A few years ago, my heart took to skipping beats. The lub-dub lub-dub that pounds faithfully hour after hour developed a new rhythm. Like a jump start, a thick thud would land in my chest, making me cough like someone had thumped their fist against my sternum.
I had tests done a few years ago when it first started happening. Blood work, EKGs and doctors visits, a specialist and an echocardiogram. They pressed the ultrasound against my chest and watched this fist-sized muscle fill and contract and pump blood through my veins while the tiny spikes hopped and dipped with one notable skip where the needle would skitter dramatically every few beats.
And in the end, the cardiologist said it is psychosomatic. “We see strips like this from people suffering PTSD,” he told me calmly after looking at my chart taking in the year of sickness and surgeries and life stressors scribbled by my doctor’s hands. “It’s all just been too much lately,” I said.
I called my psychiatrist.
My mind was worn out, my body was trying to tell me so, in its own way, tapping out its solemn morse code, an S.O.S to get my attention.
I slowed down. I logged off. I sat on the porch and watched the sun fall from the blushing clouds in the evenings. I read poetry and ate peaches and still, my heart beat recklessly inside me. I waited for my mind to tell my body I was at peace in my bones. I lost words because my new anxiety meds hushed the noise to a whisper, delicate and subtle. My heartbeat followed obediently becoming steady and faithful again, knocking out its reliable pulse in place of my lost syllables.
As much as I assumed a corrupted muscle was causing my distress, it was instead some malady of temperament or quirk of the mind.
How do you quiet your own heart? How do you make it obey? Is it desperately wicked and ready to betray us at a moment’s notice? Is it our wellspring from which everything flows? Is it that harvested stone, turned to pulpy and vulnerable flesh at Jesus’ touch? Who indeed can know it?
When anxiety floods my system, I fail to make sense of the world and the only assurance I have are the words written on my heart — the reminders of God’s goodness, the chapter and verse of His word, the stories of His faithfulness, the Scripture that reveals who God is.
Writing has been my Rosetta Stone, the language to translate my heart back to me. For a writer to not be writing is inviting chaos to dwell in the mind. Words bottled up and banging against their soul like a heart gone feral. I think of the landscape of the human heart. The atlas of my world, a globe with its veins and arteries acting as tributaries feeding life back to me.
When my heart was quiet and steady within me, I forgot to pay attention to its beat. It only grabbed my attention when it was abnormal. We don’t pay any mind to the ordinary things that carry on without thought or notice. They simply are: our hearts just beat, our lungs just breathe, our life just is.
It’s only when our lives are interrupted that we begin to take notice. I think this is true of most things but writing is the thwack against my chest that makes me look closer, listen more sincerely, ponder what had always seemed normal and commonplace. It is the place where God continually interrupts me, like that one beat that won’t line up and calls for examination.
Lately, I’ve wondered about the value of some discomfort, some pebble in my shoe that rubs and blisters and make me acknowledge each step. How far I have to go, how far I’ve come. Some irritant demanding I pull off my shoes and stand tender footed before my God.
Take notice of it all. Bear witness, bare-soled, toes wiggling.
Let loose and shake out all the things clambering for attention and let yourself hear the sound of your own heartbeat while you feel what you have tried so hard to numb, to ignore, to push past with a can-do attitude and some inspirational pep talks.
Don’t forge ahead without pausing to feel the breath of God in your still and silent soul, the nectar of peaches fresh on your tongue. Whisper, Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Over the years, I’ve learned to live the interruptions. Sickness, weakness, disappointment, fragility of mind, loss. They’ve kept me company for years. I am learning to see them not so much as a derailment of my best intentions but as a part of life that reminds me to come empty with my heart wild inside me and trust I will be found.
Let our hearts beat unrestrained listening to its rhythm, an invitation to see again what we never noticed the first time.
For more on seeing God’s glory in the midst of weakness, Alia Joy’s book, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack, ventures to create a conversation that acknowledges suffering, poverty, and lack as a place for learning, growth, and ultimately, reliance on God.
Don’t forge ahead without pausing to feel the breath of God in your still and silent soul. -@aliajoyH: Click To Tweet