A softer heart

What are the challenges that are facing you this week? Perhaps you’re dreading a difficult boss or conversation. Caring for elderly parents, small children – or both. Maybe you’re studying for exams or recovering from illness; swamped by emails or demands or an addiction that seems bigger than you. Perhaps you are grieving – for a person or relationship or situation that you hoped would last forever.

Whatever you’re facing, it’s not a surprise. We’re broken people living in a broken world – and Jesus warns us to expect struggle; especially if we follow him. It’s rarely the stuff of epic movies, with car chases or sensational showdowns. Most often suffering is the opposite: dull and unseen; an endless round of mundane chores; a life that the enemy says is small and trivial. He lies. Jesus is at work – in these things and in you. We can glorify him in our emails and our grocery baskets. We write his name on hearts as we calm angry children. We pour out peace as we placate an unreasonable boss. Some days we triumph by simply getting out of bed. Lord, I choose your promises over my feelings. I trust that you will give me strength for the very next step.

When my husband is away and the kids are playing up, a week can feel like an eternity. I’m tired and no matter how much I give, it’s still not enough. However, in this, I have two options. Power on – or pray and plod. Both seem to achieve the same outcome – the kids are fed, washed and cared for. But what’s going on underneath is very different.

When I Power On, I Get Things Done. I’m Efficient and I’m Tough. I keep busy and I stick to routines. We get to the end of the week and everyone is fed, changed and clean. They’ve had the requisite number of play hours and vegetables. From the outside, I’m doing an admirable job. But inside, it’s a different story. Instead of expanding, my heart has shrunk. It’s gotten hard and dry. It’s pumping to the drum beat of ‘I’ll do it myself’. It’s inflated by will-power and resentment and pride. I need spreadsheets, not God. And my children are obstacles to be surmounted, not people to love.

Option two is messier. Uncomfortable and weak. I ask for help; first from the Lord, but also praying friends. I recognise that my husband is on a different battle line and that I can fight for him; in conversation and in prayer. I am thankful for time with my children. Instead of hardening up, I get softer. I bruise more; but I also breathe. I listen to my kids, instead of just fixing them. I get overwhelmed quicker; but I don’t escape into busyness. I pray – and then I plod. I pray – and I plod again. Lord, Give me grace for the next five minutes! And he does.

The truth is, I can’t do anything—let alone parenting!—in my own strength. I do not have the capacity to love in the way that I need to. Yet this is also my hope. In my dependence I come afresh to Jesus and he changes my toughened heart. It’s impossible to love when I feel like an orphan! But as God’s beloved child I remember that I am loved and parented. In this knowledge, I can love and parent too.

It’s ok for me to feel angry or upset or overwhelmed; because I can bring these things to my loving Father and He will give me strength to plod. It’s ok for my children to feel angry or upset or overwhelmed, and I don’t have to shut them down. I can give them space and grace, just as it has been shown to me. Father, Remind me that I am your child so that I can love my own.

What are you facing this week? Whatever lies ahead, remember you are not an orphan. The Lord knows you and loves you and is glorified in your weakness. As you deal with challenges, the easier option is to close up your heart and power on. The way of the Spirit is to pray and plod. Then rest in His love, knowing He delights in you.

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