“Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
My father Jim has been gone now for eleven years! So hard to imagine, so full of life he always was. Just last week our daughter Sarah forwarded email conversations she had with “Opa” in 2009, when she was a confirmation student and was grappling for the first time with big questions.
Sarah writes: “I was just recently reading Exodus, and I came across a phrase that was being used continuously, and it kind of confused me. When Moses keeps asking Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, the Bible keeps saying ‘The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.’ Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart?”
“Boy” he responds, “You are really perceptive….I think one could say that it was Pharaoh’s pride in his own wisdom and power that hardened his heart, not only once but many times…The contests we all face in life are always between God and our own pride. We think we know better. So in that sense one could say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh did not recognize God as God.”
“Think of it this way. When you harden your heart, say, against your sisters over something or other, that is your pride at work. You want your way, so you harden your heart against them. But then you get a conscience over it and your heart is softened. That is God opening you up again, softening your heart.”
What wonderful, caring, and wise words! But what’s best comes next:
“Tend the softness, the love God has planted in you. Honor God in that way, and know that even when you don’t, God will find a way to soften you up again.”
Tend the softness. Tend the softness. what a wonderful and rich phrase, like a breath prayer really. It would be easy to add another verse to the hymn, “Lord, I want to tend the softness in my heart, in my heart…” Not tend to softness, but THE softness, a particular softness of the heart that is a love “that God has planted in you.”
It is this love, this softness of heart that is as much part and parcel of an easter christian, of one who has been raised to new life with Jesus.
Dad asks Sarah a concluding question: “Does this help?” and it’s a holy wonder that it’s as though even on this faraway day he’s asking me, asking me to consider the gift of a love, of a soft heart that God is planting in me to combat my own pride.
This next Monday will be the first chance I have to tend to spring planting. As I unpack the crunchy pallets and stir up the dirt and put the annuals in their pots and planters, I will be praying, over and over and over again, “O God, help me tend the softness.” I’ll keep on with it as I water the roots. And as I watch those impatiens and geraniums fill up their pots a month from now, I’ll recover again an eager longing for the God of all love to plant that very love in my beating heart.
I want to grow in this way.