My 1997 Toyota Corolla took its final breaths in a church parking lot on a Monday afternoon last month. After 227,000 miles, the starter got stuck as I was leaving work and started an electrical fire that sent me tossing anything of value onto the pavement while a good friend scrambled to find a fire extinguisher.

I could list some choice words to accurately reflect the frustration I felt as smoke billowed out from under my hood. I could even describe my desire to reenact a memorable scene from Office Space when I pulled a baseball bat out of my trunk.

Now let’s say I did go off and give full vent to my anger in this post. My guess is you wouldn’t be shocked or surprised, because if you’re on any form of social media, you’re probably accustomed to such heated emotion flowing from the fingers of friends, family or acquaintances. My Twitter feed is a daily reminder that there is no shortage of things to fire us up and tick us off.

We’re quite skilled at being bitchy.

And, as a friend of mine said earlier this summer, there’s something attractive about “haters.” I mean, don’t we all sort of envy mean people? You don’t have to do anything — just give in to the anger, breathe in the bitterness, and go toxic.

Then there are those who are wiser than I, more seasoned than I, those who have spent many years doing ministerial work, who keep reminding me that the evolution of a more tender heart toward life or God or people is not axiomatic. Contrary to popular belief, they say, it does not get easier to have a soft and sensitive heart as you age.

It’s like my garden. The more time the clay in my yard is exposed to the Missouri sun and heat, without a gardener’s attentive care, the more it turns into a texture resembling concrete. It becomes almost impermeable to water. It resists the nourishment it needs most.

Solomon must have known this, too. I wonder whether it’s not the basis behind one of his most popular Proverbs: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

If you’ve been around Christianity for any period of time, you’re accustomed to hearing “Guard your heart” associated with sexual purity. You think primarily about keeping bad things out. But I wonder if it’s not a more proactive than combative encouragement. What if what Solomon really wanted for his sons was for them to stay sensitive? What if he was saying, “Be diligent to protect your heart from hardness and sourness or it will drain the life from you”?

Someone once told me how author Sarah Sumner will often lay her palms open on her lap as a signal that she is willing to hear, to be teachable. Are there similar ways for us break open the stubborn soil in our lives to ensure we receive the nourishment we need? Or to say it more succinctly: How might we maintain a gentle heart before God and others?

I want to offer three suggestions:

Sabbath

Yes, the Sabbath is about rest for our work-weary minds and bodies. But I also know the harder and longer I labor, the more uptight and anxious and insensitive I can be. I need the Sabbath because it helps me breath and appreciate and even rejoice, just as “Mary’s time of rest provided the margin for something like the Magnificat to just bubble out of her.” In many ways, when we accept God’s designed rest, we accept and embrace God.

Friends

One of my favorite stories in Scripture is when Jonathan seeks out his best friend David in the wilderness near Horesh. David is in tight spot. He has every right to be discouraged and even pissed off. He is supposed to be the next king, but instead he is being hunted like a criminal. So Jonathan pays David a visit, intent to help him find strength in God. Here are his words: “Don’t be afraid. My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you.” This reminds me of a question from a Green Gathering a couple of years ago: Who’s in your cheering section? Who helps you to stay sensitive to God’s presence?

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Play

This summer when the Soulation writing team explored the theme of play, Dale Fincher introduced the subject by pointing to G.K. Chesterton, who remarked that we have “sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” Play keeps us vibrant and vulnerable. As Dale said, it’s a spiritual discipline to train us in joy.

 

 

 

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Images: acriddle.com, Chestertonlibrary.blogspot.com