“Love transforms one into what one loves.” St. Catherine of Siena
The human heart has to be ranked high on the list of the greatest mysteries of the world. Just think about that for a while. Do you know of anything else so mysterious, wonderful, painful, imaginative, creative, warm and cold, mean and loving, and sometimes all in the same day?
According to most online internet-for-wanna-be medical experts like me, the heart beats about 100,000 times every day, pumping close to 1,900 gallons of blood to every cell in the body. This adds up to about 36.5 million beats a year, nearly 700,000 gallons of blood yearly, and 2.5 billion beats in an average lifetime. Some heart surgeons liken every contraction to the effort it would take for us to hold a tennis ball in our palm and give it a good hard squeeze. Yet as incredibly marvelous as our heart is, it is only one of many examples in this universe of ours that is designed to tell us something about our Creator. This is the idea behind the story of a man named Matthew.
Matthew was a bright, clever, and witty young man who caught the eyes of his elementary school teachers early on. Most of the time, he was extremely helpful, courteous, and kind, but like with all of us, there was a not-so-bright side. Don’t get me wrong, please. We are not talking about some latent criminal in the making, at least not at first. You see, he loved comic books, all kinds, all of the genres. When he had the chance to accompany his mom to the grocery store, when grocery stores still had rows and rows of magazines and comic books for sale, Matthew would wait there until she was finished shopping. She always knew exactly where to find him, patiently and safely waiting to carry some of the bags of food and other items back to the car. Once in a while, he was rewarded with a comic book of his choice, normally plastering a huge smile on Matthew’s face.
Somewhere along the way, Matthew developed a troubling habit of stealing his comic treasures from the grocery store. There was not always time and money to purchase a couple of them after their regular visit to supply their home with necessities and perhaps because it seemed easier than just asking and being told “no,” Matthew began to steal his favorite commodity. One or two at first, then several, placing them under his shirt so that he wouldn’t be noticed or that his sweat wouldn’t ruin the bright-colored ink off the pages.
The first time he was caught, his father decided that he would not overreact as his own father had done with him on some, not the same kinds of infractions, but similar in scope regarding the deceit that it took to cover up the disobedience. His wife had found two comic books hidden under the pillow case, not with other “legally” purchased items. His father very calmly collected them and then drove his pre-teenage son back to the grocery where he had him return the heist, ask forgiveness, then pay for them out of his allowance. Upon returning home, he would engage in a stern and thoughtful lecture about stealing.
Perhaps prematurely, Matthew’s dad had secretly patted himself on the back for having successfully averted a major crisis. Thinking that he may even call his own dad to brag a little, he began to set his sights on helping his son prepare for the wiles of high school, not too far away in the distance. This, however, was about the time that it happened again. Believing in his own mind and self-critically posturing himself as the one who definitely will NOT be receiving the “Father of the Year” award, this time he was angry. He yelled a bit, only to find that the louder he got, the more stoned-faced Matthew appeared to be. He was motivated by a sense of failure mixed with disappointment and laced with worry, he knew something had to be done and no idle threat would do. “Matthew,” he continued, “No son of mine is going to grow up and be a thief. It’s a comic today but it’ll be a car tomorrow. If this happens again, I warn you, I will have to spank you.”
[Now here is when we need to break away a little from the telling of this story to enter a small but worthwhile disclaimer. We are not advocating corporal punishment nor are we criticizing it. Every parent must come to their own decision about their child’s discipline.]
That having been said, things crept back to normal but there was clearly something different. Father and son were not talking as much anymore. Simple acts of affection and playful nudges were no longer accepted by the growing Matthew. He was either too old for his parents’ doting or he was still mad about the threat and did not know how to process all of this while testosterone, and the emptiness about fitting in and looking cool, beset his psyche.
Perhaps a family vacation miles away in the midst of nature would be perfect for all of them. There was a state park about three hours from their home, far from the maddening crowds and looming changes. No TV or other distractions, just family time would be great. There would be no huge grocery store, just a little trading post for sodas and bait, and those camping sort-of necessities. But Matthew was at that age where he had one foot in childhood and one perious toe in his perceived notion of being a man. Things were changing fast and it was overwhelming. But he did not put up a fight, nor did he act excited. He was successful at curbing his enthusiasm and remained quiet during the entire travel to the vacation spot and even when they arrived. And as quickly as they had spent this time together, it was over, and life, such that it was, returned to normal.
