Sometimes You Must Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

I recently heard a fascinating story about a heart surgeon. At the end of one operation, he returned his patient’s heart back into the chest and began gently massaging it back to life. But the heart wouldn’t restart. More intense measures followed, but the heart still wouldn’t beat. Finally, the surgeon knelt by the unconscious patient and spoke to her. “Miss Johnson,” he said, “this is your surgeon. The operation went perfectly. Your heart has been repaired. Now tell your heart to beat again.”

Her heart began to beat.

March On, Be Strong

Photo by Ezra Jeffrey-Comeau (creative commons)

The idea that we could tell our heart to do something is strange, but I think it has some parallels in life. Sportspeople know the psychological power of self-talk. Andy Murray has been known to read sayings to himself mid-match like “Be kind to yourself” and “Do your best”. Serena Williams famously carried a notebook of affirmations on court like “You will add spin” and “You will win Wimbledon”. One study suggests we can improve our performance by speaking to ourselves by name – not “I am naturally funny,” but “Sheridan is naturally funny”. My comedy tour starts Monday.

The thing about my surgeon story, though, is that Miss Johnson wasn’t acting on her own hopes, but in response to an authoritative voice. Here’s where I see some spiritual parallels too. The writers of the Bible’s Psalms often tell their hearts what to do, saying things like, “Why, my soul, are you discouraged? Put your hope in God.” When God promises the Old Testament heroine Deborah victory in battle, she gives herself a pep-talk, saying, ”March on, my soul, be strong!”

Beat Again

Photo by Erik Dungan (creative commons)

Face masks, job cuts, two-metre lines on supermarket floors. We’ve had months of battle, leaving many of us weary. And with dark clouds of uncertainty still hovering, I for one will need more than positive thinking to get through. But I believe an authoritative voice has spoken from above and beyond, which now calls for my response. So when fear, anxiety or hopelessness falls I’m going to sit myself down and say:

March on! Be strong! Feeble heart, beat again.

A version of this article first broadcast on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Breakfast Show


The story behind the song Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

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