Keeping a Soft Heart

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new Spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

Ezekiel 11:19

This is one of my favorite Scriptures and one that the Lord has highlighted to me multiple times this year. I’m amazed at how often the Bible warns about the danger of a hardened heart. It’s clear that God cares deeply about the condition of our interior life.

However, the enemy loves to use pain and disappointment to harden us. And I think for many people, 2020 has been year of pain and disappointment. I believe that the enemy wants to use the challenging circumstances of this past year to make us cynical and critical, lonely and isolated, numb to our feelings and emotions, and stuck in bitterness and resentment. The honest truth is that I’ve felt all of these things at some point this past year.

However, God has been teaching me a lot about what it means to stay soft-hearted in the midst of difficult times. I want to share with you several tools He’s been teaching me for keeping a soft heart.

Guarding our hearts: One of my favorite Scriptures is Proverbs 4:23. It reads:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. “

-Proverbs 4:23

Now I don’t think this verse is suggesting that we shut ourselves off from everyone and everything. Rather we must be mindful of what we allow into hearts. The media, news, and content we take in actually does something to us. It shapes the people we become and that’s not something to be taken lightly.

Therefore, when I am watching a Netflix show, reading the news, or even scrolling on Facebook, I try to ask myself the following question: Is this content softening or hardening my heart? Is it drawing me closer to God and His love or am I feeling more disconnected from Him? It’s so easy to become desensitized to violence, impurity, lies, anxiety, and gossip— all of which the media capitalizes on. Therefore, if we want to stay sensitive and soft-hearted, we need to guard our hearts from destructive inputs.

Practicing vulnerability: One of my favorite quotes about vulnerability comes from Brene’ Brown. She writes:

“Staying vulnerable is the risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

-Brene’ Brown

God has been teaching me a lot about vulnerability the past couple of years. As Brene’ Brown says, vulnerability is a risk. It carries no guarantees and I think that’s what make it so scary. But if we want to experience deep connection with others, we have to be vulnerable. We have to let people in and open our hearts to love and be loved by others.

This means being honest with people about our struggles and weaknesses. It means asking for help when we need it. And it means authentically sharing who we are with the people in our lives. In my opinion, a vulnerable heart is a soft heart.

Prioritizing beauty: I love how John Eldredge describes the softening power of beauty. He writes:

“Beauty is such a gentle grace. Like God, it rarely shouts, rarely intrudes. Rather it woos, soothes, invites… We often sign in the presence of beauty as it begins to minister to us— a good, deep soul sigh.”

-John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back

We all experience God’s beauty in different ways. This past year, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation. My heart feels softest and most receptive to God’s love during a walk at the park, on a run at sunset, or out exploring the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail. Music has the same effect on me. It’s nearly impossible to listen to a beautiful song without experiencing music’s softening effect.

Learning from children: This might seems strange, but I think that spending time with children can also soften our hearts. It’s clear in the Gospels that children had a very special place in Jesus’ heart. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus even goes so far as to tells His disciples:

 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

-Matthew 18:3

Why is this? Well I wonder if it’s because children have such soft hearts. As a 3rd grade teacher who spends most of my time with children, I can attest to this! Children are some of the most trusting people I know. They don’t have the same walls and defense mechanisms that adults develop to protect themselves. Therefore, I think we have a lot to learn from children!

Embracing sadness: I think that many Christians feel a need to be joyful all the time and feel guilty for experiencing sadness and discouragement. However, as I read the Bible, I am struck by Godly men and women who embraced their honest feelings before God. Hannah cried in the temple because she was barren and without a son. Elijah expressed his despair to God as he was running from Ahab and Jezebel. Job grieved and mourned his losses. Even Jesus cried over the death of his friend Lazarus and in the garden of Gethsemane. There’s a reason God has given us tears. Sometimes what we really need is a good cry. And I know from personal experience the softening effect that tears can have on our hearts.

Additionally, embracing sadness enables us to fully embrace joy. As Brene’ Brown writes:

“We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

-Brene Brown

Part of being human is allowing ourselves to experience the full range of emotions, including the difficult ones.

Confessing our sin: When my heart feels hard, sometimes the culprit is un-confessed sin. I love Psalm 32 which reads:

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

-Psalm 32: 1 and 2.

Bringing our sins into the light softens our hearts. It’s important to regularly confess our sin to the Lord and to others. Confession keeps us sensitive to the Lord and to His gentle correction.

Forgiving others: Our hearts aren’t only hardened by our own sinfulness, but also by sins done to us. I think that bitterness has the greatest potential to harden our hearts. In her book about forgiveness (highly recommend) Lysa Terkeurst writes so beautifully about the importance of forgiveness. She writes:

“Your heart is much too beautiful a place for unhealed pain. And your soul is much too deserving of freedom to stay stuck”.