The week before school was about to start, the silence in the house began to grow heavy. Eye contact between parents and son increased with alarming regularity. While Matthew was polite and civil enough, especially around dinner, there was something quite not right and soon the mystery would be revealed. It was a pleasant enough day outside as one discovery led to another event reaching a watershed moment. Dad was at work and Matthew was at a friend’s house while Mom was cleaning the house and getting ready for dinner. That’s when she found them. Three brand new comic books, two of which were still in plastic covers hidden very cleverly between the towels over his dresser. Her heart sank for she knew this was going to ignite a firestorm that had been building up all these months. And she was right.
She had called her husband at work and had already summoned Matthew back home where he was waiting in his room for his dad’s return. He was clearly upset while Matthew tried to keep calm and unfocused. When his father asked him where these particular comic books were from, Matthew did not hide anything. In a characteristically adolescent tone of voice, he quickly admitted that he stole them. He somehow thought that he would be somewhat in the clear since he stole these comic books while they were away on vacation and all but tried to lessen the consequences since they couldn’t drive all the way back to return them as he had previously been forced to do at the local grocery store.
This pivotal encounter between father and son had begun with this: “Matthew, I told you what was going to happen if this should ever happen again, that I would have to spank you.” “But why, Dad? We can’t return them so they’re mine,” came the feebly concocted response. “I’ll do better than that, Matthew.” And with that, his dad took the comic books with his son outside where he quickly fired up the bar-b-que pit and with one fell swoop, tossed theme into the flames where they seemed to burst into a fireball, no doubt because of the richly entrenched colorful ink that characteristically displays the comic genre. After the last piece of charred ash ended its freefall into the wind, his dad continued: “Matthew, go to your room and wait for me.”
For both father and son, the waiting couldn’t have seemed any less than a prolonged eternity. Matthew knew he was in the wrong and tried desperately to come to grips with this fascination of stealing something he could have easily just asked for. His father, however, was far beyond agonizing. His threat of a spanking was probably too impetuous but he, too, had painted himself into a corner. If he did not follow through with this, he would lose his son, he thought. If he was too brutal, again, he thought he would alienate his spitting image for years to come. What would it be, then? With as much resolution and love that he could muster, he walked in. The two met eye to eye with the weight of remarkable honesty mixed with fear and anxiety clearly filling the room, transforming it from a young boy’s refuge to the starting point of real manhood. Three stiff wallops would be sufficient, he thought, and within seconds, it was done. The silence was deafening, and the air in that modest bedroom seemed to have been drawn out like some huge vacuum in space. The reactions were somewhat predictable but not altogether simple. Matthew’s upper lip began to quiver which signaled to his dad that he should leave and allow his son to maintain a bit of dignity intact. But when he left, he barely sauntered into the hallway and, upon seeing his perplexed and worried wife, slid downward against the wall onto the floor weeping miserably. “I can’t believe I just did that! I’m a beast! I can’t believe I hit him!” Now she had two children to deal with.
We must now fast forward this particular slice of life we have just described to a couple of handful of years when Matthew is now a tall, strapping young man driving his mom around town for various sundry errands. They stop at a busy red light near the center of town when she notices a familiar place of family lore. “Look, Matthew,” as she points to the old grocery store, “the scene of the crime.” Her attempt at humor was not too successful and was accompanied by the changing of the light to green and a very pensive young driver poised to say something deep and meaningful.
“You know, Mom, after that last time I got in trouble, I never stole another comic book again. In fact, do you know that I never stole anything ever?”
“Wow!,” she responded, “that must have been quite a spanking!”
“No, Mom, that’s not it, “ he said, pausing and taking in a deep breath. “I never stole ever again because I made my daddy cry.”
So what can we learn from the complexity of this hardworking muscle, the heart? The message may be similar to the sound of waves caressing the shore and stars quietly shining in the night sky. Deep within its chambers and pockets of incredible power and wisdom, we find billions of reasons to trust the One who created us believing that love changes everything.
Human hearts weigh less than one pound, have about 60,000 miles worth of blood vessels, and about 2,000 of them are transplanted every year. But most importantly, they are the centers of our personality, the engines of our life’s dreams, and are completely restless until they rest in God (St. Augustine).
And when they love at their fullest potential, the world stands still.Share your thoughts (18 thoughts)