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On keeping a soft heart June 13, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Fears, Heart Condition, Struggles, Trust.
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Some weeks back at church the speaker talked about not allowing one’s heart to be hardened. Honestly, that is all I remember about the sermon that week because God spoke to me so loudly and forcefully when he said that that I was deafened to anything that came after.

Hardening my heart is something that I struggle with to an incredible degree. Or rather, too often, I don’t struggle with it  – I allow myself to to take the easy way out, to put up the walls, to disengage when things start to get difficult or intense. I often regret this, feeling the wash of emotion and remorse much later when I realize how callous my immediate reaction may have been. Sometimes I am able to remedy this and clarify what I really meant to say or do; often I just feel bad and guilty and this makes me more resistant to allowing myself to be effected in the future.

Not that I am a cold person by nature, or even in most of my daily interactions. I am usually friendly and outgoing. But I grew up with an extremely emotional parent who had a distinct lack of boundaries so I learned to put my own up hard and fast. My sense of humor is sarcastic and teasing. And I’ve felt the injury many times in the past when I put my heart out there for all to see and faced rejection or ridicule.

The Bible mentions various times people’s hearts were hardened and the results are never good. Death, destruction, turning away from God. The author of Hebrews alone begs the readers four times to not harden their hearts to God. When we do this we leave no room for God to work on us, to change us. We have no pity, compassion, or empathy for other people around us. We close ourselves off to grace and to love, which is the currency of God’s relationship with us.

It’s a scary thing if you think about it. God will continue to love us, continue to call us, continue to send us events and people in our lives to soften our hearts and bring us back to Him. But He also gave us free will. He does not force us to love Him. And if we truly, obstinately close ourselves off from Him, He will let us go our own way. Not that He ever abandons us, but we may find that our hearts have becomes so hard that we no longer know how to get back to Him, that we can not even bring ourselves to call out to Him anymore.

That is an extreme case of course, but it helps to remind myself how dangerous it is to just automatically throw up those walls when I am confronted with a painful topic, a negative interaction, or a frightening truth about what God might want from my life. My heart is not dead; I still feel things very deeply. But am an expert at dodging those unpleasant feelings, deflecting them, and skirting subjects I know are likely to make me feel too poignantly. And I’ve noticed over the past few years I do it more and more often. My fear is that one day I will discover that I am incapable of dealing with any of those thoughts and feelings at all anymore.

So what does it mean to keep my heart soft?  I think right now it means heading towards the pain and towards the joy. I am often embarrassed by outward displays of extreme emotion – I don’t like other people to see when I am deeply moved by things. I’m far more comfortable in writing, telling how I feel with words rather than showing it in person. And even then I often underplay the depth of what I am feeling, or, often, trying not too feel too strongly.

When I find myself turning away from something, be it a thought or a feeling or a prayer or an interaction, I need to stop myself and analyze why. Why don’t I want to talk to God about this area in my life that I’m struggling with? Is it because I know I need to change something? Am I avoiding this person because I know we have unresolved issues and I’m afraid we start talking I will find out how much I hurt her? Do I not want to talk about that topic because I know it will force me to think about my faith and my life in a way I’m not comfortable with? Do I not want to listen to that music that I know I love because it fills me with such joy and such longing that I don’t know how to handle or express it, and fear that I will never truly be that happy in this life?

Every time I harden my heart like that, I lose a chance for God to do something in my life. Not that He can’t still ever use me, but when He gives me an open door and I turn and walk the other way something is still lost there. Sometimes I may have another chance, but sometimes that particularly opportunity is lost forever. And each time it gets a little more difficult to keep myself open to the next set of chances. The hardness gets a little more ingrained because, frankly, it’s so much easier than the risk and the pain and the longing.

But the only chance I have is to fight when my heart wants to shut down. To run towards whatever it is that I am avoiding, whatever I think is too difficult or painful or scary and pray for God to help me to keep my heart open even if it is going to be pierced. To feel the empathy with a friend who is going through a hard time so that I can cry with her, to be convicted in my life so I can change the things that are wrong, to feel the joy or the sadness or the longing and let it draw me closer to the heart of Christ, to face the difficult questions even if they move me away from my comfort zone.

It is natural to want to protect ourselves from that which is hurtful. But sometimes the instinct of self-preservation really just prevents us from growing and receiving what is good in the long run. So I will be praying for a soft heart, an open heart. And when the slings and arrows come, as they do, I pray that I will have the courage to trust God to turn them to good, to use them for my betterment and for His glory.

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