I believe that three characteristics of the heart make the difference between a life well lived in which we persevere and generate versus a life we survive and stagnate. The three characteristics extend from the core of a person into the behaviors one exhibits. They are inextricably linked or blend into each other, as when people are fully alive, they tend to love deeply, and people who love deeply tend to lead lives that benefit others, as they themselves have been benefitted.
The three characteristics are passion, intimacy, and integrity. They are not goals to achieve, as much as gifts we receive by caring about our lives and others. They don’t come by climbing mountains to find them, but instead they come by surrendering to how we were created from the beginning. They are not about perfection, but more about a willingness to risk all imperfection for something that matters more than appearance. They are not photographs we possess that capture them, as much as paintings within our hearts that are never finished.
Passion is a willingness to be in pain for something or someone that matters more than our protection from pain. It is the energy of perseverance that allows us to remain in full participation with our hands, our heads, and our hearts. We need this energy because if we care about something or someone, we are guaranteed some really tough, embarrassing, even humiliating, days, weeks, months, and years.
Concerning passion, I always think of the parents who awaken during the night to feed their child, the prayers offered for growth and good, the heartache of caring when heartbreak comes to the child, and the heart-thrill of celebration that comes when joy arrives. Staying in the fight of love with a child is a journey of perseverance, riddled with mistakes and heartaches, growth and foreboding joy. It requires passion, a great willingness to be in pain for someone who matters more than the protection from having pain. Passion, likewise, is required for all endeavors of the heart—if we are to persevere. Caring and pain go hand in hand, as does imagining and fear go hand in hand.
No one can live the passion of caring and the inevitable pain alone. We all need help. Intimacy is the doorway to the help, and the dwelling in which we learn to live what matters to our hearts. Intimacy occurs through our willingness to allow our hearts to be seen into, or “into-me-see.” Intimacy truthfully reveals our feelings, needs, desire, longings and hope.
To allow ourselves to be known from the inside out offers opportunity to have our hearts fed. We “eat” the encouragement of hope, and we receive the strength that comes when we don’t live our lives alone. Children hunger to know the heart of who is raising them. The more the parent knows their own heart and is nourished well themselves, the abler the parent will be to feed the child’s heart. The fuller the heart, the more abundant the offering. Intimacy makes the bond of caring stronger. It gives us the courage to risk our hearts, the reason to contend, and the strength to stay in a cause.
Integrity extends from passion and intimacy. Because we are willing to be in pain for something greater than our desire to protect ourselves from pain, and because we have a reason to stay in the struggle—others in it with us who matter greatly—we develop the capacity of trustworthiness. Integrity means whole or sound. Implied in the soundness is that one’s insides and outsides have consistency. Not perfection, but consistent dependability of truthfulness. Simply put, at 1:00 am a person possesses the essential character they present at 1:00 pm. Their intentions, words, behaviors, and follow-through can be depended upon—imperfect though it will always be.
Children naturally expect integrity, and are deeply wounded when they find that the appearance doesn’t match reality. Like when we see a giant tree brought down by a storm and find that it was hollow inside. People who have passion and intimacy cannot help but develop essential integrity. I think we are all looking for it in others and wish to offer it, too. Though always imperfect, integrity is a guaranteed outcome of people who have passion and live in intimacy. They see who they are made to be, and do what they are made to do.
Jesus lived passion, intimacy, and integrity completely, and, of course, perfectly. We don’t and can’t. With his passion, he persevered beyond whatever pain he had to experience. In his intimacy, he let himself be known for who he was, and he sought to know us from the inside out. With the integrity that flowed out of his passion and intimacy, he offered a trusted place to take everything we are and are not.
We will never live passion, intimacy, or integrity perfectly, nor will we ever live them completely. However, we can be partakers of such. He is the bread. Our daily prayer will always be, “give us this day our daily bread.” We are merely partakers of what he did, and humbly partake we can certainly do—one day at a time. We can live how we are created to live one day at a time, letting passion, intimacy, and integrity be essential guideposts of daily life.