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Quote of the Day – February 8th, 2011 February 8, 2011

Posted by orualundone in Environmentalism, Heart Condition, Heaven, Lies, Quote of the Day.
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Once the Creator was removed from the creation, divinity became only a remote abstraction, a social weapon in the hands of the religious institutions. This split in public values produced or was accompanied by, as it was bound to be, an equally artificial and ugly division in people’s lives, so that a man, while pursuing Heaven with the sublime appetite he thought of as his soul, could turn his heart against his neighbors and his hands against the world.

Wendell Berry

January 1 is Meaningless December 31, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Attitude, Change, Growth, Heart Condition, Holy Spirit.
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I was just thinking today, as I imagine most people are, about the new year that is coming in just a few hours. As usual I have various plans and resolutions for 2011,  some of which I’ve made before and failed at and some of which are totally new. But part of what I was thinking is that tomorrow is actually no different than any other day. It has no significance whatsoever other than that we’ve culturally decided that tonight at midnight is the moment that the old year ends and the new one begins. Although necessary for time- and calendar-keeping, it is a totally arbitrary date that doesn’t even have any particularly astronomical, seasonal, or religious meaning to it (unless you count the Feast of the Circumcision, which is a pretty strange day to start a year on) . It’s just a day, kind of in the middle of winter, just like any other.

And yet we hang such importance on it. January 1 is the day we’re going to start that diet, change our lives, be a better person. We make resolutions and promises. We start regimens. We think that somehow the new year will magically empower us to be different than we have always been, than we were on December 31st. We can put all the things that happened in the past 365 days behind us and start over. I do it too, as much if not more than anybody else. New Year’s, the first of the month, my birthday, and arbitrary Mondays – I see them as a chance for a new start, to get the week or month or year right this time. I imbue starts of things with mystical powers that I think will help me be more organized, or more self-controlled, or happier. It’s a very human thing to do.

The trouble is, it doesn’t work. Most of my well-intentioned self-improvement plans come to nothing after a week, a day, or a few hours. And the dates on the calendar are just numbers. There is no difference between Monday and Friday, between January 1 and June 12th, between my birthday and President’s day in terms of my likelihood of keeping a single resolution in the long term. I know that sounds depressing, but we all know it to be true. But I am not feeling depressed right now, because I have realized something.

All those dates that don’t mean anything? They don’t mean anything to God either. Through Christ and through his grace, he is constantly making things new. Take a look:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17

It is Christ that makes us a new thing, not our own efforts, not some random calendar change. The moment we accept Christ into our heart we are a new creature. We don’t have to wait around for a particular date to arrive. It doesn’t mean his work on us is done, but the start of a relationship with him is the new beginning we should look to, not a day of the year.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
1 Peter 1:3

We have a new birthday, a new day to celebrate as the start of our new lives. And although we have to be willing to let God change us, it is not up to us to affect the change. We don’t have to rely on our own willpower, our own strength, our own ideas of who we should be or what we should be doing to change. We need to be malleable, but it is God who will make the true changes in us, not our own list of 11 Things to Change in 2011 .

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.”
Ezekiel 36:25-27

Instead of our own laundry list of resolutions, changes, goals, and things we want, God will, if we let him, put his living Spirit within us to guide our desires and make the changes in us that he has designed us for, not the changes that we think we need to be happy, or to make others happy, or even to make God happy. Sometimes we feel frustrated because we don’t feel that we aren’t changing the right way, or changing fast enough. The questions I need to ask myself in those times are first, am I seeking the change the God wants or the one that I think that God wants for my life? And, second, am I worried about my time, or God’s time?

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11

God’s time is not our time, and his plans are not ours. He has a time for everything and a purpose for everything. Sometimes my frustration may come because what I’m striving for is not good for me, or not what I need to be placing importance on. But sometimes it may come from knowing what the right thing is and feeling like it’s taking too long. But God will make me beautiful in his time as well.

So this New Year, if I make any resolution at all it will be to open myself up to the possibilities God has given me to be made new. I don’t often feel like a new creation, holy and blameless with a new heart. But that is because I close myself off from it, I still try to do things on my own. The truth is, the only thing keeping me from being a new, vital, pure creation in God is…me. But the very best thing to realize is that however many times I find myself failing to do something in my own strength, I can never miss my chance with God. He doesn’t allow us to be new in him once a year, or even just once when we first accept him and then it’s gone. No, with Christ every day, every moment is a chance for him to make us new, to give us more grace, and to move us closer to being perfected in him. And no matter how far we’ve wandered from a good relationship with him, no matter how many times we’ve tried to wrest control of our own destinies our of his hands, every single day is a new chance to return and let him start work on us again.

