IS MY HEART HARDENING?
It struck me this morning as I was driving to work. It’s a fairly miserable outside today – off and on rain, a slight breeze, gloomy gray skies, and temperatures hovering between 35-4 0 degrees. All and all, a somewhat stereotypical day for this time of year in the Pacific Northwest. There was nothing unusual about the weather or my normal routine this morning. I bundled up, started the car and began to navigate the route to my office.
Along the way each morning I drive past a homeless camp near the entrance of my neighborhood. This camp popped up about 2 years at the start of the pandemic, and it has gone through several iterations since then. At times a number of broken down RV’s lined the street, but now it’s mostly just an odd collection of tents and canopies. There’s also the never ending supply of garbage and the leftover remnants from sites that have long been abandoned. I’ve seen this same scene for the past couple of years, working through various thoughts and emotions about the presence of this camp in my neighborhood, not to mention the people who inhabit it. But today was different! This morning I realized that I’ve become somewhat numb and apathetic to the plight of those who are living in this makeshift village.
At first I thought it was just the weather. After all, I was cold and still trying to dry off from the quick trip from my front door to the driveway……..AND I WAS SITTING IN MY CAR! But as I passed the homeless camp this morning I couldn’t help but wonder how those folks were staying warm and dry. There was no electricity or gas, so that eliminated the possibility of a lot of the creature comforts I take for granted — a fresh pot of coffee, a hot shower, a heated living space, and lights at the flick of a switch. And today’s weather was pretty mild compared to the day before, when a cold winter storm left everything covered with a layer of ice. Yesterday I was somewhat miserable just scraping off the windshield on my car, so it’s hard to imagine sleeping in a tent all night!
Whatever the reason, this morning my routine was interrupted and I found myself actually thinking about something much more important than the latest sports scores, my “To Do” list for the day, or even upcoming plans for Christmas. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the condition of my heart! In days gone by my heart has been pretty tender, feeling compassion and empathy for those who were less fortunate than I have been. When people would tell me their troubles I would genuinely feel bad for them and do my best to give them advice and whatever other help I could offer. I’ve had the privilege of assisting a lot of people over the years — whether that help was to provide some wise counsel, meet a practical need, or support them as they made a significant change in their lives.
But lately I’ve noticed I’ve become a bit jaded. It’s not that I don’t care…..I just don’t seem to care as much as I used to! One of the responsibilities I have at the church where I work is to handle the walk-ins looking for assistance. Like others who share that type of responsibility, I’ve heard all the stories and tend to have some suspicions when the stories don’t really add up. While there is certainly a need for wisdom and discernment in sharing resources with those less fortunate than you, especially if those resources have been provided by others, I feel like my heart has become cold at times, unmoved by the warmth of compassion.
Don’t get me wrong…..I’ll probably still provide some type of resources in most of these cases, but it’s almost done out of a sense of obligation and responsibility rather than as an act of love. That change may be subtle, but it’s concerning. I don’t want to become someone who doesn’t really care for people, even while he’s actually caring for some need in their life.
As a Christian, I try to take my life lessons from scripture. The Bible talks in a number of places about the “hardening” of one’s heart. If I understand that teaching correctly, these passages describe how a “hardened heart” can dull a person’s ability to perceive and understand what’s really going on around them. There are countless examples of this happening in scripture, from the Pharaoh in Egypt to Jesus’ own disciples. In fact, knowing that the disciples struggled with this actually encourages me! They seemingly forgot how Jesus had previously fed the crowd with a few small loaves and fish when they were faced with the same dilemma again! Jesus points out that their inability to see, understand, hear and remember was a sign of the spiritual condition of their hearts.
While the causes of this heart hardening malady vary, the results are always the same. Such hardening can be caused by unrepentant sin, selfish pride, or even the setbacks and disappointments in our lives. When any of these things take root, we may find that our hearts harden and become less responsive to both God and the needs of others around us.
The idea that my heart has, indeed, become somewhat hardened is sobering. I certainly know what God has done for me in the past and I’m eternally grateful. However, my inability at times to remember what He’s done for me is a stark reminder of my own tendency to become self-absorbed. The fact that I’ve let the noise of the world around me drown out His still quiet voice is heartbreaking. My inability to see people through His eyes and feel compassion for them is convicting. And when I launch out with my own plans because I don’t understand His plans, I often find myself in troubles of my own creation. I find myself unsettled in these days because I sense my heart has become less pliable. The last thing I want to become is a cranky old “saint” that is of no earthly good to God’s kingdom.
I sense I’m not alone in this journey. I believe many of my readers also have to admit their hearts are “harder” than they were at one time in the past. Certainly part of the reason for that is our life experience and the changes going on in the world around us. But the Bible seems to make it clear that God is “the same yesterday, today and forever”. That means He loves those homeless campers, those folks who stop by office but almost assuredly are just living off the system, and those disagreeable folks who don’t see the world the way I do. My heart needs to be open to care about people the way He does….and so does yours.
I’m not saying I fully understand where all this is taking me, but I have been reminded today that my heart may need a tune-up! I want to sense the closeness to God I had as a younger man before so many obstacles had to be navigated. I want to feel God stir my heart in new ways, helping me to truly perceive how He has been working all around me. I have no doubts that more challenges are waiting around the corner, but I don’t want to let those things produce callouses of indifference or scars of skepticism.
My prayer for all of us is that we will allow God to soften our hearts and be used by Him to make a difference in the world around us. It may be cliché, but it’s still true: “Admitting you have a problem is the first step to a solution.”