Our heads can hurt from thinking too hard, our muscles can throb from over-extension, and if you're like me, our hearts can ache from feeling too much. In times of great joy and in times of sorrow, we often reach and place a hand or two on what feels like the center of our emotions. Right there over our heart.
Even as our hands grow callous from repeated pressure and friction, our hearts can also grow hard. The trouble is that a hardened heart stops feeling, and without our feelings we cannot grow into true maturity. We can continue to modify our behaviours, but we won't walk in wholeness and we won't be able to sustain the destiny we dream of. This hard-heartedness is becoming an epidemic in the world around us and most succumb to it for the sake of survival through this life.
I feel like I just jumped off the end of the dock into the frigid lake water, instead of maybe starting at the shore and warming up to it one step at a time. Maybe we should climb out together here and try that again. Here are some things that you need to know about the tendency of our hearts.
O N E - We are vulnerable
First, you must know that humans in all of our technological advancements and divinely-given intelligence, are still the most vulnerable of all creatures. Most complex creatures have emotions - a natural instinctive state of mind that responds to stimuli. These are the trackable, psychological occurrences within the brain that occur subconsciously.
We all experience frustration, longing, and alarm in the mind, but humanity is unique in that these emotions can also become experienced in our conscious mind. We call these our feelings. Emotions can roar through our subconscious with all the meekness of a freight train, changing the landscape of our lives, but it is usually only when we come into a place of safety and rest that we can even begin to process these as true feelings.
T W O - Life is both wonderful and painful
Though life offers incredible joy and pleasure, I think we can all agree that it can also be extremely painful with extreme disappointments. Even just in the area of relationships, we want to be known for who we truly are and received with open arms. We were made for intimate connection and our greatest desire is to find those with whom we can belong. Because that is our greatest desire, then it is logical that our greatest fear would be the sting of rejection or the sorrow of separation.
Whether that pain came from our family circumstances, from a shameful experience with one person, from perceived rejection from a circle of friends, or betrayal from someone we trusted, it leaves us in a tough spot. Do we dare keep our hearts soft and susceptible to the possibility of repeated pain? The response is happening at a subconscious level.
T H R E E - We all affect the people around us
Not long ago I noticed a couple verses that seemed to be shouting a similar message giving insight to this process:
Matthew 24 is a chapter in the Bible where Jesus is instructing His disciples about what things will be like in the final era of the earth. In verse 12, He says, "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold."
Ephesians 4:19 adds to the picture by explaining,"...and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness."
Taking these two verses together, we can begin to see the domino effect of our decisions and the decisions of others. It begins, "because others are hurtful, selfish and ignorant, most people's love will grow cold." Then proceeds to "because they have become cold and callous, they give themselves over to sensuality, impurity and greediness."
Repeat cycle. Over and over. Hurt people intuitively harden their hearts and end up hurting more people. The vulnerability that was meant to create closeness and rest becomes the scourge of our generation. We begin to despise our own hearts that keep hoping and keep getting disappointed.
We were talking with an awesome young man earlier this week who is new to faith in Jesus Christ. He is keeping an eye out, guarding against sin and old temptations, leaning into counsel and seeking God's presence.
I felt to give him a head's up about the things that have tripped me up more than anything else: the temptation to be offended or to live in a state of disappointment.
It is in THOSE things that my heart tries to close up on me.
And when my heart tries to close up, my hope starts to wane and I start to feel something like, "I don't care."
And in this "not caring", I lose vision for the future.
And in losing vision, I lose self-governance.
And in losing self-governance, I commit sins that hurt myself and others.
Large or small scale, this is the progression of a hard heart.
F O U R - There is hope of recovery
I think that one of the most beautiful promises of the Old Testament is in Ezekiel 36:26-27 where God declares:
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."
Jesus knew that we needed soft hearts in order to grow into all we were made for. He knew that we needed connection. He faced brutal murder so that He could help us feel again, so that we could connect with Him again and so that we could live united with others again.
Then he also dedicated himself to be a safe, faithful place for our hearts to hide in. He didn't shy away from the fact that relationships in our lives would get messy and that we would be facing the inevitability of offense.
The greatest weapon against this enemy is forgiveness. Over and over again. Forgiveness.
It is the brave choice that Jesus Christ himself made in the face of betrayal and torture. It was the only way.
We must develop forgiveness as a habit so that our instinct is to release the outcomes into the hands of the Righteous Judge of heaven. We aren't condoning anyone's behavior or releasing them from the laws of the land, but for the sake of our hearts, we bow in the presence of our King and Father, knowing that He will not fail us. He will not abandon us or betray us.
Dear reader, even just statistically speaking, I know that cruel and unjust things have happened to you. I expect you have faced things that you have never even been able to tell others about yet. You may have faced sexual shame, rejection or scorn of romantic relationships. You may have heard words of cursing from those you hoped would be your safe place.
I'm so sorry.
I pray that you will find someone that you trust to talk to about your struggles, and that you will recognize and accept the assignment of a life-long journey of forgiveness. I hope you will allow yourself to be honest about the pain you have experienced, cry honestly and not apologize for feeling.
When I see tears, I see only courage and it gives me hope that everything will be alright in time. Tears only fall from the eyes of those whose hearts can feel. And the soft heart has a chance. The soft heart can receive and be molded by the Spirit of God. The soft heart can bend in flexibility so that the struggles of life don't crush it. The soft heart can hold to integrity and diversity at the same time. The soft heart can flourish in creativity and powerful innovation.
So, we must be honest. Cry it out.
Then we must forgive so as not to live in self-pity or a victim mindset.
Then cry again as necessary. Then forgive again.
Release the idea of taking revenge and release your desire for self-justification. Leave your future in the hands of a trustworthy Savior. He kept His heart in it. We must follow His lead.