“The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Lamentations 3:22-24

Overcoming evil with good. August 31, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Blessings, Evil, Heart Condition, Personal, Struggles.
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I was reading in Romans last night, a bit aimlessly but trying to get back in the habit of making time in the Word a priority. And I stumbled across this little gem of a verse:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:21

It struck me, because I feel like I am constantly overcome. Perhaps evil seems like a strong word for my workplace, or for the general distractions of life that get me down, or even for New Jersey. But at work I feel constantly overwhelmed by the negative atmosphere, toxic people, and the overall distastefulness of the job. I feel powerless at home to do the things I want to do – after things like dinner, laundry, errands, and car maintenance are done I don’t have much energy left to pursue what I really care about. Even just driving around this state I get so frustrated with the traffic and the crowds and the new housing developments where productive farms and forests were.

I am letting myself be overcome. The verse spoke to me because that is how I feel daily. I feel overcome in the face of all the negativity and unhappiness around me, in the distance between what I had dreamed of for my life and where I actually am, and in the hundred ways I daily feel thwarted from living a life of passion, joy, and hope.

But Paul is telling us that it is a choice, not an inevitability. We don’t have to be overcome by evil. We can turn it around – Christ has given us that gift. I love the phrase “overcome evil with good”. It’s such a powerful image of evil being overthrown, overturned, and undone in the face of simple goodness. I just imagine being so filled with God’s goodness that none of the bad things around me, the lies of Satan, the actions of others, can assail me.

I am a long way from that. But I’m starting to realize that by letting all the wrong and injustice and pettiness that’s around me make me angry or frustrated or lose hope, I am letting Satan win a battle that has serious negative consequences for my life and for those around me – particularly though who I should be being a light to and instead am functionally just as lost as they are.

And that’s not what I want. I want to be the force for good that the waves of evil break upon and are shattered and dissolve. But I know that’s not something I can just decide to do on my own. While I do have to make choices to do the right thing and to trust God, I also know that the only way to be filled with that kind of goodness so that it reflects on every one of my actions is to steep myself so thoroughly in the goodness of God that it is all that is capable of coming out of me.

My Wilderness August 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faithfulness, Heart Condition, jobs, Personal, Struggles, Suffering, Trust, Wilderness.
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The summer is nearly over. Just a couple more weeks at best to get summer fun in. Even though nothing about my life changes substantially after Labor Day, and the weather generally stays warm through much of September, there’s a qualitative change that occurs over the next weeks and brings an end to the freedom and excitement of summer.

This summer went quickly, as summers tend do more and more often as I get older. Although we did some very fun things, we took no long vacation and had to cancel a lot of planned activities due to weather or finances. In some ways I feel like I didn’t have a summer at all, though my tanned shoulders and blisters on my heels speak otherwise. I just didn’t enjoy it the way I used to. I didn’t feel free.

I looked at my legs today and was still a little shocked to discover they are mostly unblemished at the end of August. Oh there are a few blisters and bruises from hiking and tubing, but in generally they’re in good shape. I should be used to it after three summers in a desk job, but I still expect them to look the way they used to when I had a good honest field job.

I used to come home everyday from work at the farm or in the forest battered, bruised, and filthy. Covered in mud, scratches, bug bites, poison ivy, and, often, blood. My legs (and often arms and face) were a mess but I was exponentially happier and a good deal slimmer – if distinctly poorer and less feminine. I was more spontaneous too, and I remember taking more summer day trips and enjoying life more even when there wasn’t a lot cash to spare.

Currently I have a very dull office job that pays decently, has excellent health insurance, and is nearly impossible to be fired from or laid off of. I live the most suburban of suburban communities, in a spacious two bed-room apartment in a nice complex that is one of hundreds of other nearly identical complexes in the area. Everything I could possibly want is within an hour’s drive, although virtually nothing can be walked to. This is very close to the American dream and I cannot stand it.

I’ve been thinking lately about how God sends us all through a time in the wilderness to come out the other side closer to him. For some people this a time of deep physical or spiritual suffering, for others a literal exile from home, and for still others a crisis of faith or another huge life change. But I think for me, in my cushy job and the place I’ve lived more or less my whole life, that this is my wilderness.

