We have been wide open in our speaking to you, my dear Corinthians! Our heart has been opened wide! There are no restrictions at our end; the only restrictions are in our affections! I am speaking as to children: you should open your hearts wide as well in return. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? (6:11-13)
No one should accuse Paul of holding back from the people he ministered to. Paul opened his heart wide to the people he reached out to. This was risky. He opened himself to hurt, betrayal, and disappointment — the kind of things he mentioned in verses 4-10. But in so doing, he also opened himself to great love from the Corinthians and meaningful change in their lives. Paul knew we can’t expect from others what we aren’t willing to give to others ourselves. We will only receive as much love, transparency, and vulnerability as we are willing to give to others.
We hear a lot of talk these days of boundaries and leaving the job at the office. Ministers are warned not to get too close lest they get burned. We are taught to create professional distance. There is certainly a lot of wisdom in this advice. Appropriateness, emotional maturity, and protection from lawsuit are all valuable considerations. However, I have to wonder if the Paul who is talking in this passage, the Paul who gave all he was to his children in the faith, the Paul who knew that effective ministry required deep emotional investment would have agreed completely with conventional wisdom. I wonder if he would have said as Parker Palmer did: “to know” those we minister to we must allow ourselves “to be known” just as deeply as we are expecting. Maybe the better question is how to best be professional and yet truly available.
Fortunately I feel I only have to look at the “wide-open hearts” of those I teach with to see what Paul is talking about. They are experts in their subjects but they also allow their lives to be a text in the class. They share their own stories, their own successes and failures with students trying to navigate similar decisions. They are not afraid to compliment, high-five, and hug. They know how to laugh with a kid and chide him for poor thinking. They are tired at the end of week from pouring out their very selves to their students, but they also they celebrate with their whole hearts at games, concerts, art shows, and homecoming activities. They express their love and pride freely at the end of the year and they feel an honest loss when students graduate and leave. They cry when discipline is necessary and love enough to bring it.
This is ministry, and it takes a wide-open heart to do it well.