The Core of Things

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12) 

I’ve reached the age where I find myself reminiscing more than I did in the past.  Among my thoughts this time of year are of childhood visits to my grandparents who lived in   western North Carolina in a valley of the Smokey Mountains.  In July and August, the days would be hot like they are here, but the evenings after sunset would be comfortably cool, sometimes with a slight breeze.  We could sleep all night with the windows open.  No one had air conditioning in those days, and no one needed it.

My grandmother was a domestic day worker before she retired, and she was very adept at preparing food in great variety and great quantities.  My grandfather was a meat cutter who regularly brought home different cuts of meat.  That was one of his fringe benefits.  They weren’t rich by any means but there was always good food in their house.   My grandmother liked to bake, and her specialty was pies and cobblers.  Not a day went by went by when she didn’t have two to three pies baking.  This might provide context for those who know about my love for fruit pies over any other kind of dessert.  It was a staple food during my summer visits south and when she would visit us after my grandfather died.

It was also common for them to have lots of melon in the house.  We ate it at breakfast, in the afternoon, and at night.  Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon could always be found in the refrigerator.  According to my mother, my grandmother would even put melon juice in my bottle when I was an infant.  So, between the pies, the melons and the enablement of my grandmother, I have a well-developed sweet tooth.

Now, unlike other fruits, such as apples, pears and oranges which have hard, seed-filled cores or fibrous stems which are not particularly edible, the core of any type of melon is not only edible, it also the sweetest part of the fruit.  Eating that part of the melon is worth the wait to experience that sublime goodness.

We humans have cores as well.  Our core is who we really are and what other people experience in us when everything else is stripped away, including well-intention façades and pretenses. What’s in our core is a little comparable to that credit card commercial that asks, “What’s in your wallet?”  In other words, what’s really there at the root of you and me.

Thirty-five years ago this month, I went on my first leadership retreat.  It was a four and half day experience at a retreat center facilitated by an organizational development consultant and a clinical psychologist.  Unbeknownst to me and the rest of us (with the exception of our company president who was planning on reorganizing his leadership structure), our purpose in being there was to have our cores exposed.  This was done through long morning meetings, video-taped afternoon breakout sessions involving role plays with little preparation time (the videos were later replayed to the entire group of twenty-five so that I and presumably everyone else felt very exposed), individual feedback in small group settings so that, again, you felt very exposed, and evening meetings that lasted to near midnight.  The meetings were  followed by group homework assignments which were due first thing the next morning.  This pretty much prevented any of us from getting more than a couple of hours of sleep each night.

By  the third day, all of us were too tired and emotionally challenged to present a corporate face.  Who we were, what was at our cores began to be show and show clearly.  Whatever emotional shields we were using fell.  We didn’t have the energy to keep them up.  My aim was to survive the experience.  Some didn’t, at least figuratively…a few jobs were lost as a result of some things that came out of those four and half days.  The second half of day four and the half day following was devoted to building us back up.

In a subsequent meeting with the facilitators a week later to which I was invited, they said that when people are physically tired and placed in stressful situations over an extended period of time, “what’s in their wallet,” so to speak, begins to show itself for others to see.  That was the principal goal of the entire exercise.  I doubt I would ever condone putting anyone through such an exercise, but this was what happened back then.

Up to this point in history, the vast majority of us are never been put in situations like what we now find ourselves in.  The ability to keep our emotional shields up and maintain our preferred façades and pretenses before others hasn’t often been challenged or severely tested by others in our sphere.  There are times, however, when the Holy Spirit, directly or through the Word of GOD has challenged us, and always rightly.   What have those responses looked like?

Right now, much of what we are experiencing is bigger and more complex than anything known to most of us.  The strain of emotional exhaustion and unrelenting stress is beginning to have its effects.  The continuation of this kind of intensity or its possible increase is forcing to the surface much of what has been hidden up to this point.   Some real core stuff is starting to show.

I’m pretty sure the aim of GOD is that the central part of us, our cores, be as sweet and good as those of the melons in my grandparents’ refrigerator rather than like the rough, inedible, indigestible cores of apples and pears, regardless of whether the times we live in are good or bad.  I think its pretty good news that what’s in our cores is transformable, not fixed and unchangeable.   GOD provides the means to experience this transformation  if we will  submit to the work.  That’s always been the the big question…if we will submit or whether we are going to go it alone in our own strength.   As for me, my spiritual sweet tooth wants a lot more than a rough, seedy core.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to original text content.

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