Think of someone you love to be around. How would you describe their heart? Chances are their inner being is reasonably nourished, healed, soft, and open. That’s what makes them an inviting presence. On the other hand you can’t stand being around someone who is stuck, empty, hard, and closed. But what’s the state of your heart?

That’s something Jesus cared a whole lot about. “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43). In the sermon on the mount Jesus defined murder and adultery by what goes on in a person’s heart (Matthew 5:22, 28). Both Old and New Testaments talk a lot about a tender heart, a hard heart, a prepared heart, a divided heart, an evil heart, a whole heart, and much more.

What if we, like David, prayed “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind” (Psalm 26:2)? Let’s look at a few categories in considering the state of your heart.

Healing or Stuck?

In some sense we are all wounded. You can’t get through life without being assaulted, beaten up, sometimes traumatized. (Let’s not overuse the word trauma, but it’s real.) Jesus certainly was hurt when He was here on earth, and we won’t escape the harm of this world either. You have been sinned against, likely in countless ways. And it affects you.

Your pain is worth honoring. You get to pause and grieve what happened that never should have, what you’ve lost, what you needed that you never received. Nobody can tell you how long your pause “should” be.

And then you get to pursue healing. Notice I didn’t say “healed;” that comes in eternity. But healing is a choice. Healing requires something from outside you; people, perspective, God’s presence. You get to choose when to embrace healing, take it into your being, and metabolize it as you would metabolize the food you eat.

Healing usually comes in stages. Look for it. Choose it. And when the Holy Spirit offers you another round of healing, say Yes. Your wounds can lose their sting and become valuable scars that you even treasure.

Nourished or Empty?

Not long ago I was talking with a man about the inner parts of his soul, and he described the image of his young self as an emaciated desperate little boy. How nourished or empty is your inner being? Many people I speak with feel empty, and are frustrated or even angry at others for leaving them there to starve.

In our culture this often comes out in a furious drive for sex; surely the porn or affair or more sex with your spouse will satisfy that gaping hole inside. But an orgasm won’t fill the deep need for intimacy that God created within you. Sex is often like junk food; your hunger subsides for just a moment before the realization hits that such empty “calories” are only killing you more slowly.

Like with physical food, you’re responsible for the nourishment your soul takes in. You’re grown up enough to learn to feed yourself. You need perspective, beauty, insight, rest, and more. And in the core of your being what you need most is a deep heart connection with God Himself, and authentic intimacy with a few others humans (regardless of your relationship status).

Take time to consider what your heart really needs, and the healthy ways you can pursue that nourishment. When your heart is reasonably nourished – which is up to you – you can handle life’s challenges so much more effectively.

Soft and Open, or Closed and Hard?

It’s only human to go into hiding when you’ve been hurt. Rejection, pain, disappointment, or any number of other assaults make you run for the bushes and your fig leaves (see Genesis 3). Or to change the metaphor, you erect higher and thicker walls around you for your own protection. You become isolated from your own self, from others, and even from God.

And behind those walls your heart becomes hard, brittle, and small.

It takes a measure of maturity and wisdom to manage the access to your heart in a healthy way. There are people who are dangerous, who have an evil heart; you don’t let them close. Others may be immature and unskilled, but so are you; you can find healthy ways to connect. And some nourish you just by being in their presence. Like Jesus did when here on earth, you choose who to invest of yourself with – and you pursue intimacy anyway. Who’s your Peter, James, and John?

Keeping your heart soft and open toward God is perhaps the most important of all. Many Christians have gotten the idea that you must not be angry with God. Well, what about Moses, David, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, or even Mary and Martha? God’s very best friends brought their “stuff” to Him, even the ugly stuff. His shoulders are big enough to carry your hurt, disappointment, anger, whatever it is.

If you sense your heart being closed and hard, do something about it. There are no 3 easy steps to a soft and open heart, but it starts with a choice. Give God permission to deal with you. Put yourself in His presence. Be real with Him. You can come to know in your deepest being that you can trust Him with your heart and your future.

With Your Whole Heart

One helpful way to think of God’s work in us is that He is making us whole. Integrated. Your L brain and your R brain are singing the same song. You no longer have a divided heart. There’s nothing plastic or pretend about you. You’re the same inside and outside, whether behind closed doors or in the spotlight. When someone “squeezes” you, the likeness of Jesus is what leaks out.

Think of what an utter relief that would be!

That’s what Jesus has in mind for you. So pay attention to the state of your heart. Invite Jesus to see the real heart you have. And then make sure to keep showing up. And keep saying Yes.

Your Turn: What’s the state of your heart? Do you sense some area the Holy Spirit is wanting to work on you? Leave a comment below.

Want More? This week on the podcast I speak with Charaia Rush about her journey to a soft heart and why it’s worth fighting for. Listen or watch.

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