And girlfriends, if you haven’t had any of those things yet, know that you will.  It just “is what it is!”

Now I can understand why we are tempted to pretend everything is fine.

  • Sometimes it’s just too hard to go there. There are times when I’ve been afraid someone would ask me how I am, I mean really ask me and care to know, because I’m afraid I’ll lose it—puffy red eyes, mascara running down my face, the works—at an inappropriate time or place.
  • Sometimes we’re afraid to share our brokenness because of people’s reactions in the past.  I know families who struggle with mental illness issues and just won’t talk about it because of reactions they’ve had before:

“You just need to pray about it.” Or “Pull yourself together.” Or maybe the worst reaction—when so-called friends begin to avoid you.

  • And sometimes, we’re afraid of being the needy one. So often, especially as women, we see ourselves as the helpers and don’t want to be the helpees, the needy ones.  It’s humbling, a blow to our pride.

It is important to choose carefully the people to whom we share our brokenness, and to choose appropriate times, but pretending that everything’s fine to our loved ones not only keeps them from offering support, it is akin to lying. I remember the pain that a friend experienced because he father didn’t tell her he had cancer for months after he was diagnosed. Because she loved him, she was hurt that he denied her the opportunity to walk through his trial with him.

Pretending before God that everything fine is even worse. It serves to block the grace and love God wants to give.  God loves us and wants to enter the hurt places in our lives, but won’t do so without our permission.

2. Taking Heart Isn’t A Quick Fix

So often, as Christians, we give the impression that bringing our problems to God means a quick solution to whatever challenges we face.  God does sometimes intervene with miracles, but even stories of instantaneous healing are generally preceded by times of trial—I think, for instance, of the women Jesus healed after 12 years of bleeding (see, for example, Mark 5:21-43). We rightly celebrate the miracles that God performs, but we must be careful of the message we give to those who don’t receive the miracle, at least not right away. Sheila Walsh talks about the problems of highlighting only miracle stories when she was co-host of the 700 Club:

  • Every day we presented stories of marriages healed, physical health restored, and children redeemed from bad life choices. I interviewed men and women whose lives had been at the edge of a cliff, and then God intervened and directed their steps to a safer place. They were not left with unanswered questions, disappointment, and a broken heart. The stories we told were all true, but they were not true for everyone in our audience. In reality they represented the experience of a minority of people. (From The Hurt No One Sees, emphasis mine)

When we lead people to believe that God offers a quick fix to our problems, we misrepresent God’s promises, and we often turn people away from God.  If God doesn’t come through for them, they reason, either there is something wrong with God, or something wrong with them, and neither option offers hope.

But when we recognize that God promises to be with us in the midst of the trouble, we open ourselves up to the blessings He offers us as we walk through them. And we begin to learn what it taking heart DOES mean.

What have you learned about taking heart? or about what taking heart is not?  Please share your thoughts. And come back next week as we begin our discussion of what take heart does mean, with Week 2: Taking Heart is a Choice!