I felt so helpless. I would have traded places with him if I could have. (That’s not entirely selfless. Sure I wanted to spare my son the pain and give him a merry Christmas, but returning from vacation 10 pounds lighter instead of 10 pounds heavier would have been a welcome first.)

You know, if you pray for my son right now, God will hear your prayers outside of time and apply them to when he was sick. Go ahead and try it.

Thanks for your prayers! You’ll be happy to hear that my son got better. 

While I was away from home feeling powerless to help my little boy, I was also watching Key Life wrap up one of our most difficult years financially. At Key Life Network, like many organizations, we’re doing more with less. On top of that, we’re taking a leap of faith into some new areas. That’s scary too.

My wife and I did the best we could during this time. It was tough. We’ve been in counseling, working through some heavy stuff. You know that horrible silence couples can put each other through? That’s what we gave each other for Christmas. 

Honestly, I wanted to drink it all away, but I knew that would just make things worse. It was tempting though. Numbing out all the pain and fear sounded so good.

Now I’m back home, trying to figure out how to juggle no-interest credit card offers in order to manage the payments on those plane tickets to Chicago (along with the rest of our looming debt). 

The uncertainty of life is stressful. Did I mention how much I want to escape all this?

Instead of booze, I turned to religion to try and bribe God to make my troubles go away. I pointed out my full-time service for the Kingdom, the seminary classes, the book I’m writing “for him” and, of course, how I haven’t gotten drunk. I thought maybe all my good behavior could earn me a few more bucks or some assurance about the future. It didn’t work.

However, while I was being religious, I went to a church retreat with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, thinking that if my circumstances weren’t going to change, maybe God would show up and give me what I needed to get through them. 

He did.

During the retreat, there was a time for people to pray for one another’s hearts.  

Now, all of the numbing I have done over the years left me pretty dead inside. I came to not expect much from God (that way I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain of disappointment). For some time I’ve had this vision of my heart as a crusty, shriveled-up, raisin sort of thing.

So I sat there while two strangers silently prayed for my heart with their hands on my back, and that image of my scabby raisin kept going through my mind. I started to pray, “God, please heal my heart. Please heal my heart.”

Then I imagined that God said, “No.”

That’s about right, I thought. 

Then the voice in my head said, “I will not heal your heart, but I will give you mine.”

I’m like, “Huh?”

And he said, “You don’t need a healing; you need a transplant.”

Then the image of the sacred heart of Jesus appeared in my mind’s eye. You know the image? It’s no raisin heart. It’s full and aflame with passion and love. Sometimes it’s seen with the Holy Spirit descending on it as a dove. This heart is alive because it’s the heart of the living God.

But there’s more. This sacred heart of Jesus I was being offered in exchange for my raisin is wrapped in thorny vines. It has a spear wound in its side and it’s bleeding. It’s in pain. Love hurts.

I’ve had some time to ponder all this and I think I know what it means. 

If we want to be fully alive, we can’t numb the pain. Because when we deaden the pain of the thorns with booze or religion or relationships or porn or money or entertainment, we put out the flame of passion too, and our heart shrivels up. We lose the joy of living. We lose hope. It’s impossible to selectively kill parts of our heart. The whole thing goes, the passion with the pain. 

In contrast, Jesus’ heart is full of love, full of passion and pain, and no matter how dead we’ve gotten, his heart is ours for the receiving. It’s never too late for a transplant.

Later at that retreat, the leader of our time together handed me a little piece of paper with a scripture verse scribbled on it, Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

Like I said, God showed up and he gave me what I needed.

I started writing here looking back on the calendar at all of the uncertainty I carried from Christmas into 2013, and now I look to Easter.

Isn’t Jesus’ sacred heart what it’s all about—God and man as one, suffering? But not just suffering. It’s enduring the cross, fully alive and passionate, keeping our eyes on the joy set before us. 

What joy? 

The joy God shares with us as we go through life and death and beyond, together, with one heart. It’s the cup of love he drank and the cup he offers. It’s the cup we offer others.

Now, when the kids get sick and the money’s gone and the marriage is more worse than better, I try to remember the sacred heart I share with Jesus. It helps knowing I don’t suffer alone. He’s inside of me filling me with love, and love is worth it.

When the fear and the pain come for you, maybe remembering Jesus’ sacred heart will help you too. Know that you’re connected to him, no matter what. Feel the pain—don’t run from it—and his passion for you will set your heart aflame with love too.