Last summer, I went on a mission trip to Peru. I was a “leader” on the trip. One of six other adults helping lead about 30 students. As one of the “adults” I found myself stepping back and watching more than if I had been a student. I kept looking around and taking in aerial views of what I saw.
In all of the sights, experiences and conversations, I noticed a theme: openness. Openness among the Peruvians and openness among our students.
Girls linking arms on a dirt path up a mountain. Card games on the airport floor. Spontaneous dance parties in the dining hall.
We were there for ten days, but by the tears being shed as we left for the airport, you would think we had been there much longer. In the open hearts that I witnessed, I saw the hesitation in my own.
I saw a heart that was not as open as it used to be.
It made me think of summer camp when I was twelve.
On the final night we all stood around and cried and hugged. We had known each other for six whole days. But then, at that age, we weren’t aware of own vulnerability. We weren’t worrying about the future and how difficult it would be to keep in touch. We were not jaded or hardened by broken relationships or dreams.
Peru reminded me that growing up can chip away at us and cause our openness to close, little by little in a way that makes us wary of others, wary of our own selves.
I don’t think this chipping away starts with a moment or a single event. I think it’s more subtle than that.
Each day, we are offered two choices about our posture toward others and opportunities: open or closed.
We are offered this in the tiniest of things.
- Will I smile at the person I pass by on the street, or will I keep my eyes on my phone?
- Will I invite these people over for dinner, or will I make up an excuse not to?
- Will I say yes to this or will I say I don’t have enough time, energy, money, etc?
- Will I be open to life, or will I be closed to it?
These small decisions seem meaningless but built up over time, as we choose resistance and safety over openness and risk, it becomes harder and harder to be open, harder and harder to risk.
It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said about the heart:
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one…Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
As life chips away at us, it is tempting to put our hearts in a coffin in order to protect them. And the interesting thing is, we can do this and be ok. We can live life closed off to people and places and things and live a perfectly fine life.
But imagine this:
I imagine worlds and worlds and worlds would appear before you that you had ignored, shrugged off or pushed aside before.
In Peru, I watched people live with an open posture.
Arms stretched out, palms unclenched. The Peruvians, the students—they were open to each person and experience. They were open to allowing their hearts to change and their minds to be transformed by a single visit.
They were not jaded or afraid. They jumped in the water.
At some point, I forgot how to do this, and maybe you have too.
The good news is, it’s never too late. Your heart remembers the way. You just have to tell your feet where to go.