Imagine a young couple and their infant daughter traveling in a remote area late one evening, when their car breaks down. It seemed good fortune that they were stranded only a quarter of a mile out of the town of Sans Coeur, and the couple was relieved to find several hotels nearby.
But Sans Coeur wasn’t as inviting as they had hoped. The first lodging didn’t have any rooms. The manager at the adjacent hotel told them he was too busy. At the next, they heard that “their kind” wasn’t welcome. Another manager called them idiots and slammed the door in their face. If you were this couple, what would you think?
While the town of Sans Coeur is fictional, the story represents what is often the state of our hearts.
The Bible speaks of man’s heart as the deepest part of a person and represents his knowledge, understanding, emotions, and will. Our heart reveals our orientation toward God and is an expression of the state of our soul. So, how’s your heart?
Our first reaction would probably be a defensive one; that there is nothing wrong us. But take a closer look. Here are some symptoms of a small, contracted heart.
Indifference to others. Perhaps we don’t want to be bothered. Or we’re too busy or stressed to care. We’re focused on our own affairs. We’re complacent toward the plight of others.
Avoiding people who make us uncomfortable. This could be someone in need, the disabled, or a person with a difficult personality style. What about meeting a panhandler on the street? Are you more likely to: (a) avoid eye contact and walk away, (b) give him money and move on, or (c) stop and engage him in a conversation, getting to know him and find out more about his background and situation?
Holding hatred, bitterness, or ill will toward someone. How does this attitude take form? Do we give some people dirty looks or roll our eyes? Spread gossip? Use profanity or insults? Hold resentment toward those who have hurt us?
Elevating ourselves by putting others down. We understand competition in business, athletics, or politics as part of the game. But does that require us to destroy others, lie, cheat, slander, cast innuendo and hurl insults so we can gain an advantage? I recall a political debate in recent years where one of the participants repeatedly interrupted, ridiculed, and laughed at his opponent while offering little of substance, himself. He was judged the debate winner by some of the media. Whether there was a winner or not, I cannot say, but in my estimation, he was a loser and so were the American people, who deserved better from this political leader.
An inability to stretch. I believe we all have areas of our hearts that need to expand. Constricted and stony hearts are natural products of original sin. So here’s the question: When faced with the opportunity, how readily do we stretch our hearts and act in charity toward another? Do we keep God at a comfortable distance or seek Him with absolute devotion?
Regaining Heart Stretch-ability
What can we do to soften our heart and develop a heart of flesh instead of stone? We often form our heart disposition with strong emotions and well-ingrained habitual patterns, resulting in spiritual blindness and resistance to change. If we want to be different, sometimes we need to be intentional about doing the opposite. Here are six suggestions:
Affirm. Find things you can build up, encourage, or compliment the person whom you are tempted to disparage or ignore.
Build bridges. Separation maintains ignorance, indifference, and a hostile attitude. Find something you have in common and build a bridge.
Care. Caring for others doesn’t always come naturally. Anonymity makes it even easier to ignore and hurt someone. What about the way drivers treat one another on the road? Instead, choose to care about others.
Defend the other. It’s one thing to say you care, but how far will we take it? Are you willing to stand up and advocate for another’s needs and dignity? For their right to life?
Enlarge your heart. When you feel the urge to be indifferent, avoid involvement, keep an emotional distance, harbor bitterness, or put someone down, take it as a challenge to make room in your heart.
Faith. This kind of heart surgery takes a power beyond our own. We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and grow.