What does fishing have to do with living from the heart? A lot, if you’re an eleven-year-old boy — or an adult committed to truth.

My youngest son loves to fish. It’s an interesting phenomena, fishing is, although a bit questionable from an outsider’s perspective.

And I, for one, qualify as an outsider.

First, there’s the matter of the bait. Who decided it necessary to attach squirmy, slimy, or still flopping beings to a hook in order to catch even more slippery, oily creatures, any of which might bite off your finger or worse, your nose?

Then there’s the FIQ or “fishing intelligence quotient,” a continuum created by sportsmen angling for a new “braniac” scorecard. As soon as you figure out the difference between a crappie, Northern, perch, and rockfish, you’re into differentiating bobbers, rapalas, and daredevils from sinking shad raps and spinner baits. My most recent FIQ rank was slightly above ten, normal being 110, although I noticed that there are no points lost for hauling in mosquitoes that weigh more than the sunnies.

Despite my obvious failings, I do understand the goals of the sport. There are two of them. The first is to catch fish. The second is to eat them. You might therefore imagine my surprise to hear the following statements from my son, who has been co-raised by a father who owns not only one, but two fishing boats, and considers fishing on par with achieving Paradise. (In fact, as he is a pastor, Gabe’s father most likely assumes that Peter fishes, too, guaranteeing fishermen the most honored pew beyond the pearly gates.)

Fish Have Feelings Too, You Know

Picture this scene:

Mom,” Gabe announces excitedly, stretching his arms as far as they can go. “I caught a HUGE walleye.”

Did it taste good?” Mom asks.

I threw it back.” Gabe pauses. “I didn’t want it to die. Fish have feelings too, you know.

I started to tear up, which elicited an immediate, “Ah mom, stop embarrassing me,” and several quick and surreptitious glances around the restaurant we were sitting in. Were any cool girls looking? Protecting Gabe’s budding reputation as an “in” kid, I hid my face behind a napkin and changed the subject. Deep inside, however, I ruminated about his decision.

Why would Gabe throw back the walleye? The reason was obvious to me. He has a heart. Not only that, he acts from his heart, as do many children.

Heart Lessons of Love

We know that children can be unkind; we were once children. I still remember teasing another girl on the playground, shaming her to tears. I thought myself empowered by the ability to change another’s emotions and reality with a few simple words. I was still able to get in touch with my “natural” heart, though. After hurting my fellow schoolmate, I went home and cried — and then gave her my favorite teddy bear. So inherent was my sense of right from wrong that even decades later, I’m tempted to shy away from this girl, who is now an adult, when I run into her around town.

I believe that we instinctively want to be kind and be treated the same way. I also believe that we innately discriminate between right and wrong and that when we err, we know it. It’s easier to admit these things when we are younger because we haven’t layered ourselves with an adult-size serving of guilt, shame, and fear. But no matter our age, knowledge isn’t enough.

What caused Gabe to throw back the walleye? It wasn’t habit. He grew up on fish sticks and ketchup. It was his heart. That day at that moment, his inner spirit stretched through his conditioning to the place in his heart willing to do the right thing.

Our natural instincts are always the best. Maybe they’ll even open a few pearly gates while we’re on earth — the earth we’re creating on heaven.