You know that moment when, in addition to the frustration of a “situation,” you have the frustration of not being exactly certain (or being unwilling to admit) what the real problem is? We’re just so full of pent-up angst that reacting in any way at all at least offers the relief of release. Sometimes our spirits are so tied in knots over a deep issue that it seems easier to start yanking away at something insignificant than it is to address a very real, very tangled mess.
There’s a saying in my family for moments like that: “The issue’s not the issue.”
I found myself in one of those situations recently. I’d been yanking away at small things instead of giving God time and space to unravel the knots I’d been making around my heart.
See, I have this new theory that we make a wall of knots around our hearts for a specific reason: we’re getting skittish about being bruised.
After all, who really wants to sign up for getting beaten to a purple-blue-green pulp?
As my siblings and I were always quick to chant for dish duty, “Not It!”
But Mother Mary Francis (abbess of a cloistered community of Poor Clare nuns, by the way. Hardcore, right?) explains something important about this in her book Anima Christi. She tells of traveling with a small group of nuns to found a new monastery. With only a short time to prepare, in their eagerness to work quickly and focus on their individual tasks, they ended up running into each other pretty frequently. She returned home and realized she was covered in bruises, “Beautiful little emblems of our earnest desire to do something beautiful for God…so glad was I to have been bruised in trying to work with and help sisters so dearly loved.”
It was the next part she wrote that really that hit me: “Easily the reflection opens out that we can never help one another spiritually, either, if we do not wish to be bruised. With an unbruised heart we shall never love. Indeed, it is inevitable that when we really love, we shall get bruised.”
I was considering this potentially pulp-like lifestyle when I remembered the mini-epiphany I had on the last feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.
You know Thomas, that doubting guy. I never had much sympathy for that one, I’m afraid. Not that I really thought about him long enough to have much of anything towards him, except a sort of mild bemused feeling. I’m not necessarily one of those “show me” people, I couldn’t exactly relate on that level.
So the mini-epiphany was this: maybe it wasn’t that Thomas wasn’t just all believe-it-when-I-see-it, maybe Thomas was so reluctant to believe the Resurrection because he was hurt.
(Disclaimer: I am by no means a biblical scholar or expert, but I’ve seen Mother Angelica do the “Suppose this about a Bible Person” thing so I’m giving it a try.)
Suppose Thomas came from a tough family. Suppose someone he loved had abandoned him. Maybe he had reasons to fear vulnerability: maybe experience had taught him the heart is safest when it is unattached.
And then there was Jesus. Maybe for three years Thomas let Him untie the knots around his heart, let Him pour love gently into the spaces that perhaps had been bruised.
Supposing that was the case, imagine what it would have been like to lose Him. To lose the Person Whose love you had experienced and lived on for all that time, your best friend, your leader, the center of your dreams and plans…gone.
How much easier, how much more reasonable, to wrap up the heart in angry, doubtful knots than to hold onto something as delicate and fragile as hope. So much simpler to live in our heads instead of loving with our hearts.
So maybe Thomas did just that.
Much as I hate to admit it: maybe I do, too.
Because I cannot express how much I absolutely hate the thought of living as a bruised, pulpy purple mess. Can I get an “Amen”?
But the redeeming beauty here is that Jesus is more familiar with the pains, bruises, wounds, and temptations of the human heart than even we are. We might get bruised, but He doesn’t leave us there. He knew that Thomas, and many more after Thomas, would need the moment where He does not condemn our fear, but reassures our faith. He sees our foolish attempts to avoid disappointment by pretending hope never existed. He places His finger on that wound of our hearts when He invites us to place our finger in the wound of His side.
Now, it is of course important to have a properly formed intellect and will. I’m not talking about flower-power-fluffy-“love” here. I mean real, come-what-may, Christ-like love being lived out for the glory of God.
As a priest told me recently: “Jesus made your heart forsomething.” He has a plan for it. That plan, I’m pretty sure, does not involve living surrounded by knots. Our Lord wants us to be free to serve Him in love. I can be confident of this because the Church has even given us a representation of the Blessed Mother as Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
Maybe if you’re feeling knotted up, you can ask her to intercede with Her Son that He would set you free, free to love as God intended. If you do, consider yourself in company…I need to ask her that very thing. But there’s always hope for us, fragile as it might seem. John 8:36 even promises it:
“For if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”