Calloused Hearts- Personal Example

I once went to a spiritual retreat in the mountains. There were sermons shared, a great deal of prayer, and time alone to walk in nature. It was a wonderful, spiritual experience. Throughout all the first day I felt my heart opening up and connecting to God. Away from the distractions of the world I could really hear God clearly. We had a more direct communication than I was used to, and I properly understood where I was in life, what was holding me back, and what God would like me to do to advance further.

But when I woke up on the second day of the retreat I found a strange numbness had come over me. I attended the first sermons of the day and struggled to be fully present with them. By the time I hit the second or third lecture the messages had rubbed away my emotional walls and I started to feel spiritually awake again. I had another positive experience throughout the rest of the day.

The third morning the coating of numbness was even thicker. I really wanted to engage with the spirit but it felt like many layers had grown on my heart overnight. The exposure to God, while wonderful, had been tenderizing. There had been a great deal of emotion and my heart had felt more raw and exposed than it was accustomed to. Just like how skin rubbed raw will begin to blister and callous to protect the tender flesh, my heart was toughening itself against further feeling.

This time I only half coaxed my heart back out of its shell. It had reached its saturation point and needed to rest.

Overall the retreat was still a very positive experience. I felt inspired to make some long-term changes to my life and I continue to carry the benefits of that to this day, three years later. I also left with an important lesson about my heart, though. It had an emotional capacity, a threshold for what it was willing to feel. And just like any other muscle, the heart has to be exercised to increase that capacity. I needed more experiences like this retreat to acclimate it to prolonged deep feelings.

Calloused Hearts- Question

Sometimes we feel perfectly genuine and authentic. We are spiritually awake and directly connected to God. We feel committed to everything that is good and ready to make every needed change in our lives. We are vulnerable and open to receiving the love of God and others.

And then we wake up the next day and feel nothing. It is as if our soul felt too exposed and grew several layers overnight to shield it. And even if we know that the previous state was better we can’t just flip a switch to return to get back there.

With this study I want to consider how we return to a genuine and open-hearted place when we’re stuck in the doldrums. I want to consider the practices of prophets and saints in the scriptures, and what ways they found to keep their connection to God fresh.

In the meantime I would love to hear about your own experiences on the matter. Can you recall a moment of spiritual fervor followed by apathy? Were you able to break through to deeper feelings again? What methods did you employ, and how did you know to use them?

Leading to Water- Summary

This study reminded me of my desire to raise children who reach their full potential. Like many parents, I feel the strong inclination to solve all of my children’s problems and answer their every question. Of course, in infancy and early childhood this is essential, they cannot survive without such complete care. But one of my children is now at an age where he is able to assume responsibility and resolve some issues on his own. I find myself wondering what the right balance is of giving him answers versus staying quiet so he can find them on his own.
But this study isn’t only for those in a mentoring position. It is also ideal for those of us who are still coming into our own. Through this study I have also become more aware of crutches I am leaning on, ones that I should have let go of long ago so that I could walk more confidently.
This study was helpful to me from both the perspective of a guide and a pupil. And I imagine that I am not the only one who falls firmly under both categories. There are important lessons in this study for all the different hats we wear. Here are the main principles that came up while I was reviewing the subject.

The Purpose of Mentors

Mentors are a good thing. God made us to be social beings and also imitative beings. Our desire is to be part of a community and to model ourselves after others, and this is by divine design. We therefore ought to seek out the best mentors we can find and learn from them all that we can.
By this approach we are augmented with greater strength and wisdom than we, ourselves, possess. Not only this, but over time we can assimilate that greater strength and wisdom into ourselves, becoming a more full and capable person than we were before.
To a point.
Eventually there is a limit to what any mentor can teach us. If we rely on them continually they will eventually shift from being our support to our crutch. The best teachers therefore push their pupils out of the nest so that their growth isn’t forever stunted. From there it will be up to the pupil to seek out the true source of knowledge and strength. There, alone with God, the student will truly come into their own.
1 Samuel 17:39-40- And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
Genesis 37:23-24, 28- And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him; And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

The Greatest Gifts Man Cannot Give

No person that spends their time just imitating another person will ever reach their full potential. None of us was made to be the perfect carbon copy of each other. I can never be another person as well as they already are. The fullest version of a person I could ever hope to be is my own best self.
And by that same logic, no earthly mentor is able to take us all the way to being our own best self either. Our best self is not their own self, and thus they can only show us so far down that path before their vision falls short.
We require a mentor that is on a higher plane and can see exactly what our full potential really is. We require someone who was walked every step in our own shoes and fully understands where we are and how far we can go. We require a being that can assume the very guise of our best self and show it to us as an example to follow. In short, only God could ever help us to know ourselves perfectly.
Matthew 19:17- And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
John 5:19- Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

