by Alastair Sterne
January 14, 2014
5 min read
There’s a little, somewhat dingy and smokey shop down the street from me that I frequent. It’s called Persian Tea House. I was there recently with a friend, and had the privilege of meeting the owner. He’s the patriarch of this family run business. He’s a tall, white-haired, lovely spirited Persian gentleman. He welcomed us by saying “I love you. Merry Christmas.” Now that is a welcoming. After chatting for a bit, he asked rather abruptly “Where are you from?” We respectively answered “Canada” and “America.” And just when I thought my new Persian friend couldn’t get anymore interesting, he said “Welcome to my heart.”
I have never encountered hospitality like this before. It’s not something you expect to hear while sitting in a hazy room, sipping on Persian tea with Bollywood techno music blaring. But to the owner, it’s not about an environment and business. It’s about welcoming people into his heart.
It is such an unusual readiness to embrace a stranger. It’s more than that. It’s a desire to strip down, unveil, and let someone see you for all you are. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, I don’t know. What I do know is that I struggle to welcome people like this. To freely, unreservedly embrace people into my heart? Allowing a complete stranger to stand in the room of my heart to observe and take in all that is there? The disheveled, gritty and embarrassing parts along with the intimate, honest and beautiful parts? All the false motives I’ve framed and hung on the walls of my heart, and all the brutally painful shortcomings I’ve tried to sweep under the rug? That’s too much to offer. It’s scary. It’s risky. I’d rather retreat back into the familiar, safe, aloof, stand-offish culture of urban Vancouver. “Share the easy parts, hide the hard parts” sounds good to us, doesn’t it?
In the extravagant unending walls of God’s heart, we see all of ourselves decorating the corridor.
Yet the foreign invitation to enter into my new friend’s heart was there. Whatever he was actually offering, and whatever he may believe or not, I can’t help but see Christ shining through his welcome.
Jesus is God’s “Welcome to my heart.”
We don’t expect that sort of welcome either. It catches us off guard. We want the concept of God. The idea of God. The theology of God. But the heart of God? Do we want a God of vulnerability and intimacy? A God who invites us into what’s going on inside of him?
Jesus welcomes us into God’s heart. Inside that sacred space, we see his joy and compassion. We see his grief and even his anger. We see his struggle. We even see his tears. We see his spit. We see his sweat. We even see his blood. Most of all, we see his love. Everything is exposed for us to not just observe, but to touch and feel and share. And we don’t deal with it delicately do we? We trample upon it. We neglect it. We even resent it at times. We want the God of tidy answers, not the God caught up in the complexities of human flesh. God says “welcome to my heart” with the nudity of Jesus crucified, his body unraveling, and his heart overflowing with anguish as he absorbs his own wrath for us. But, as another friend of mine says “We can’t bare looking at God’s privates, so we wrap a loin cloth around it.”
We want to censor God’s vulnerability.
When God welcomes us into his heart and when we accept the invitation, it means that we enter with our own hearts too. There’s an inherent reciprocity. It means we go in there with our collateral damage and our insecurities. We go in there with the stuff we don’t want others to see. In there, in the extravagant unending walls of God’s heart, we see all of ourselves decorating the corridor. There is no way to look at God without it being personal, without it involving us. We mark his hands and his heart, and we leave scars on his body. We see all our ourselves—our own atrocities and even our goodness—hanging on the cross of Christ. We want to censor God because if we don’t we have to see ourselves exposed too.
Yet, it’s in the heart of God that we hear the “welcome” we long for. No stipulations, no show, no need to dress up for the occasion, just a loving embrace. Loved for all that we are without hiding any part or holding anything back. We stain him with our dirtiness and he still doesn’t let go. This really opens up “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7) doesn’t it? Christ has welcomed us into God’s heart, with all of our mess and at great cost to himself. That sort of welcome gives us the audacity to say to others:
“Welcome to my heart.”