A Soft and Tender Heart

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I so admire the innocence and softness of a child’s heart. When I was young my parents intentionally placed rules and guidelines in our lives to protect these qualities in us. They were so careful with what they let our little eyes see and what our ears heard. Whether that meant covering our eyes during a “scary” scene in a movie or guarding their words in the conversations they chose to have around us. They guarded our innocence and counted the tenderness of our hearts as precious.

As we grew older, the responsibility to guard our own hearts fell on our shoulders as we were exposed to a very broken and pain-filled world. We were faced with the decision of how our hearts would respond.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”- Ezekiel 36:26

This verse comes out of a portion of Scripture, where the Lord is telling the prophet Ezekiel what to say to the nation of Israel. Israel had forgotten about the God who loved them and chose to worship other “gods” in the surrounding nations. The love, faithfulness and goodness of God who had freed their ancestors from slavery and gave them the very land they lived in was forgotten as their hearts became increasingly hardened towards Him.

Anytime I read about the Israelite’s choosing to turn away from the Lord, I’m usually a bit confused. How does a nation go from loving and serving the Lord reverently to turning away completely? How quickly can a soft heart become stubborn and hard? Yet I have come to realize in my own experience it can happen pretty quickly.

My own heart has always been fairly sensitive and tender, as I mentioned that was something my parent’s really sought to protect when I was young. However, as I grew older I found that a soft heart was actually very counter-cultural. I grew to resent the softness of it because I was tired of the constant pain and conviction I felt when I looked at what entertained and influenced my peers or when I saw something on the news that was upsetting. I also grew tired of hearing how “sensitive” I was so eventually I decided the best method to protect my heart was to just shut down what I was feeling inside. Unfortunately, the more I pushed away emotion, the harder my heart grew and I started to feel numb inside. I started to lose my passion for people and my ability to remain present in my relationships was gone so I began to isolate myself. What I thought was protecting my heart from pain ended up resulting in a minor depression.

Thankfully, God is so gracious and he drew me out of that hard place and began to gently restore to me a soft and tender heart. However, before he could do that I had to see the value of it. I learned in the same way my parents had cherished and protected our tender hearts as children, so God loves and cherishes a soft and tender heart in us. Our hearts were never meant to be hard. He deems our hearts as precious, worthy of loving and protecting and so should we!

While it is inevitable that we will have trouble in this world, that doesn’t mean our hearts have to become hardened as a result. I really believe the counterfeit of a strong heart is a hard heart. What I mean by this is often hardness of heart is mistaken as strength. Yet, it actually takes far more strength, endurance and patience to maintain a softness of heart. A soft heart is not a weak heart. A soft heart is developed through trust and vulnerability. I think everyone has either seen or experienced how love can turn a person’s heart into mush. It’s fun watching people fall in love for that reason. As hearts begin to trust they allow their true selves to come out, and a bond of strength is developed between the two parties as they are loved in the places they never thought they could be. It’s the same with us and God. When our hearts trust him, they soften and our true selves come out as we begin to treasure who God is and who He made us to be.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17

A soft and tender heart comes from a place of intimacy with God. If our hearts are hard we can’t receive love. I’ve heard intimacy defined as “into-me-you-see”. It’s the act in which you take the time to truly see into the heart of another person and invite them to see into your own.God desires honesty about the condition of hearts far more than he wants our good works. Usually when our hearts are hard in an area, it’s because we are trying to hide or protect something out of fear. Yet wherever fear exists, the love of God has not truly been perfected in us. It’s in the willingness to be weak and broken before him, we discover his grace is more than sufficient in our weaknesses. It’s in this sweet and tender place with God that we learn to trust him with our hearts. We don’t have to fear or feel the need  to protect ourselves because we have experienced the strongest of loves that is the King of all kings. This love doesn’t bow to anything, it is our safe place and it desires more than anything else that you experience the full and abundant life you were created for.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

Our lifestyle speaks volumes of how much we value our hearts. I’m slowly learning that if I compromise conviction, I’m also compromising the condition of my heart. I’m not saying that means perfectly following a set of rules, but it means living a life that is honoring to the God you love. Disobedience is the fastest route to a hard heart and it hinders your ability to remain intimate with God. Personally, when I choose something other than God’s best for me, I’ve noticed my heart becomes hard because of the feelings of guilt and shame that cause me to create distance with him. Even though his heart for me always remains unchanged. Yet, he is so gracious and when we come to him honestly, He is right there. So ready to receive us with open arms and love us in our imperfection and brokenness.

Your heart is designed to be tender and responsive, and the softer it is the more you will understand your true identity as a child of God.  Your heart is is worth loving. It’s worth protecting. It’s worth seeing. It’s so precious Jesus deemed it worth dying for.

You are ever so loved!

– Rachel Elizabeth

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