“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new Spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”Ezekiel 11:19
This is one of my favorite Scriptures and one that the Lord has highlighted to me multiple times this year. I’m amazed at how often the Bible warns about the danger of a hardened heart. It’s clear that God cares deeply about the condition of our interior life.
However, the enemy loves to use pain and disappointment to harden us. And I think for many people, 2020 has been year of pain and disappointment. I believe that the enemy wants to use the challenging circumstances of this past year to make us cynical and critical, lonely and isolated, numb to our feelings and emotions, and stuck in bitterness and resentment. The honest truth is that I’ve felt all of these things at some point this past year.
However, God has been teaching me a lot about what it means to stay soft-hearted in the midst of difficult times. I want to share with you several tools He’s been teaching me for keeping a soft heart.
Guarding our hearts: One of my favorite Scriptures is Proverbs 4:23. It reads:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. “-Proverbs 4:23
Now I don’t think this verse is suggesting that we shut ourselves off from everyone and everything. Rather we must be mindful of what we allow into hearts. The media, news, and content we take in actually does something to us. It shapes the people we become and that’s not something to be taken lightly.
Therefore, when I am watching a Netflix show, reading the news, or even scrolling on Facebook, I try to ask myself the following question: Is this content softening or hardening my heart? Is it drawing me closer to God and His love or am I feeling more disconnected from Him? It’s so easy to become desensitized to violence, impurity, lies, anxiety, and gossip— all of which the media capitalizes on. Therefore, if we want to stay sensitive and soft-hearted, we need to guard our hearts from destructive inputs.
Practicing vulnerability: One of my favorite quotes about vulnerability comes from Brene’ Brown. She writes:
“Staying vulnerable is the risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”-Brene’ Brown
God has been teaching me a lot about vulnerability the past couple of years. As Brene’ Brown says, vulnerability is a risk. It carries no guarantees and I think that’s what make it so scary. But if we want to experience deep connection with others, we have to be vulnerable. We have to let people in and open our hearts to love and be loved by others.
This means being honest with people about our struggles and weaknesses. It means asking for help when we need it. And it means authentically sharing who we are with the people in our lives. In my opinion, a vulnerable heart is a soft heart.
Prioritizing beauty: I love how John Eldredge describes the softening power of beauty. He writes:
“Beauty is such a gentle grace. Like God, it rarely shouts, rarely intrudes. Rather it woos, soothes, invites… We often sign in the presence of beauty as it begins to minister to us— a good, deep soul sigh.”-John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back
We all experience God’s beauty in different ways. This past year, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation. My heart feels softest and most receptive to God’s love during a walk at the park, on a run at sunset, or out exploring the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail. Music has the same effect on me. It’s nearly impossible to listen to a beautiful song without experiencing music’s softening effect.
Learning from children: This might seems strange, but I think that spending time with children can also soften our hearts. It’s clear in the Gospels that children had a very special place in Jesus’ heart. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus even goes so far as to tells His disciples:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:3
Why is this? Well I wonder if it’s because children have such soft hearts. As a 3rd grade teacher who spends most of my time with children, I can attest to this! Children are some of the most trusting people I know. They don’t have the same walls and defense mechanisms that adults develop to protect themselves. Therefore, I think we have a lot to learn from children!
Embracing sadness: I think that many Christians feel a need to be joyful all the time and feel guilty for experiencing sadness and discouragement. However, as I read the Bible, I am struck by Godly men and women who embraced their honest feelings before God. Hannah cried in the temple because she was barren and without a son. Elijah expressed his despair to God as he was running from Ahab and Jezebel. Job grieved and mourned his losses. Even Jesus cried over the death of his friend Lazarus and in the garden of Gethsemane. There’s a reason God has given us tears. Sometimes what we really need is a good cry. And I know from personal experience the softening effect that tears can have on our hearts.
Additionally, embracing sadness enables us to fully embrace joy. As Brene’ Brown writes:
“We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”-Brene Brown
Part of being human is allowing ourselves to experience the full range of emotions, including the difficult ones.
Confessing our sin: When my heart feels hard, sometimes the culprit is un-confessed sin. I love Psalm 32 which reads:
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.”-Psalm 32: 1 and 2.
Bringing our sins into the light softens our hearts. It’s important to regularly confess our sin to the Lord and to others. Confession keeps us sensitive to the Lord and to His gentle correction.
Forgiving others: Our hearts aren’t only hardened by our own sinfulness, but also by sins done to us. I think that bitterness has the greatest potential to harden our hearts. In her book about forgiveness (highly recommend) Lysa Terkeurst writes so beautifully about the importance of forgiveness. She writes:
“Your heart is much too beautiful a place for unhealed pain. And your soul is much too deserving of freedom to stay stuck”.-Lysa Terkeurst, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget
In my experience, forgiveness is a healing balm for our hearts. It’s not something we muster up. Instead, it comes when we truly receive God’s forgiveness and then allow that same forgiveness to overflow to others. In my experience, forgiveness isn’t just a one-time action. It’s a continual process that gradually heals and restores our hearts.
In closing, I want to invite you to look back on this past year and notice any places in your heart that may have been hardened by 2020. As we step into the new year, I encourage you to invite Jesus into those places and ask Him to soften the soil of your heart.
May we go into 2021 with soft, open hearts able to fully give and receive God’s love.