What does your heart look like?

One of my favorite ways to pray is by talking out loud to God from the confines of my car. There is something sacred and personal about the isolation that allows me to open my heart to God, something about the movement that helps me not hold back, something about speaking my prayer aloud that makes the conversation with God seem more real. In this space, God seems easier to talk to. And often he’s easier to hear.

On one of my four-hour drives back from visiting my family, I opened my mouth and started praying — though ranting might be the more accurate term. Sometimes (well, it should be all the time), we need to be bold, honest and raw with God. And on this drive, that’s how I started — unburdening my heart to the God who knows me best.

During this particular car ride, I was offering a specific person to God, someone I had drifted away from. While I know not everyone I meet can remain a part of my life, and that God’s plans often take people in different directions, letting go of this friendship was harder than most. I felt a physical pain as if my heart had been wounded in a small way, a wound that returns with a dull ache at the memory of lose-your-breath-laughing moments and deep, prayer-centered conversations, contrasted with the thought of how things could have been. But knowing God’s plan is bigger than mine, I offered this person back to God and asked, “Why do I keep holding on to people? Why can’t I just let go, knowing this is your will? Why do I let myself get hurt over people?”

The image of the Sacred Heart came to mind, a heart pierced for love. Lately I’ve been meditating on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and his precious blood, which are devotions for the months of June and July. I’ve come to love images of the Sacred Heart, along with those of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Chaste Heart of St. Joseph. Both the hearts of Christ and his mother are pierced in some way: The Sacred Heart wears the crown of thorns, and a wound (like that of the wound in Christ’s side) flows with blood; the Immaculate heart is also pierced, this time with a sword, often seven swords representing the seven sorrows of Mary. The Immaculate heart is likewise crowned with roses, and the Chaste Heart of St. Joseph is depicted surrounded by lilies. Each of these hearts knew suffering, though they are now crowned with glory and burn with immense joy. Each of these hearts knew what it was to ache for others, to be pierced for love.

In that moment, as I thought about Christ’s heart, and as my own heart ached, I prayed, “God, what does my heart look like?”

What I saw in my mind’s eye was similar to the hearts of the Holy Family: My heart was covered with the faint scars of previous wounds that had healed and faded with time, but there was one open wound from which flowed a slow trickle of blood; and below my heart, my blood was watering a flower bed.

My eyes teared up (which is the downside of praying in the car) as I realized that the ache that I was experiencing was not for nothing. I felt my wounded heart consoled by Christ who sees and knows me, who never allows any love to go to waste, who always uses love for good. Let me explain.

For some of the friendships I’ve bled for (figuratively), my heart was pierced when I saw them make decisions I knew would hurt them in the long run but from which I could not protect them. And in other cases, it was something simple, such as drifting apart or God leading us in different directions. In both cases, I was moved to prayer, offering these people — their joys and pains — to God, asking him to take care of them and bring about their good. Even in the ache, love led me to prayer.

As is often the case, I may not always see the fruit of my prayers. And yet, as Christ revealed to me during that car ride, my ache was not pointless — for my prayers have watered a garden of souls. And who knows? I might not have prayed for them as often if everything seemed perfect. Maybe my prayers — and a lot of God’s grace — were what they needed to thrive.

As women, we are prone to heartbreak and deep empathy — both in platonic and romantic relationships. Like Mary, our hearts race to the foot of another’s hurt and sit with them at the foot of their crosses, bleeding with and for them. Like Mary searching for the lost Christ child in Jerusalem, our hearts ache for others in separation. Like Mary — and like Christ — with this ache, with this love, we are given an opportunity to water a garden of souls, even souls who don’t know we’re praying for them.

So, sister, what does your heart look like? Is it hurt from loving too much? Is it overflowing with joy? Both can exist simultaneously. Ask God to reveal your heart to you, to reveal how you can water the garden entrusted to you.

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