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On Breaking the Hardened Heart

Real Love

In my article about the the beautiful mess that is the female mind and heart, I cautioned that an unguarded heart is susceptible to being guided by sentimentality, hasty feelings, and emotionalism. Before delving further into that topic, I wanted to speak a little to the dangers of being too guarded.

You see, we can build walls around our hearts without even being conscious of it. Especially if we are afraid of vulnerability and our defense mechanism is to keep people at a distance. As Christians who value the virtue of charity, we build our walls in more subtle ways. Perhaps making judgements about people before really getting to know them. If we feel they’ve wronged us, we may not go out of our way to seek revenge. If disciplined, we may even be able to refrain from saying bad things about them to others. And we can be nice, and cordial. But we keep them at a distance - just enough so they know we haven’t forgiven them.

The Spirit revealed to me that I still had a layer of a hardened heart that needed to be penetrated and healed by grace. But I hit a wall in my prayer life. Because the hardened heart is the worst kind of heart. The hardened heart does not see God, and it doesn’t know how to love or to receive love. C.S. Lewis pretty much summed it up in this excerpt from The Four Loves:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” 

I began to be concerned about my receptivity and ability to love. The call to authentic love is not a superficial call. It cuts into the depths of our souls, commanding us to come outside of our own wills: to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds (Prayer for Generosity, St. Ignatius of Loyola). A hardened heart knows only to love itself. And as St. John of the Cross said, “A soul that is hard because of self-love grows harder.”

This freak out realization turned out to be a catalyst for deepening my relationship with Christ. I felt like the clay in the potter’s hands in Jeremiah 18. Have you ever worked on a pottery wheel? I have. It always feels like the clay is resisting. I had a really hippie art teacher who would always say things like “Let the clay speak to you. Let it tell you what it wants to be.” Well I was pretty sure my clay was always saying, “I don’t want to be molded by you!”

That pretty much sums up most of my faith journey with God. Resisting because I doubted His ultimate goodness. I suspect traces of this doubt still linger somewhere in my heart and has been the cause of the hardened layer of my heart and account for my daily struggles to be humble, patient, and kind. I also suspect that until I get into heaven (God willing), this will be an ongoing war that can only be won one little battle at a time.

Praise God for His patience with each one of us! As this passage points out, it really isn’t by our own efforts that we are healed. Just as it’s not by the clay’s own effort that it is softened and molded into a vessel. “And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me:’O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’ (Jer 18: 4-6). The potter kneads the clay and adds the water to soften it. The potter shapes the clump of clay into something beautiful.

As I (slowly) deepen my relationship with Christ through daily mental prayer, I realize more and more just how much I need to lean on the Holy Spirit to sustain me. Which is a comforting thought, because as hard as my heart is, I know the divine potter is hard at work, lovingly shaping me into what pleases him. Even if in the past I turned out poorly due to my own doings.

Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

All we have to do is allow Jesus in, and He will be victorious. And as we foster a relationship with him through continual prayer, we will be more aware of the promptings of our hearts and respond in faith, hope, and charity in the little moments of our daily lives.

He promised in scripture, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36: 26-27). As long as we lean on this promise and entrust our hearts to Him,  we will have more courage to be vulnerable and receptive to love. As for what we can do for our part, St. Teresa of Avila offers a very simple yet effective piece of advice: Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”

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  • Tien Pham

    Interesting that you phrase it as “breaking” a hardened heart instead of the usual “softening”. But I guess that is what it would take sometimes.

    • http://www.modthirtyone.com/ Anh

      Hi Tien! Yeah, from my own experience I do think so. But that’s because of my own stubbornness and tendency to resist being vulnerable.