When I get a medical checkup, it’s important for my doctor to find an audible heartbeat. Otherwise, she’s likely to pronounce me dead.
But as a writer, I concern myself with the heartbeat of my words. If people don’t hear the heartbeat of my words, they will pronounce my writing dead.
Recently, I’ve received e-mails that suggest the heartbeat of my column wasn’t audible to some. Responding to my column about delivering death notifications to military families, a Battle Creek, Mich., reader noted my failure to cite the correct scriptural reference.
“I question just how much you know the Scriptures,” she wrote, “and how much you are able to give in your work with our soldiers.”
Is that all she heard? This misquote? Wasn’t the sound of breaking hearts deafening to the reader?
For the record, she’s right. Since turning 50, I can even get the seafaring stories of Noah and Jonah confused. I’ve also been known to walk into the wrong restroom. Fortunately, neither tends to limit the size of my heart for God’s people.
Another reader mistook my heartbeat as the drumbeat for war.
“You’ve morphed into a military man in a minister’s clothing,” he wrote.
He sees my upcoming public speaking events as a “self-glorification tour” seeking the “hero limelight.”
Why hadn’t I made my heart’s struggle over this war more clear? I wish he could hear my heartbreak as it searches for the balance between justice and mercy. I wonder if he would have said the same thing if he had watched me as I watched blood pour from soldiers like water running from a faucet.
While neither reader can know my heart, God can, all too well, actually.
Jeremiah 17:9 (The Message) says: “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.”
Sounds bad, huh? Well, to make the obvious pun, don’t lose heart.
The Scripture continues, “But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human . . . I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.”
It may be that neither my readers nor my friends always will find the audible heartbeat in my words, but rest assured, God hears it.
Generally, there are two reasons people can’t hear the heartbeat of your intentions.
Some people talk too loudly to listen and can’t hear any heartbeat — including their own. They don’t even own a stethoscope. You can’t do much about these people. They often are toxic, and it’s best to keep your distance.
You can, however, do something about yourself. You can, as they say in 12-step programs, “Take care of your side of the street.”
We take care of our side of the street when we decide that we will be the first to look for the heartbeat in a conversation. This is the only way I know. Listen first.
For instance, I can trash these reader e-mails, or I can examine them for a heartbeat. The heart of the first reader beats for the sacredness of Scripture in her daily life. To make myself heard, I must first hear that.
The second reader has a heart breaking over this war. His e-mail indicates he takes the war losses personally. To hear his heart, I must avoid becoming defensive. I must hear his heartbreak.
At the end of the day, I must ask God’s help in following Jeremiah’s advice to treat people “. . . as they really are, not as they pretend to be.”
Will God help you do that if you ask? In a heartbeat, my friend, in a heartbeat.