• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Head or Heart?

An author reflected once on the difference between head and heart. She (I think it was a she... I cannot remember) suggested that the relationship between head and heart is like a rider to an elephant. The rider is like the head, arrogantly presuming to be in control, setting the course and speed, steering that path. The elephant is like the heart. Sometimes, the heart is willing to go where the head desires. But sometimes, the heart goes where it wants no matter what the head tries. The heart has the real power in the relationship, and sometimes will remind the head, "If I want to, I will do what I want and you can't stop me."


Head and heart are meant to be a team, each unique but inseparably bonded and bound to one another, working together. But they don't always work like that. There are thoughts that can mislead a healthy heart. There are feelings that can distract a healthy mind.


How are you thinking and feeling about your own life lately? Is it headed in the direction you "thought" it would be? Is it going down the path at the speed you "felt" it should be? Do you step forward into each day feeling good and hopeful, or is there sense of confusion, misdirection, or even fear?


How are you feeling about your closest relationships, perhaps with a spouse or significant other, or perhaps with family members? Are those relationships headed where you dreamed they might go? Are they standing still or going in a direction you consider off-path or didn't anticipate? Are you trying to steer them where you want, but they're resisting? Are those relationships seemingly unresponsive to your pushes and pulls, and you are growing tired and frustrated?


What about our nation and our world? Do you have a sense we are galloping along together toward a common, shared goal? Or, do you feel like a large beast underneath you is rampaging out of control and there seems to be nothing you can do to slow it, calm it, and redirect it?


The way Jesus talked about salvation, he meant shalom, which we often translate as peace. Shalom is bigger than peace, as in absence of conflict. It really means wholeness and fullness. Inner peace and peace among relationships comes when all things are at peace and in their fullness and completeness. Jesus was trying to say, we are created to be whole and complete, as individuals and as a community. Someday, the thoughts of our head, the feelings of our heart, and the actions and words of our body will all be in sync with our spirit, the divine spark of God in each of us. We will each love the Lord with heart, mind, body, and spirit. We will all love neighbors and ourselves with our whole selves. We are created to be individuals of wholeness, and a community of wholeness, with our thoughts, feelings, and actions all in sync with God's will, God's Spirit.


When these are not in sync with one another and with God, we suffer anxieties of our mind, floods of our hearts, aches of our body, or moans of our spirit. Communities suffer. Creation suffers. We suffer brokenness inside ourselves, broken relationships, broken communities, and broken nations.


What are we to do when these are not in sync with each other? A common tendency is to fight for control, and force submission from the corner that seems to be out of sync. Let's say the heart begins to wander down its own path. The head might buck and fight and pull the reins and crack the whip, like the rider on the elephant pulling and tugging.


That won't help. It will only hurt. The goal is wholeness, not control. The head cannot control the heart. To fight inside ourselves as individuals, in relationships, or as a country means to introduce more brokenness, more sin, and will not lead us to wholeness and shalom.


Instead, in those moments when there is strong real disagreement, it's wisest to sit back, look around, and ride along. The best thing for the rider (head) to do when the elephant (heart) takes over is to reassure with calm words and gentle pats. Let the other feel trusted and sense our commitment to stay connected and be with you on this journey even if we don't know or like where it seems to be headed. This doesn't mean agreement or support of misdirection. It does mean there is no disagreement that will let me sever my goal of wholeness.


There are fights that feel right and good and just. The impulse may be to fight harder, with more violence. Remember, the teacher we worship and serve chose instead to let the honest truthful words and actions of his body reflect the love of his heart and the vision of his mind to bring beloved community to all people. He didn't shy away from speaking truth, preaching Kingdom, and showing love. However, he never fought back. He never attacked another human being, or let the internal attacks of temptation introduce sin into his being.


He embodied shalom, wholeness, and promises us his faithfulness and spirit to do the same.


Blessing, Laughter, and Loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

About Me
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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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