I’ve been trying so hard to get out of this place. To change my life, to get the job that I want in the place that I want. I fantasize about selling all our belongings, quitting our jobs, and moving out west and seeing what happens. And yet every time we make progress it seems like we slide backwards again. School drags on another year. We have to decimate our savings to pay for a car repair.  We get trapped in a lease that make its difficult to save. A freelance job falls through.

I feel in my heart that God has a plan for us that is not here, but it also seems like it’s not time for us to leave just yet. And that is hard to accept. This is my wilderness, and I know he must have us here still for a reason, but it is difficult to know what the reason is, what lesson I am to learn before we can escape. And sometimes it feels hopeless, like we will always be stuck here.

But God has always been faithful to give us what we need, and he will continue to be faithful. However I have to accept what we need and what I want may not be the same thing. And it almost certainly will not be with the timing that I have in mind. I know that if God does provide for us to move out of here in the near future it will be in a way that will leave no doubt in our minds that it is through his provision only and not through our own striving.

My challenge now, instead of resenting the present circumstances that keep me where I do not want to be and despairing of any hope and future for us that looks like what we’ve dreamed of, is to bless God for what we do have and to try to learn what lessons he has for me in this place. Even if it is only the discipline of waiting. I believe it is not wrong to have a goal, to desire something in particular and to pursue it. But it is important to not allow that goal to eclipse the far greater goal of following God.

That means offering up my dreams to him daily and allowing him to change them if that is his will. It means opening my heart to opportunities in places and fields I may not have considered. And it means trusting him to do what is best for me, even when it feels like I am languishing in the place that is the most damaging to my relationship with him. It may be his will that I leave, tomorrow or years from now. But until then I need to ask him to show me what work I have to do while I am here.

God will be faithful whether I am or not. Whether I have good attitude about it or not. Whether I make the most of my time or squander it. But just because that is true it doesn’t absolve me of any obligation to him. In fact, it strengthens my obligation to know that even if I abandon it, he will not abandon me. So I will try, in this wilderness of Norway oaks and super-Walmarts and good dental plans, to listen for his voice until he leads me out of it – or changed my attitude so that I no longer find it a wilderness at all.

Quote of the Day: July 22nd July 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Heart Condition, Love, Prayer, Seeking.
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O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea in which the more I seek the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek to know You. You fill us insatiably, because the soul, before the abyss which You are, is always famished; and hungering for You, O eternal Trinity, it desires to behold truth in Your light. As the thirsty hart pants after the fount of living water, so does my soul long to leave this gloomy body and see You as You are, in truth.

Catherine of Siena

Pray for…yourself? July 20, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Heart Condition, Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Truth.
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It would be false to say that I do not pray very much. I pray quite often, in fact, and with great fervor. And yet I somehow manage to actually talk with God very little. My prayers are most often for other people, for my friends and family and others in this world who are troubled or hurt. When someone I care about is in pain, I hurt with them and I cry out to God their behalf. Many people think this is a great quality that I have, that it means I am compassionate and generous. But in reality it is more often a sign of my own weakness and fear.

I am not foolish enough to think prayer has no effect on God. Nor am I ridiculous enough to truly believe that God does not know others’ deepest needs and the ultimate path of their lives far better than I ever could. And yet in my prayers for others I so often outline to him specifically what I think that they need, or the way I want the situation to work out for them. What sounds so selfless and humble is, at the very heart, a selfish and prideful desire.

What I want is less the ultimate good of others and more for things to work out the way I think that they should, in a way that doesn’t threaten my view of how life should be. I want what I think is best for the people I care about and, thus, for myself. Because I am afraid of what will happen if things go differently than the way that I have in mind.  In my deepest heart, I rate my own judgment higher than God’s. I don’t trust the Creator of the Universe to work all things together for the good. I prefer to try and take control, even in my prayers.

It’s incredibly arrogant of me. Instead of simply, lovingly bringing their needs before the throne and asking God to give them whatever is best for them, I try to control the situation. I have the nerve to go up to God and essentially say “Okay, this is how I think you should handle this because my limited perceptions can’t see a better way to resolve it.” Ballsy, huh?

And of course, all this prayer and fretting over others is a fantastic way to avoid talking to God about my own set of problems, fears, and neuroses. Not that I never go to God on my own behalf, though. Actually, I am constantly asking him for things. Usually when I have a problem, or when I fear things aren’t going to happen the way that I want them to in my own life. But that’s just it. I am not really praying for myself. I am praying for things that I want – or don’t want. And there is a word of difference between the two.

