My husband periodically asks me the question, “How’s your heart doing?” If my heart is doing well, if it’s in tune with the Spirit and submitting to the Lord, I can welcome the question and answer with a smile, “Pretty well, actually.”
But many times the question feels like an intrusion. My heart is struggling. I’m fighting to believe truth and swatting away lies like late-summer houseflies. I’m resisting vulnerability. My heart feels hardened. That’s when I bristle at the question (and the questioner). I fumble, lie, or avoid answering.
In Mark 4 Jesus talks about seeds and soil. He describes the kind of soil that is good for growing seed: deep, rich, and moist. He also describes the kind of soil that isn’t good for seed: shallow, rocky, dry, rootless.
Jesus was describing soil, but he was also describing the hearts of the people around him. He was casting his message out like seed. Some hearts were proving to be good soil; the seed was taking root and promising a good harvest. Other hearts, unfortunately, were rejecting the seed. They refused to take it in and allow it to grow.
Thankfully, when I was around 8 years old, God tilled the soil of my heart so that I was able to accept Jesus’ message with joy. I knew I wanted to belong to Jesus and publicly declared my faith in him and was baptized. I thank God for his grace in making my heart able to accept the seed.
Now, thirty years later, I’m testing the soil of my heart. Just as soil must be fed, watered, weeded, and protected, so must our hearts be tended. Once the word takes root, once we belong to Christ, nothing can change that. But our hearts need daily maintenance in order to continue being hearts where the word can grow and flourish, yielding a harvest.
All I have to do is look out my breakfast room window and see what an untended garden bed looks like. The summer harvest is over, and I’m resisting the work that waits for me out there… pulling up the dead plants, turning the soil, spreading the compost, covering the beds.
I do the same thing with my heart. I resist the work that waits for me in there… rooting out the lies, planting the truth, doing the hard work of forgiveness. As a result my heart can look a lot like my garden: tired, spent, leggy, fruitless.
I’m finding that my heart needs gospel maintenance. The truth that took root in my eight-year-old heart is the same truth that continues to keep my heart soft, supple, and alive with growth. I try to remind myself of the gospel daily: without Christ, I am lost and dry, prone to hopelessness. Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, however, I have been given new life. He has given me a new heart, new soil, that can grow and change and produce beautiful things. It is through him that I live and hope, depending on him daily for sustenance.
When I’m tending the soil of my heart with the gospel, I believe this. My heart welcomes the word of God and is empowered to change. I have hope; I’m not scared of vulnerability or risk. But when I neglect my heart and the gospel, I forget. The soil of my heart grows dry and hard. The rocks of unforgiveness, anger, suspicion, and doubt creep in and try to take over.
Some days my husband’s question, “How’s your heart doing?” makes me crazy. But I appreciate it, because it reminds me to test my soil. How is my heart doing? Am I remembering to tend it with the gospel? Or am I letting it grow dry and hard? Thankfully, no matter what the state of my heart or how far into disrepair I have let it stray, there is always a way to make it healthy again. After all, Jesus is the gardener, remember? He can bring anything back to life.