Thursday, January 3, 2013

Language of the Heart

Girlish screams and toddler giggles fill the living room where a collection of cushions, upended on the floor, have been turned into a shadowy cavern. Intently staring from the corner, a wild animal stalks his prey, and then roars at the two sisters who taunt him from the safety of their cushion cave. Suddenly, the curly blonde emerges and streaks past the waiting predator, misjudging the distance between them. His long legs grab her and snap shut, trapping her as though he were an alligator. But she’s not afraid—heroic and brave, she knows what to do.

“Calf Rope!” she yells, and the wild animal grumbles, releasing her reluctantly. As she runs back to where her sister still hides in safety, I trespass on the adventure.

“What’s a caffrobe?” I ask my son-in-law.

Every night at bedtime, my granddaughters ask their daddy for one of his adventure stories where the two of them are the stars. Princesses or fairies, Allie and Juliet are always the protagonists, while the role of antagonists is filled in every tale by the mandatory lion and snake. No matter whether the girls are floating helplessly towards Africa in a hot air balloon or lost in the woods, BoBo the Monkey always shows up to rescue them from their slithering and roaring archenemies. And if they’re ever trapped, yelling “Calf Rope!” is almost more powerful than BoBo.

We love stories, don’t we?

Besides entertaining us, stories persuade and motivate us by appealing to our emotions and stirring up empathy. In his book, Epic, John Eldredge writes that “story is the language of the heart,” and “sheds light on our lives.” How much would it help in our relationships with others if we knew their stories? Not their favorite fairy tale or adventure book, but the twists and turns of their own personal plots that have made them who they are today.  We seem to stumble upon others partway through their own life-novels, several chapters into their story, and frantically try to fill in the missing elements so we can understand what’s happening now. But unless we’re ready to listen with our hearts to the story they feel safe enough to share, we’ll never feel empathy for the person whose wounds are kept hidden behind their self-protective armor.

In J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Sam the gardener asked Frodo, “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?” It’s a rare friend who will listen patiently to our story and help us make sense of the tales we’ve each fallen into. Most of the time, we’re too busy avoiding the question in our own lives to help someone else understand theirs. Or worse, we’re too quick to judge without knowing the facts.

Maybe we need our own BoBo to remind us there’s a way out when we feel trapped. But first we need to be someone who listens.


  1. If I yell "Calf Rope!" at work, will BoBo show up to save me? Because if he will, I'm shouting it all day long!

    I'm loving Epic. And the Eldredge daily mailings. Thanks for telling me about his ministry.

    1. LOL I'll ask Princesses Allie and Juliet. I read Epic last summer after you told me about the download. I need to re-read it so we can meet for coffee sometime and discuss it! So glad you enjoy Eldredge, too. :)