I want my life to go on a certain way, with a minimum of pain and fear and discomfort. When something threatens that, I turn to God to fix it. But I don’t turn to him to fix me. I don’t bring my brokenness before him and ask for healing. I don’t admit that I can’t see a way out of my darkness and beg him to show me his path for me. And I certainly don’t ask him what he wants from me. I give him my laundry list and say “I want this or nothing”.

That is not true prayer. In fact, with the except of a few fleeting, glimmering moments of raw and brutal clarity in my lifetime where I have really spoken honestly and listened intently to God, I have almost never experienced true prayer. I’m not even sure I know how to go about finding it. The habit of controlling and pleading and trying to get what I want is so ingrained, and the great unknown of letting go and letting God work is so frightening. I have seen others pray honestly that God would do whatever he wanted with them, no matter the cost. The results are often terrifying.

And yet, in all my imperfect, self-centered prayers, I would also be arrogant to think that they were so flawed that even God could not use them. Part of finding the meaning of truly trusting him and truly opening up my heart in honest prayer is to believe that he can use even the most selfish, the poorest prayers I have to offer. Even when I come to Him out of fear and uncertainty, out of blatant self-interest, out of a desire for control and safety, I have to believe that he can make something of that. And maybe that is the first step along the path.

On Consistency and Change July 19, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Fears, Heart Condition, Lies, Lifescripts, Peace, Struggles.
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Consistency. As evidenced by the fact that this blog has not been updated in more than a month, I am not a terribly consistent person. Oh, I know a lot of people have trouble keeping up blogs. But my inconsistency extends to every area of my life. I seem incapable of being on a regular schedule for more than four days a row of anything. Eating well, exercising, keeping the house clean, going to bed at a certain time, reading the Bible, keeping up with friends, staying on top of work. I can’t even manage to drink my cup of tea every morning.

Trying harder doesn’t work. Resolutions seem to have the opposite effect on me – as soon as I’ve made one my mind instantly starts looking for reasons to break it. I’ve tried schedules, promises, accountability, even just letting go and seeing if things will happen naturally. They don’t, I just waste my time with frivolous things that don’t even entertain much. And on the days when I manage to get it together to actually do things the way I have hoped, something invariably throws a wrench in the process. This morning I managed to haul myself out of bed early, pack a lunch and clothes, put on my workout gear, and hop on the bike to head to work – only to discover a flat front tire. And of course then my mind goes, “Well, I guess I’m not biking this week either.”

I am a self-sabotaging machine. My powers of procrastination and rationalization know no bounds. Not to mention my amazing ability to second-guess myself. Worries about what I should have done in a particular scenario often derail any plans I have to be productive for the rest of the day. My fear of failure often prevents me from trying to do things I want in the first place, and my insecurity takes care of the rest if I do manage to start on something.

I write this not in an attempt to make anyone feel sorry for me, but because I need to be realistic about who I am, and who I have been. I have bought deeply into the lie that if I can just get on a schedule, if I can just complete the to-do list, follow the plan, keep the resolutions, or eat a balanced breakfast then my life will suddenly be okay. If I have the right workout clothes then I will run five miles everyday (never mind that 2 miles is my limit on a good day). If I lose some weight then I will not be depressed and have the energy to look for a better job. If I find a better job I can move away from here and everything will be better and none of my problems will follow me – I’ll be a new person.

And of course these lies are so effective because they are partially true. I will have more energy and feel healthier with exercise, sleep, and a good diet. New Jersey is not a very nice place to live and I probably would feel better elsewhere. Completing the to-do list is pretty satisfying, and losing weight is a total ego boost.

But despite the miraculous power of a good night’s sleep and a balanced breakfast, none of this will truly make me different or better or even fundamentally happier. I will still be the same person with many of the same problems, even if their outward manifestations change or go underground for awhile. And the harder I try to change before my ultimate failure the worse I feel about myself when it inevitably happens. This all combines in a perfect storm to paralyze me in all possible ways. No spiritual growth because I’m too busy striving on my own. None of the personal or household projects I start get completed. I skate by at work due mainly to the facts that there are a lot of people lazier than I am and that I know what my boss likes to to hear. Looking for a new job falls by the wayside. I become ineffective in nearly every way, and even the days where I manage to feel productive, it usually is more of working just to not fall further behind as opposed to any real progress.

