My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
Psalm 119: 28
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
We use heart to stand for all our feelings, for our emotional state. “My heart melts,” a friend of mine says about babies, a class of people he’s absurdly fond of. “I melted” my friends and I used to say about the effect of a look or word from our beloved. But melting also occurs in sorrow, as the psalmist knew. Sometimes the heart feels heavy with sorrow; at other times, it feels liquid.
The good thing about liquids is that they pour more easily than do solids. Just as we melt butter in a pan over flames, our hearts are melted in the fires of adversity. Sometimes that fire isn’t a metaphor—“liquid fire” is what my chemotherapy nurse called the shot of Aranesp I received to keep up my white blood cell count. I could feel it burning as it traveled up my arm, the big molecules straining to pass through the veins.
The Bible is full of warnings against having a hard heart. I don’t know any more effective means than an incurable disease to soften and liquify the heart. During my treatment, I watched the women going through chemo a second or third time; they seemed incredibly cheerful to me. I didn’t see one woman who was resentful or angry about being back in treatment. They had each achieved a liquid heart.
I could feel my heart becoming a sopping liquid mess, and was too tired from treatment and fear to pull myself back into a solid state. When all the needles were removed, I’d ooze from my recliner to the car of my designated driver. Riding home, I’d look out the window at the bright day or the falling snow. And I poured out my liquid heart to God about it: I don’t like this. Please don’t ask me to do this again. I don’t think I can go through it again. I’m sure it’s the same prayer every person with cancer prays.
Sometimes there seems to be no response, or the response feels like a shrug and an insincere “Sorry.” Somehow we find the courage (a word rooted in the French word for heart) that we need to face our days and our sorrows. God is our refuge. We do not need to steel ourselves, harden our hearts again. Rather, we keep before us both the possibility of a recurrence and the hope of resurrection. And we pour out our liquid hearts to God.