“O Almighty God, who pourest out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP, page 833)
Beginning in the 7th chapter of Exodus, we read about God working through a series of plagues to free the people of Israel from the oppressive rule of Pharaoh in Egypt. We also read about Pharaoh’s refusal to give in and, repeatedly, we read about the hardening of his heart. Sometimes in the narrative, we read that it is specifically God who hardens the heart of Pharaoh but, at other times, it seems that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened by his own decision.
We all know about being hard-hearted. We watch it in others. We see it in ourselves. Sometimes our hearts are hardened due to the difficulties in life. In those times, it feels like something outside ourselves has imposed a hardness on us. It’s like we have no control over the events and they hurt us so much or threaten us so much that we close ourselves off from all that is good and hopeful.
At other times, it seems like people choose to be hard-hearted, closed-minded, and mean-spirited. They, and we, just refuse to see any good going on in life and only focus on what is wrong. Some people seem to work pretty darn hard to be cold and distant. Maybe they fell into some hard times long ago and now just keep on making poor choices which affect them and the people around them.
So much of life is trial and error. One of the great benefits of a daily reflection and meditation practice is that we get to review our lives on an ongoing basis. We can look back on events and consider how our actions played into hardship or breakthroughs. We can affirm our healthy behaviors and learn from our unhealthy behaviors. We can give thought to what is beyond our control and what is within our control.
When life has beaten us up, it helps just to acknowledge it honestly. One way we learn to stand up for ourselves and take better care of ourselves is to admit when something or someone has run over us. Our friends might betray us, our loved ones might let us down, a disease or tragedy might take away something we cherish. If we don’t acknowledge the hardship we have been through, resentment builds and we develop a hard edge which we might not even be aware of. Just to admit that I have been wounded somehow softens my heart and opens the door to healing.
In our reflection time, we might discover that we keep making poor choices in our interactions. Being hard-hearted is one way of trying to control my environment. If I can close someone or some emotion out of my life, I might feel more protected. Being tough-minded and judgmental puts me in a place of superiority and temporarily that feels pretty good. But the emptiness of thinking poorly of others gnaws away at us and produces a grimness that comes to rule our attitudes.
The great news of the resurrection is that we aren’t required to change who we are in order for God to accept us. God accepts us where we are. God loves us and knows our entire hearts and motivations. God sees our present reality and our deep potential. The best thing about the resurrection, though, is that God’s coming to us softens us and produces a willingness to change and grow. We don’t have to do any work for God to come to us. God’s coming to us produces a desire to work tirelessly for the betterment of the world and ourselves.
The one thing we bring to spiritual growth and making the changes in our lives that are to our benefit is awareness. Just admitting what is going on in our hearts is the one little softening that allows God to take us into a brand new way of living. We all have a conscience and finding a little time each day to let our conscience speak to us is really all it takes to move out of hard-heartedness.
It’s Easter Week. The Easter season stretches out for 50 days. It’s a great time to take stock of where we are, the ways in which we have been wounded, and the ways in which we are being invited to grow into new creatures. Maybe one lesson of the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh is that, as long as we are hanging onto a grim approach to life, things are just going to get worse and worse for us. God doesn’t punish us but God does allow the circumstances we choose to play themselves out.
Many things in life are beyond our control. We have no control over how we feel right now or the level of pain we have experienced. But we do have some control over our awareness. Admit your resentments or else they will rule your heart. Sit still and admit the pain in your life. Watch that pain be changed into something else. That’s the real power of the resurrection: God’s ability to heal and forgive the things we believe are beyond hope.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.