A Broken Heart

There is a breaking of the heart which is gentle and makes it deeply penitent, and there is a breaking which is violent and harmful, shattering it completely.

St. Mark the Ascetic, On The Spiritual Law, 18

A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and chain for the soul when it leaves this life; whereas an assiduous heart is an open door.

St. Mark the Ascetic, On The Spiritual Law, 20

My wife and I have had several discussions lately concerning how we speak to one another. We often find ourselves reverting back to our childhood habits. Being the oldest meant that we picked on our younger siblings and nagged them to death with inconsiderate words and actions. It is all too easy for Katie and me to treat each other the same way, even though we are married and “grown up.” When I catch myself returning to these old habits I feel a real tension within myself. If I give in to the temptation to disrespect my wife I inevitably experience guilt and sorrow. When this happens it takes a good while for me to get out of this funk, and it seems that the same is true for Katie. I guess you could call it a “breaking of the heart.”

When I give in to this sin I feel trapped. It appears as if there is no end to this labyrinth of guilt and shame. St. Mark says, “A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and chain for the soul when it leaves this life,” but it feels like that chain is already rapped around my soul when I exercise no self-control. This breaking is painful. However, when I sense that I am about to respond with harsh or sharp words and I am able stop myself before I start there is a sense of deep gratitude and penitence. I am able to confess and move on. This breaking is gentle.

St. Mark finishes his previous statement by saying that “an assiduous heart is an open door.” An open door is an apt illustration for how God wants us to be. Indeed, Jesus told the church in Sardis that he was standing there knocking. If only they would open and let him in he would dine with them. The preceding verse declares, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” An assiduous heart is quick to see its own faults and to seek repentance and forgiveness from Christ. No matter who we are we will experience the pain of a broken heart.

Nevertheless, we as followers of Christ know that when temptation comes we have a choice. We can choose to submit ourselves to those things that no longer have dominion over us and thus experience a painful breaking of the heart, or we can refuse the entrenched passions within our heart and pray that God would continue to heal us. Remember, “…the really intelligent people are those who control their own desires.” It is God who helps us in our weakness. Mark comments, “Peace is deliverance from the passions, and is not found except through the action of the Holy Spirit.”  So, may his reproof be gentle toward us. May we be led to see that we have an infinite wellspring of power and grace “hidden in the cross of Christ” so that we may reject those old sinful patterns and give  glory to Christ our God!

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