My flesh and my heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart

and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:26)

. . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

“Hi, I’m the heart plumber,” said the doctor, smiling. Earlier, he’d done the cardiac catheterization that injected dye into Kevin’s heart. Now he stood beside the stretcher, holding a diagram of the cardiac arteries, marked with a lot of shadings and numbers. It didn’t make a pretty picture.

“You have 100 % blockage in your main coronary artery, 90 % in this one, 80% in this one, and 60% in this one,” he said, pointing to the main offenders. There were others also marked with smaller percentages.

‘Now,’ he said, “we have three options.” He put his hand over the drawing, covering it. “We can forget we saw all this, and you can go home and put your affairs in order, and good luck to you. Or, we can put in some stents and they can give you some relief for a while.

“Or,” he said, “we can do bypass surgery. At your age, if you have the surgery and take care of yourself, it should do you for the rest of your life.”

“What do you think?” Kevin asked me after the doctor had left.

“I think it’s a no-brainer; have the surgery,” I replied.

“Maybe we could control it with medication,” he suggested, hopefully.

“Dear, there’s no medication that’s going to un-block your arteries,” I said.

“Okay,” he said with a sigh.

I didn’t blame him for trying to think of another way. He was surprised enough at having a heart attack; it was a shock to be faced with such a drastic resolution to the problem. I wouldn’t exactly look forward to having my breastbone split open and someone cutting and pasting away on my heart, either. But considering the blockages he had, drastic measures were definitely called for.

Reflecting on all this, it seems to me that all of us have areas in our hearts that could benefit from a bypass: areas clogged with past or present hurt, prejudices, judgments, self-focus – to name a few. The blockages may be slight or all the way up to total; whatever the amount, they’re interfering with the health of our being.

There are several indicators of these blockages. Pain is a big one. If I’m experiencing emotional pain, I need to consider how much of it might be the result of some hardness in my heart. Has an accumulation of jealousy, resentment, or rejection blocked the flow of God’s love and grace and trust? Fatigue and shortness of breath is another warning signal. Do I find I’m weary of doing God’s work, too tired to ask Him to show me His will, breathless as I’m climbing the devotional steps to speak with Him? Then it’s quite likely I have a build-up of dutiful works in the artery meant to allow the free flow of my relationship with God. Striving to earn my way will clog up the works every time.

Profuse sweating without exertion is a red flag that the heart is in serious trouble. If I’m anxious, confused, and literally “sweating the small stuff”, then my heart is clogged with fear of circumstances, people, and the future, instead of flowing free with the fear of God. It’s been well said that when we fear God, we need fear nothing else.

Heart attacks are often a shock because of the insidious nature of the disease. Blockages accumulate gradually, and the body adjusts to the increasing restriction in blood flow which then constitutes a new “normal.” So it is with the emotional and spiritual blockages we develop; we adapt to their presence and consider them normal. They impede our health, our work and our witness; they keep us from living fully in Christ and for Christ as we were created to do.

A new year is as good a time as any to consider where our own blockages may exist. This will require a good look inside, and a willingness to do what it takes to remove the clogs. Taking a pill won’t do it. Some of our blockages may be dislodged by recognition and resolve. For the big ones, more radical surgery will be indicated. It may mean forgiving someone or several people; it may take admitting long-resisted responsibility; it may involve facing an addiction; cutting away bitterness; perhaps a total re-think of a long-held perspective; a genuine surrender of your will to God’s will. It will be painful and take time to heal. It will mean getting help from at least one other person while you go through the process, if only to keep you accountable.

May each one of us rely on the grace of God to show us the areas in our hearts that need to be cleared, so that the cleansing blood of the Lamb can flow freely in and through us, bringing with it new life, life abundant, full of God’s strength and vitality.