I was on the phone with my mother-in-law a few weeks back. A long-time friend and neighbor whose health has been a concern for years, had suffered some setbacks and the prognosis wasn't good.
I called Mom to see if she'd had any word on his condition and was pleasantly surprised to hear that Mike had rallied yet again. As we talked, we acknowledged that the reprieve was temporary. In fact, mere weeks later, Mike died.
I choose my words carefully when discussing spiritual matters with Mom. She is of the opinion that "God helps those who help themselves" and as far as I can tell, that's all she wants to know about him.
Our conversation took her out of her comfort zone, but only momentarily. When I summarized the conversation for Danny later that day, I told him, "I took your mom out of her comfort zone, just for a moment, then we skittered right back into it.
To his quizzical look, I explained that I tossed out some kingdom seed and then skittered back, praying the seed would find the garden of her heart receptive.
Gardens are a challenge. We've enjoyed one batch of homemade green chili thus far this summer, grateful for the harvest. That being said, the tomato plant, although huge and healthy, is barren, and the potato bed is a complete failure. Perhaps it is the heat. Perhaps it is the soil. It may be lacking in one nutrient or have too much of something else. We'll try again next year. The harvest is well worth the effort.
I'm supposing Father feels much the same about our heart gardens. He has a variety to work with, examples provided by our Lord's parable about the sower in Matthew 13:1-23. He is determined that the harvest is well worth the effort.
How are our heart gardens formed? How is one heart made so very fertile that the seed springs forth to bear fruit; thirty, sixty, even a hundred-fold; and another is so rock hard even the gentlest rain cannot soften it?
Geologists can look at sedimentary levels of our earth and determine the conditions under which each distinct layer formed. Arborists can do the same with the rings of ancient trees. Drought. Stress. Flood.
So too, the gardens of our hearts are formed as we live out the days of our lives. Through the choices we make, the seasons of our lives are revealed in the garden of our hearts.
Light years, raising children, the future wide open with possibilities. Hard years when there was always more month than money. Harder years regaining trust so carelessly squandered. Moments of pure joy, sheer terror, bitter disappointment, the last two always resulting in pain.
What do we do with the pain? What do we do with anger? Bitterness? Fear? They come to all of us, in one form or another. No one is immune.
The answer is simple, however, and though it is anything but easy, it too, repeatedly, comes from the lips and the heart of the Savior.
Hardness of the heart is made up of layer upon layer upon layer of hurt; anger; and bitterness; because these are what happens when someone, anyone, sins against us. We are all wounded souls, victims of any and, dare I say, every other man's search for balm. Whether they find that balm in a bottle, in a bedroom, with a needle in their arm, balm is what they're looking for -- something, anything, to stop the pain. And sadly, for so many, holding on to the source of their pain is the very thing that is killing them, making their hearts like flint - brittle and crumbling.
We are all wounded. We are all guilty of inflicting wounds ourselves. No one is immune. What can be done? How can anyone be saved?
"As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." Hebrews 3:15 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.