Examining the secret things of the heart
the secret things of others
“God has given you one face and you make yourself another.”
The human heart is so complex; we hardly know ourselves, let alone another human being. Yet, we spend a great deal of time analyzing and judging the actions and words of others, seeking out their secret motives and basically guessing in the dark. There are a number of reasons why we do this. Part of it is in order to predict what others will do, to protect ourselves in the future, to exonerate our own misbehavior, and to feel somehow superior to them in the present, since we really understand what makes them tick. Obviously, none of these aims helps us to grow in humility. We are like Ham thoughtlessly uncovering Noah’s nakedness, but carefully covering our own. Another reason for prying into the secret motives of others is that we prefer to avoid thoughtfully examining our own lives.
Self-examination takes effort, silence, and faith. The focus within requires more effort than letting our gaze wander on things around us. Self-examination requires silence and slowing down, for the noise of daily life and motion distract us continuously. It also requires faith, because we all fear what lurks inside our hearts—our secrets—those things that we scarcely even admit to ourselves. However, these are the depths to which the Gospel calls us. We are called by Jesus Christ our Master and Lord to plumb the depths of our own heart. He alone can command us to do this, for He alone knows the heart of man, knows its depth, and knows how splendid the heart can be when filled with His light. Saint Ambrose wrote, “The Lord knows all things, but he waits for your words, not in order to punish you, but to pardon you.” But how can we even confess our secret sins and perhaps unknown passions, unless we look deep into the secret recesses of the heart in order to really see them and know them?
It takes courage and receptivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to quiet our own heart and look within. Saint Macarius the Great teaches us, “The heart is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are lions also; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. There also are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices. . . For our Lord Jesus Christ came for this reason, to change and transform and renew human nature and to recreate this soul that had been overturned by passions through the transgression. He came to mingle human nature with his own Spirit of the Godhead.”
In order for this transformation to take place, we must first recognize the “dragons, lions, and poisonous beasts” within our own heart. We must discover what are those attitudes, ways of reacting, ways of feeling that poison our relationships with others and with God. We must sense the lion, representing passions and bad habits, stalking its prey, our very soul, and ready to strike her down. We must see where the road to do what is right seems so uneven and why it is so uneven. This is not possible if we are busily searching out the sins and secrets of others, rather than concentrating on our own rocky terrain. Recognition and acknowledgment of the “dragons, lions, and poisonous beasts” within our own heart compels us to cry out to the Lord for help. Rather than fearing such, we should see this as a moment to draw closer to God. God’s compassion and mercy allows us to glimpse our own pitiful state so that we recognize our need for Him and begin to become humble, quiet, and full of even greater love for our merciful Savior. Saint Macarius and the ancient fathers recognize this as a moment of grace and an opportunity for us to embrace the salvation offered us. This is the “hell” to which Christ calls Saint Silouan to maintain his mind yet despair not. It is a blessed, salvific moment, full of grace and God’s love, and strange though it may seem, those things that were secret are released and taken from us by the hand of Christ Who in return sheds upon us His great and rich mercy.