Mary Beth Keenan
Softening and Strengthening a Heart
My chest tightened, my breath got short, and my heart rate skyrocketed; it felt like our toddler was sitting on me. “Is this what it feels like for my heart to harden?” I thought to myself. A relative I have a rocky relationship with had texted me, asking to visit me and my family. I had longed for this moment, an olive branch of sorts. Yet, the fear of what might happen should I reject or, honestly, should I accept made my heart harden. I could tell that God was present in this moment, but I desperately wanted to run the other way and hide. While I have dearly missed the once positive relationship with this relative, it has been more peaceful to co-exist without acknowledging each other than to try to repair or regain the relationship.
With a lot of prayer and thinking out loud with my husband, we decided to welcome this relative into our home. My heart still felt hardened when I heard the car door on our driveway close. I did not know what to expect and I was worried about providing an emotionally safe environment for my children. I focused on the present and tried to be hospitable as possible; and this relative returned that hospitality with grace and joy. We shared lunch, cheered the kids on during their playing, and caught each other up on the highlights of the past few years. There is still a lot of baggage in the relationship; a lot of trust to rebuild. Yet, after our time together, I felt lighter. The boulder that was my heart had transformed into something lighter, more hopeful, and with more stamina for the future.
Hardening our hearts is not always a negative occurrence; sometimes it can be a safety mechanism. It can show us that we are uncomfortable, that we need to slow down and really discern how God’s presence is meeting us in that moment. It is important what we do after our hearts are hardened, how we invite God and others into the process of softening our hearts. Like the woman at the well, we can ask hard questions of God as we try to understand His voice and message in our lives. He is with us no matter what and the psalmist invites us to hear his voice. This requires a posture of listening and relationship with him. Take some time today in prayer; to look back over the past few days or week and reflect on where you have heard God’s voice in your life.
Mary Beth seeks the glory of God in all of creation, especially wildflowers. Follow her @mb_keenan.15 for more reflections on mental health, motherhood, and caring for creation.