My Heart is Too Small
JUNE 15, 2023
I recently set out to update my sock wardrobe.
Wanting something with a bit more durability and color, I went with Bombas, a brand that has made a name for itself by donating a pair to a person in need for every purchase. To be honest, I was more interested in quality and fit than the buy-one-give-one, but if someone was going to get a pair of socks because I purchased a pair, great. I guess?
When the socks arrived and I inspected them for the first time, I was surprised to see that the company with a bee for a logo had sewn into the side of each of the socks the phrase “Be(e) better.”
Be better? At what exactly? At life? Or at buying more socks to support their charitable work? It felt like a ploy. Can’t a sock just be a sock?
Bombas are great socks. Five stars. But it felt like I slid into supporting something I didn’t intend, and then got the surprise left hook from the sock itself telling me I’m a terrible person. In the end, though, my heart wasn’t in it. Maybe it should have been. They’re doing good work. But I just didn’t have the care inside me.
The broader conundrum here is that there are a bazillion things going on in the world that we can involve ourselves in, give financially to, or champion as our cause. Facebook has 90,000 non-profits on it alone. The 24-hour news cycle, the internet in our pockets, and the globalization of culture at large all amplify the problem. How do we choose? Do we even get to choose or do others choose for us by telling us what we should care about?
My teenage daughter recently felt this messaging at school where you need to know about everything going on in the world, and you need to not only care but also be the solution to the problem, or you’re a bad person. She laughed it off, seeing the folly of it all, especially as someone who is just trying to get her homework done. But others might not.
Here’s where this realization led me: my heart is too small to care about everything in the world. I want to care, especially when others are inviting me to, but I just don’t. Or better yet, I can’t because my heart is spent elsewhere. As a finite being, the capacity I have for love is also finite. When I love a few things really well, I pour myself out, and I leave little left for something (or someone) else.
This isn’t an excuse for sin or extreme laziness. In one sense my finite love could be a moral problem. I don’t mean to ignore that. But this has more to do with limitations, and, in that, theology. Because in one sense saying, “You must care about everything” is implying we have a capacity for world-changing love on our own — to “be better” on our own. It’s not that far from the more religious notion of “You can save yourself.” Or, “You are the solution.”
Biblically speaking, it’s the voice of what we call the Law. That voice of conditionalized spirituality that puts the brunt on our shoulders, and beckons us toward tireless performance, perfect obedience, and outward religiosity. Even the biggest, arguably most summative law of the Old Testament comes with it an unachievable scope: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” All? Eesh.
But the gospel speaks a better word. My heart will never be big enough, nor does God ask it to be. But Jesus’s heart is big enough. When the Bible says he loves the whole world, it’s not exaggerating. He has the ability to do it. And the desire. And he backs it up by giving away his own body on a cross, with outstretched arms, to poor sinners like us. As the Apostle John says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Though we have not loved God with all our heart, he has loved us with all of his. And the new heart we are given when we believe isn’t a bigger heart per se, but a softer, God-facing heart. Said differently: newness for the Christian doesn’t come with some hopeless second chance at doing better this time, but a heart that owns our limitations, stops striving, and looks away from ourselves toward the one who always had (and always will have) the capacity for big love.