God Must Be Met Individually

And of course, no mentor can give us their relationship with God for our own. Only we can make that connection. In fact, of all the areas where a pupil might use their teacher as a crutch, this is the most dangerous. If the pupil’s every spiritual whim is catered to by their mentor they might not ever see the necessity for getting any closer to God. They might stunt themselves in this most essential piece of development.
As I shared in my last post, even Jesus’s disciples couldn’t fully come into their own until he had departed from them. Peter had attested that he would follow Jesus to the very end…but he was not supposed to spend the rest of his life as a follower, he was meant to become a leader. And there wasn’t any space for him to do that while Jesus still filled that role.
It is a hard thing for a mentor to stop shielding the pupil they love. It goes against their caring nature to let a student feel the full force of neediness and failure. But for many of us, maybe even all of us, it is only when we are exposed to the elements that we come to realize our dependence God and begin to seek Him in earnest. And from that all good things follow.
John 16:7, 20 (NIV)- But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

Leading to Water- Matthew 16:17, Matthew 19:17, John 16:7, 20 (NIV)

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

COMMENTARY

Blessed art thou: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father in heaven
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God
Jesus was the literal son of God and only perfect being to walk the earth, yet even he urged his disciples to look higher than himself. He was stressing to them the importance of getting personally connected to the Maker, rather than trying to work through any secondary source.
Perhaps this was because Jesus spent his youth and early adult life getting to know his father before fully embracing his ministry and role as the savior (Luke 2:52). He was simply preaching what he had practiced.

It is for your good that I am going away. You will weep, but your grief will turn to joy
This next verse is very interesting. Jesus is informing his disciples that he will very soon leave this earthly realm, and he is saying that this is a good thing for them. At the time that might have seemed a very strange pronouncement, but he was able to see the bigger picture, and how much his disciples needed him to leave them.
Because while his disciples meant well, they were still using him as a crutch. This is made evident in how clueless they initially became after he did leave them. They didn’t know how to go on and tried to return to the life of lowly fishermen (John 21:3).
But as we see in the rest of their stories eventually they did reach their full maturity, and they only did it after Jesus’s ascension. They could only became the spiritual giants they were born to be after his departure, and so it truly was for their good that he was going away.

Leading to Water- Ether 3:1, 4, 6

And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying:
And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.

COMMENTARY

The brother of Jared went unto the mount and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he cried again unto the Lord, saying: touch these stones with thy finger, that they may shine forth in darkness
Yesterday I examined how the brother of Jared came to the Lord with two problems: the vessels he had been commanded to build had neither light nor air. The Lord addressed the matter of getting air but turned the problem of light back to the brother of Jared.
And I think what the brother of Jared did next was very wise. He worked to make something special, refining rock until it became totally transparent. Surely with God’s omnipotence anything could have been made to glow, even the nearest patch of mud, but the brother of Jared wasn’t so disrespectful as to offer the Lord something like that. Instead he chose to bring the best that he could. He chose to put in personal effort and ingenuity until he could bring something special to the table. Then he asked for help to bring his offering the rest of the way.

And the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord.
The Lord turned the problem over to the brother of Jared and the brother of Jared put in real effort to solve it. It might seem a small thing, but this approach alters the relationship between God and man from being “Master and servant” to “partners.” The brother of Jared had entered a more intimate alliance with God and this was signified by the miracle of seeing his Maker’s finger. This is the sort of relationship that God is seeking with each of us as well.

Leading to Water- Ether 2:18-23

And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.
And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.

COMMENTARY

And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe.
The brother of Jared had been commanded to prepare some ships to carry him and his people across the ocean, and he had diligently followed God’s directions for how to fashion them. It appears from the description given that the boats were designed to move only by the ocean’s currents, with no upper deck and sails, and entirely enclosed with the passengers safe inside.
But now that they were complete the brother of Jared was able to identify a few issues with the vessels: there was no light inside and also no opening for air to enter in. As the Lord had given the brother of Jared the schematics for these boats thus far, he naturally came back to God for further guidance on these new issues as well.

And the Lord said: Behold, thou shalt make a hole, and thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole.
And the Lord did, indeed, solve the first of the problems. He instructed Jared to add a sort of hatch to the boat which could be opened when the water was calm and closed when it was tumultuous. Half of the brother of Jared’s prayers had was answered!

