Rise up, heart of mine! Rise up!
It is the early 80’s. It is Sunday evening. I am sitting in a pew. Maybe indigenous to all Methodists, but certainly to my little church home, the evening service is more personal. We become a little more real, a little more authentic, a little more honest, a little more raw, a little more brave. Even our very clothes will tell you. In the early 80’s there were still church clothes. But only for morning service. Evening service would find us more comfortable. Like our attire, our personalities tended to relax into the evening. Morning worship was all planned out. Evening worship was impromptu. At the 11am service, the songs to sing were prescribed in the program. Evening service had John, Ellen, Mike and Carolyn approaching Jesus like he was the local radio’s request line. Random calling out of numbers, which lined up with the page number in the “praise hymnal.” Oh yes, the paperback praise hymnal was only used for evening services, we had our hardbacked red hymnal for morning services. We are only playing our favorites in the evening. It was all familiar, comfortable, tried and true on Sunday night. No doubt, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” was a regular Sunday night anthem. Yes, we can relax when we get to be ourselves.
And prayer requests were different. Oh, there are morning prayer requests, but the evening? Those are uniquely personal. As you can imagine, when you’re a member of a little country church on Upper River Road, way out in the country, the men sitting in the room are mostly farmers. And their wives, they live fully into the fact of the farm. There is only so much control you have over God’s creation. Our farming families, they were steeped in strength. They were steeped in relying on the ground, on the rain, on the sun, on the insects, on the roots, on the consistency of their equipment, on the dedication of their help, on so many things. But the farm, it relies on the farmer’s ability to prove his strength. Andrea is a farmer’s wife. She carries the entire weight of an existence dependent upon elements out of her control. She knows vulnerability in an intimate way. So, when Andrea speaks, my whole church was prepped for her to be passionate about her prayer requests. She is absolutely dependent upon God showing up and doing His thing. Her strength is seen in her ability to admit her total dependence. She is overwhelmingly needy. She readily admits her inadequacy. She is completely exposed. She embraces her truth. She shows her courage. While others shout out their prayer requests from the pew, Andrea rises up. She is so thirsty. It is the middle of the summer and it is a particularly cruel and dry summer. Everything is on the line. There is a taste of desperation in her request for rain, but she speaks desperation in such a way we hear her request as a battle cry, and it rallies us. Andrea is a warrior. She is relentless. To be honest, her nakedness makes the rest of us a little uncomfortable yet jealous. Oh, how we wish we could live out of the heart like Andrea does. Somewhere we picked up the message not to put our pains and desperation out there like Andrea does. The message is loud, and it is paralyzing. The message makes us frenetically shut down and hide our hearts.
Andrea though, fully faithful and sold out, lets it all out. She calls us to passion. We are ready to fight for her, her husband and for our sweet earth. Andrea leads the way and just like an ocean’s wave grows as it moves, so do our prayers. The other farmers’ wives, resonating with Andrea’s truth, provide the front line of the chorus because Andrea’s nakedness has given them strength to say, “Me too!” These farmers’ wives they join Andrea in a different way than the rest of our little family of faith can. And the wave grows in strength and power. Led by Andrea and these farmers’ wives we all squeeze and wring the very clouds to pour out the rain. Then Andrea sits back down, and we go forward knowing full well we were all joined together in something important.
Heart. Andrea lives from her heart and she is unashamed. Her husband, Stan, he will return to the fields, maybe even tonight. He will show up and offer his strength, he will be demanded to pull upon the best of himself. Fighting off the fear of losing everything is a huge battle, but he will be asked to bring more than courage. It will call him to rise up and prove his strength physically, mentally and spiritually. Stan too will have to go straight into his heart to keep fighting. If we didn’t already know, Andrea made it clear to us, her prayer is just as much, if not more, for Stan as it is rain.
This memory has stayed with me for about 40 years. It teaches me a little something at different phases of my life but today it speaks on heart. Oh, to live from the heart! It is the wellspring of life, and I have done an awesome job of shaming it into silence. I have banished it and made it small. But what if? What if Andrea got it right? What if true courage looks naked and feels awkward? What if we quit calling our hearts needy and started embracing our needs as part of our Design? We like to think we are honest, but the energy we put into faking it speaks loudly. Want simple proof? How many times have you flippantly answered, “fine, thank you” when someone asked about your wellbeing? How many times have you refused to ask the question because you fear appearing stupid? How many times do you struggle and trudge the road alone instead of asking for help and relief? How many times have you shamed yourself into silence rather than admit a deep desire? How often do you practice self-condemnation rather than accepting you have a true need? Somewhere I swallowed a lie on what it looks like to be strong. Strength looks like Andrea. Rising up, making herself known despite feeling inadequate, desperate and raw. Strength is inviting others into a space where they can lift their heads and admit, “Yes! Me too!” The ability it takes to “go first,” proving to others they are not alone, demands a fortitude. Putting forth an invitation to join in requires a specially trained muscle. Heart. Have you honored yours lately? Truly honored it, by living from it authentically? We have plenty of posers, plenty who bought into the message of shame and smallness, plenty who feel overwhelmed by their heart’s needs and desires, plenty who hide. We need something different. Something purer. Something stronger.
Odd memory to linger for 40ish years, isn’t it? Except on that night, during service, the bottom fell out. I have no idea if it was more than a summer gusher, but I know I walked away thinking Andrea and all the women and men she represented were powerful. Their power is in embracing their heart as beautiful, wild and yes, as tender. Their power is a heart living authentically and fully, embracing everything about it. Their power is in drawing the strength out of others by refusing to buy into the message of silence. Brave, isn’t it? Captivating, isn’t it? Your real, true, authentic, needy, desperate and oh so brave heart– it is required. We need it badly. Yours is the invitation we are starving to receive. Rise up! Oh, courageous one, rise up!