Is open-hearted living worth the risk?

A cousin told me about her widowed friend who was just beginning to open her heart to the thought of a new love. This woman prayed, “Lord, if you want me to remarry, you’ll have to drop him in my lap.”

While buckled into an airplane, reading and ready for take-off, someone took the seat next to hers. 


Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

After she put her reading down, the man politely introduced himself and they began a conversation that continued into marriage.

Not exactly dropped into her lap. But assigned a seat next to her on an airplane. Headed in the same direction in life.

This story caused me to think about how a later-in-life marriage would be significantly different from a young love.

A young couple is starting from scratch—building a home and family and traditions and setting life goals together.

In a later-in-life marriage, we enter into a partnership with someone who has an already-established career or calling, kids and grands, perhaps a house in a particular neighborhood.

In her book, Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist wrote about a wedding she attended of two adults who already owned homes and businesses and had families and traditions:

Where there was naiveté, here there is sobriety. Where a young bride leaves her family, an older bride brings hers with her. Where a young groom hopes all goes well, an older groom knows what to do when it doesn’t.

It took three years after getting used to widowhood for me to even begin thinking about maybe, perhaps, possibly going out on a … (gulp) date. And then it was several months before I actually went out with anyone. 

And it was fun. Until it wasn’t.

I enjoyed the companionship, the conversations, the shared humor. But I didn’t care for the guessing games, wondering if a guy was going to ask for a next date, dealing with rejection.

So I decided I would never date again.

And I began stacking up bricks around my heart. Just in case. Because it’s what we do, this brick-stacking thing that’s supposed to protect us from pain.

Except it doesn’t. Instead, it isolates us. It limits joy. It doesn’t allow anyone else in. 

Keeping our hearts open is risky business. But when we think about it, so many of life’s positive outcomes involve risk.

Without stepping out—cautiously, courageously—cool things don’t happen. Cool things that involve expanding our reach of love: fostering or adopting children, providing respite care for hospice patients, rocking babies in the NICU.

Cool things that impact our corners of the world: volunteering for that medical mission trip, cooking/serving meals at the homeless shelter, providing clerical support for the organization that rescues women and children from human trafficking.

These words of Jesus, spoken on this earth a couple thousand years ago: 

“[When] a grain of wheat … is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” — John 12:25-26, The Message

I want to be reckless in my love. Which really means I want to be so trusting of God that I don’t care if my recklessly-loving heart is broken wide open. 

Shauna Niequist finished her thoughts about the later-in-life wedding with this:

That night felt sacred and beautiful. It was a hard-won celebration, a willingness to re-believe in love, to fall again, to teach and be taught, to enter through a door both had believed was closed forever.

What if?

You know those bricks we stacked as a protective measure? What if living well in all the hard and holy moments requires that we dismantle the barriers we’ve built around our hearts?

It does.

And what if, instead, we could lay those bricks as a pathway that leads to our hearts?

We can.

This is what God designed us humans for—this risky, scary, intimidating thing called open-hearted living. And you better believe it will be painful from time to time. 

But unopen-hearted living is no living at all. 


If You Missed “National Compliment Day,” It’s Not Too Late


No matter your size, you can still be fierce


  1. Allison McCormick

    Marlys, so beautifully stated.

    Trusting God with all we have, our present, our tomorrows, our dreams. Trusting regardless of outcomes and resting in the knowledge that God remains in control.

    It takes strength and courage, is never easy, and so worth it.

    • You’re so right, Allison … trusting and resting take courage. Which seems almost oxymoronic, doesn’t it? Because we think the courage shows up in the fight, not the rest, right?!

  2. Rachael Juarez

    I’ve never heard that verse the way you posted it. ‘Taking the bricks we build walls with and making a path to our heart’, beautiful. I love reading your posts!

    • If you only knew, Rachel, how many times I’ve wanted to dig up the brick path for materials to build the wall again. (Apparently, I’m a slow learner.)

  3. Katie

    All of this is so true! I had many of the same emotions of fear of rejection, or fear of being “disloyal”. But my former in-laws encouraged me to open my heart because they said “you’re young and it would be a waste for you to be alone”. While I don’t necessarily feel that being alone is a “waste”, I do feel that 2nd love is a chance to experience God’s redemption just as Ruth and Boaz did. My family released me for that 2nd chance and I echo all that was said about mature love. Our blended family is complex and large (7 kids, 5 grandkids), but the complexity is a true, beautiful blessing. I couldn’t be more grateful to be loved by my husband!

    • Beautifully said, Katie. And because you speak from experience, your words are a powerful source of hope and encouragement to anyone considering a second, later-in-life marriage. What a great perspective in these words: “I do feel that 2nd love is a chance to experience God’s redemption just as Ruth and Boaz did.” Thank you.

  4. Grace Lawson

    Excellent post as always Dear Marlys !!! God bless you and those in this situation.

  5. Lovely. True. Honest and vulnerable. True of widowhood as well as after the rejection of divorce.

    • I can’t imagine the pain of rejection from divorce, Beth. It would seem that open-hearted living would be even more challenging in that situation. Thank you for your kind words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2024 Marlys Johnson