And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?
But for the second issue, the lack of light, God turned things back to the brother of Jared to come up with a solution. Given the omnipotence of God there’s no question that He could have solved this issue off the cuff as well. But He didn’t, and the only conceivable reason I can think of is because He wanted to teach a lesson.
By this point the brother of Jared had been shown several times that God could solve things. The fact that he came asking God for help in the first place shows that he had confidence in the Lord’s abilities. But God did not want this to remain a relationship of “hey God, can you fix my problem?” That sort of relationship would never result in the brother of Jared fully coming into his own. It was the brother of Jared being carried everywhere instead of learning to walk. God wanted to teach that the brother of Jared to use his own ingenuity first, and then utilize God as a resource for that.

Leading to Water- 2 Kings 2:8-14

And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.

COMMENTARY

Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee.

In this passage we read how Elijah was willing to give what he could to his protégé, but Elisha’s specific request was one that Elijah did not have the ability to fulfill. It was a request that Elisha was going to have to take up with the Lord directly.

And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and they parted hither and thither
And so, after Elisha witnessed the departure of his master he took up the mantle, tested his authority, and found that God had indeed granted his request. Elisha had received what Elijah already had but which only God could give.
It is important for each of us to recognize that while our worldly mentors can give us much, they cannot give us all. We might go to school and gain a full education, but the pure love of learning is something that no teacher can impart. And we can learn manners from others, and how to speak kindly too, but no human can put genuine consideration for our fellow man in our hearts. And we can let others convince us of the importance of commandments and spiritual rituals, but no person will ever make God come alive in our hearts for us. These greater things can only come from above.

Leading to Water- 1 Samuel 17:32, 38-40

And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.
And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail.
And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him.
And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.

COMMENTARY

And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine
When Goliath taunted the Israelite armies there was no one in the ranks willing to face him. Israel was in need of a heroic warrior but no one was answering the call. Now once upon a time that hero might have been King Saul himself, but Saul’s great warrior days were long passed. So someone new was needed to take the mantle, and it was into this vacancy that David entered.

And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head
And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; And David put them off him
And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook
Saul was grateful to receive David into this heroic role, and tried to give him his own tools of the trade. But they were ill-fitting for David and he couldn’t make do with them. Saul was dressing up David to fight the giant in close-combat. Maybe that approach would have worked for Saul, but Saul wasn’t the one going to fight the giant. David was, and David worked better at range. David defended his flocks with sling and stone, not sword and shield.
This was David’s calling now and he needed to go about it is own way, with the strengths he had developed himself, with the skills God had bestowed on him.
There is a great temptation for mentors to hover over, to micromanage, and to make sure things are done the “right way.” But so long as the protégé never finds their own “right” way, they can never realize their full potential. Sooner or later everyone else must leave the room and leave the would-be hero alone with God. That is when one really learns what they are made of.

Leading to Water- Give a Man a Fish

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

This, of course, is a very famous proverb. It teaches an important principle about how a person in need is benefited more by improving their faculties than by just improving their immediate situation. But while the principle is obviously true the proper execution of it remains a hotly contested subject.

Some say that giving beggars a handout makes them reliant on an unhealthy system. Others say it is hard for a beggar to care about improving their situation over time when their belly is empty today. So where is the line between teaching someone and becoming their crutch?

Well the problem with debates like these is how they seek a one-size-fits-all solution to a very nuanced problem. Good principles can be applied universally, but the execution of them will always be individual. The correct way to teach Jack to fish will be different from the correct way to teach Jane. Jane might flourish best when learning with a full belly, while Jack might need his hunger to motivate him.

It is better to help people now, even imperfectly, than to wait until you are perfect. Just use your best judgment today and then be ready to adapt your methods as needed.

Leading to Water- Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

COMMENTARY

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He restoreth my soul
He preparest a table before me
He anointest my head with oil
My cup runneth over
I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever
Psalm 23 describes what is the great desire of us all: to feel so meticulously cared for by the Lord, so provided for in all our needs. Each of us should feel that He really is our good shepherd.
But there can be barriers to receiving such opulent care. The Lord cannot be our caring shepherd if we do not elect to be His sheep. And we fail to be His sheep when we are not willing to fully rely on Him.
This might come in the form of depending on the testimony of others instead of seeking out our own. When we believe simply because our parents or pastor believed, then we make them into our shepherd instead, depending on them as an intermediary between us and God. This might also come in the form of saying we do not need anyone. We are our own shepherd, already having all the answers and perfectly capable of providing for ourselves. This mentality pushes away anyone, God included, who might have been a help to us.
Of course friends and mentors are good, and self-reliance is good, too. But each can be taken to an excess. Better to have each built on the foundation of our relationship to God and not the other way around.