habits of the heart

ruthielemingI’m almost finished with Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, and it is a worthwhile read. This passage has made me think: (emphasis in the original)

Where did she find the patience? On the way back from New Orleans the day before, Hannah and I agreed that neither of us could be teachers because we both lack the patience her mother had. Ruthie’s determination to see the good in everyone, and not to push back or get mad, had long been a source of befuddlement and annoyance to some of us who loved her. We thought at times she let people take advantage of her because she was unwilling to provoke conflict. Mam and Paw and I talked about this often, even before Ruthie got sick.

“Her class this year is really tough,” Mam told me just that morning. “The other teachers said to her once, ‘How do you put up with them?’ She told them, ‘I love those kids, and maybe they can change.'”

It was that simple with Ruthie. But for many of us, that’s the hardest thing in the world. I find it hard to love anybody who’s not lovable. Ruthie found everyone lovable, if not necessarily likable. I never thought about where this instinct came from in her until that awful week, when I saw this habit of Ruthie’s heart in the light of mortality — hers, ours — and in the light of the generosity from all those she had touched over her lifetime. By the time I made it to Ruthie’s front porch that Saturday morning, I saw my country-mouse sister in a new way. I thought, What kind of person have we been living with all these years?

The part that is sticking with me is in that last paragraph: “this habit of Ruthie’s heart.” Our hearts really do have habits, don’t they? And habits are what make up our character. What are the habits of my heart? What are the habits of yours? It’s not something we really think about, is it? We think about habits as behaviors: biting fingernails, smoking, turning to food for comfort, exercise, etc.  But our hearts have habits — some good, no doubt, but some not good at all. What if we took some time to think about those habits? What does my heart tend to do when I don’t get my way? What is my heart’s habit when I’m criticized? Where does my heart go when I do get my way? What is my habit when I’m praised? What is my heart’s habit when I have to wait?

It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it? And praying about.

Dreher’s story of his sister reminds me of this passage in N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:

We are always on stage. We are always in a novel, and even when no other characters are around, the art continues. The Triune audience watches. You have been given your body. You have been given your ancestors, your natural strengths and your natural weaknesses. The backstory is all in place. You have been drawn, described, and placed on a stage unlike any other — the Globe. And you have been given your freedom to act. Your story has begun already. It began when that lucky, eager sperm stood on the winner’s platform and listened to its national anthem. One tail flick slower and you would be someone else. You would be named Theresa now and you wouldn’t be you. Theresa would have been better at this whole life thing. Would have been more beautiful. Good at the piano. Loved by all who knew her.

Or not. Apparently you were worth bringing onto this stage. But why? Are you an extra in somebody else’s scene? Are you here as a casualty? A comic throwaway? The girl who drops her top and starts the horror film? Are you here to fall in love by chance, be given a beautiful life, and then burn it all to hell in five short minutes at a Motel 6? Are you a cautionary tale?

We are all watching. We are all watched.

To some people, this could seem glamorous. The whole idea of being in a novel or film or reality show is quite appealing.

We know what kind of people they are. We can see the shallowness, the superficiality of their self-love. But for some reason, they can’t. For some reason, none of us can when we are set on making asses of ourselves. Listen to your dialogue. Look at your thoughts. Be horrified. Be grateful that God loves characters, and loves characters on journeys, characters honestly striving to grow. If someone else was delivering your lines, would you like them? If someone else was wearing your attitude, would you be impressed?

I love books that challenge me and make me think. And when I’m still thinking about them months or years later? Even better.

One thought on “habits of the heart

  1. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: June 8, 2013 | Semicolon

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