Of course I know I cannot change myself. Only God can change me. I would never dare to say that I am in control of my life, that I can save myself from this hole I am in. And yet my actions say differently. My true beliefs are evident in the way I live my life. I strive and plan and hope and try and fail. I give lip-service to God, but I don’t let him into my life in a way that would let him do any actual damage. In fact, outward appearances indicate that I neither trust God with my life nor have any real desire to leave my cozy little rut.

Two things have happened recently that have made me think about this. One is that my growing dissatisfaction with life is reaching a breaking point where I am so desperate for a change that I am willing to try anything, even letting go of my control. And the other is recently witnessing the consequences in a life when too much control is held on to and not enough room is left for God to speak or move. If we don’t give him room to work in our lives, he will make the room himself and that may be much a more difficult way to learn the lesson for all concerned.

So what I can do? I can swear to read 5 chapters of the Bible a day. Buy several Christian books on having a closer relationship with God. Institute a series of rules for myself to keep me from trying to run my life too closely. Set a firm 1 hour quiet time and journal at least 8 pages a night. Of course, that is exactly what I always do. Not only is that counter to what I am trying to accomplish (the idea that I can control my spiritual growth through willpower is laughable), but it won’t work. I’ll do it for a day or two, I’ll have a bad day and decide I don’t feel like it, and then it won’t happen again. And then I’ll feel like a failure again.

I think the real answer has been spoken to me three times this week – once I even said it myself. I have been dealing with some of my issues with being part of the evangelical church and debating whether to get involved in a particular ministry. I told the leader that I need to wait and “be still” for awhile. I said it almost flippantly, as a way to avoid voicing my real concerns. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true. A dear friend who knows my struggles asked me if I could put aside all my fears and worries and disagreements with the church and just come and be still in the presence of God. And then the pastor, when addressing the serving teams before the service said, apropos of nothing else in the sermon, that the verse he had for us today was “Be still and know that He is God”. I did an actual double-take when he said that.

I am remarkably bad at being still. Oh, I can laze around with the best of them but I am rarely “still”. Stillness is a frame of mind which I do not possess very often. I read, put on TV or music, talk to a friend online. Anything to distract myself from the thoughts in my own head. If I am praying it is for something specific and I don’t leave any time to listen to the answers or anything else that might be said to me. I am the queen of distraction. Thanks to the internet, my own ADD nature, and a habit of avoidance, I have developed an attention span of approximately 12 seconds at the best of times.

So if there is one thing I need to do, it is that. Just to be still. To be quiet. To pray for the ability to be still and quiet because I cannot even do that on my own. Because I don’t have any more ideas on how to make my life better. I cannot resolve my own questions about the church and my place in it. I cannot figure out on my own what God wants from me. There is not a single thing I can I do to change myself other than to stop all of the trying and be still. And I know I don’t even have the power to do that on my own right now.

The deep and ineffable love of God June 15, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Grace, Heart Condition, Love, Nature of God.
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The more I experience personally the love of Christ, the more I am changed by it. And the more I change, the more I open myself up to His love. Despite the evidences of this blog, this leaves me without adequate words to express what is going in my heart and in my head. I long for a deeper understanding of His love, of what it truly means to be a Christ-follower as opposed to what other people have told me that it means.

And the more I am filled with this incredible, humbling love, the less room I have in my heart for judgment or hate or hypocrisy or oppression. The more I experience this deep, abiding grace the less I am able to stand condemnation or unforgiveness.  All I want is to know more of God, to draw closer to him, and to invite others to draw near to Him so that they can also experience this love, this grace that defies description.

These changes are not what I would call a crisis of faith, but something far more profound, something completely transformative which leads me to question everything except the absolute love and tenderness of Christ. It is truly what was meant by being born again – I am like a baby, knowing nothing of the world but the love of my creator and having to learn everything anew in light of this wild and indescribable grace I have been given.

I beg the reader’s indulgence on this journey as I try to figure out what this means for my life, for the Good News I preach, and for my interactions with the world around me. I may stumble and fall, I may express myself poorly and inelegantly. I may get things completely wrong. All I know is that I am compelled to pursue my God wherever His love leads me, as well as I know how.

I am sure that I will err. But when I err, I pray that it will be on the side of love. Because that is the only thing that I am sure of.

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.