Do you ever stop to reflect on how much of your heart you’re putting into something, or giving to someone? Being “wholehearted” about something or with someone sure makes a big difference, but it can be very hard to measure or define what wholeheartedness is for any one person in any given situation. But you know it when you feel it! 

I’ve been doing a little journaling lately with a book called “the book of the soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters,” by Mark Nepo. Nepo is a prolific writer on matters of spirituality and the inner life, and is often on the New York Times bestsellers list. His true gift is his ability to “see” the power and the practical applications of the spiritual life across all cultures, religions, and traditions. His work is just as accessible and meaningful to a Hindu, Shinto, Muslim or Christian … or even a “none.”

In his sixth entry in the book, Nepo considers the challenge of living wholeheartedly, claiming that this is the only way “to be lifted by the mystical web of life.” It seems that that the old saying, “you will get out of it what you put into it” is also true in your faith life, in your relationship with God, or in your walk with Jesus. 

So, have you stopped lately to reflect upon how much of your heart you’re giving to God these days? How committed you are to your walk with Jesus? How invested you are in your faith life … and in your church? Nepo says that the “work of being human is to be all-embracing.” When we hold back from investing in the important things in our life, then, he claims, the more random life will appear to be. And “randomness” in our lives makes us very uneasy, as if we’re not in control of things. 

Consider the areas in your life right now that seem to more random (out of control) than you would prefer. One question you may want to ask is: How much of my heart am I investing here? Am I trying to get a bargain, by expecting more out of some area of my life that I am willing to invest? This “wholeheartedness test” can work in almost any part of your life, from your marriage to your work to your family to your church.

But, and this is very important for Nepo, it can also work on yourself!  For instance, think about how “all-embracing” you are with your very own person … you! When you come to yourself wholeheartedly you become able to accept yourself just as you are … everything included. And there is a great freedom from within that comes from honestly accepting all your gifts as well as all your failings. 

When you bring your whole heart to your relationship with yourself, then you no longer deny your stubborn or difficult parts. Your heart becomes spacious enough to hold your full humanity. When this happens, Nepo says, we are able to 1) experience the full miracle of life; and 2) experience the full miracle of love. 

The main reason this happens is because wholeheartedness overcomes what Carl Jung calls our “shadow,” which is where we hide all of our character traits that we would prefer to deny or avoid. As we make less room in our heart for these specific traits, then they become exaggerated within us, and we end up projecting these exaggerated shadow parts of who we are onto others. For instance, it is much more convenient for me to highlight and criticize your self-centeredness than it is for me to deal with mine. 

Think about the traits you have that you would rather deny or avoid. When there is no room in your heart to accept these parts of yourself, then you end up exaggerating them in other people. This means you are not only failing to love yourself, just as you are, but you also end up judging others based on your own shadows. Jung says, “the more we deny any one aspect of who we are, the more powerful and distorted its place in our life.” Eventually, we end up being controlled, even dominated, by the very things about us that we would originally prefer to hide from. 

Wholeheartedness, then, becomes a way to accept, even honor, all the traits about yourself that make you who you are, not just the ones you like. You can never love yourself fully until you love all of yourself! The integrity of wholeheartedness is that it’s completely inclusive.  Not being willing to accept your whole self means that you cannot truly love your whole self. Which, of course, leaves your love fragmented and selective … and that’s not really love at all. 

When we cannot come to accept our selves just as we are, then we cannot come to fully accept and love others just as they are. Nepo puts it this way: “For we can only see as far into the world as we can see into ourselves.” The broader goal of wholeheartedness is to; 1) admit our failings, limitations, and darker impulses, and 2) embrace them into our own efforts at restoring kindness and harmony in our lives. Sounds great! How do we do that? We can begin by accepting our own full humanity, and then help each other repair the torn seams in our lives and in the world, as we discover just how far our love can stretch. 

Searching for my shadows … loving with my whole heart …                                                                                                                                  Pastor Bob <><