-Lysa Terkeurst, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget

In my experience, forgiveness is a healing balm for our hearts. It’s not something we muster up. Instead, it comes when we truly receive God’s forgiveness and then allow that same forgiveness to overflow to others. In my experience, forgiveness isn’t just a one-time action. It’s a continual process that gradually heals and restores our hearts.

In closing, I want to invite you to look back on this past year and notice any places in your heart that may have been hardened by 2020. As we step into the new year, I encourage you to invite Jesus into those places and ask Him to soften the soil of your heart.

May we go into 2021 with soft, open hearts able to fully give and receive God’s love.

Vulnerability and Courage

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

-Brene’ Brown, Rising Strong 

In an earlier post I wrote about vulnerability and how it has been an important tool in fighting my social anxiety.  However, the more I practice vulnerability, the more I realize how much courage it takes to be truly known by people. I’m learning that vulnerability is risky business and that practicing vulnerability carries no guarantees.

Vulnerability often begets deeper connection, empathy, and intimacy.

However, vulnerability can also result in rejection, disappointment, and pain.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with what to do when I risk vulnerability and it doesn’t work out.

I think that for people with social anxiety, experiences of rejection are especially painful. In moments of rejection, it’s so tempting to shut down the heart and vow not to risk vulnerability again.

However, I know that this isn’t the way God intends for us to live.

God intends for us to live in community with others— to know and be known. Although relationships can lead to hurt and disappointment, they are also one of the most powerful ways that God brings healing to our lives. Vulnerability is truly worth the risk.

It takes courage to get back up after a disappointment. 

But I’m determined to keep practicing vulnerability, even when it’s painful.


But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 2:9 & 10

I think that the reason I am so hesitant to share about my social anxiety is that it feels like the weakest thing about me. As humans, we prefer to share our strengths with others— the areas where we have things figured out. It’s so much harder to talk about areas of our life that are works in progress.

However, God has been showing me the power of embracing my weakness. I would rather Him use the strong areas of my life where I feel confident and able. However, I’m realizing that if I can fully embrace this part of my story, God can use it in the lives of others. Only by journeying through anxiety can I understand the anxiety that others experience.

Even more importantly, God has showed me that my social anxiety is actually in many ways a gift. It reminds me that I’m human and desperately need God’s help. My anxiety forces my normally independent and self-reliant self to depend on other people to help me.

Although I am confident that Jesus wants so much freedom for me (which I am starting to experience) I often wonder if anxiety may continue to be a struggle in my life. Like the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, my anxiety is a constant reminder of my humanity and need.

Moreover, my anxiety is an opportunity for Christ’s power to be evident in my life.

I’m learning by experience that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

Social Anxiety and Vulnerability

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” 

-Brene’ Brown, Daring Greatly

I can honestly say that vulnerability has been one of the greatest keys to battling social anxiety in my life. However, when I initially identified social anxiety, my first instinct was to avoid vulnerability at all costs.

For people who struggle with social anxiety, vulnerability is especially terrifying. After all, social anxiety centers on a fear of being seen, known, and rejected by others.

Additionally, I know from personal experience that people who struggle with social anxiety tend to also battle shame. And shame likes to stay in the dark. However, the interesting thing about shame is that it loses its power when it is brought into the light. I’ve found this to be so true in my own life.

I remember feeling so overwhelmed by my social anxiety. I felt stuck and trapped. Honestly one of my greatest fears was that someone would find out about my anxiety. It made me feel defective and unworthy.

However, one day I mustered up the courage to talk about my anxiety with my counselor. Next, I talked with each of my family members. Not long after that, I let several of my closest friends and a dear older mentor in on my struggle.

Although this didn’t immediately fix my anxiety, I felt so much lighter. I now had people lifting me up in prayer. I also was touched by how each of these people responded to me. Rather than condemning or rejecting me, they expressed deep love, empathy, and compassion. Their gracious responses reflected to me the love of Jesus which was exactly what I needed to combat the shame that I felt.  That was such a gift.

Although I believe that vulnerability is an important step in battling social anxiety, I would like to give a word of caution. Vulnerability is a powerful force that must be used carefully. As research professor Brene’ Brown wisely suggests:

“Share with people who have earned the right to hear your story.” 

When I was in the midst of my struggle, it wasn’t wise for me to share about my social anxiety with anybody and everybody. I only shared with people whom I truly trusted and knew would respond with empathy and understanding.

Vulnerability can be so terrifying, but I have become convinced that it is such a powerful tool for healing. I have also discovered that it is such a powerful tool for connection. Over the past couple of years, I have been amazed at how God has used my vulnerability to give others a safe place to share their own vulnerability and pain.

Vulnerability begets connection and that is such a precious gift.


“We have to dare to overcome our fear and become familiar with it. Yes, we have to find the courage to embrace our own brokenness, to make our most feared enemy into a friend, and to claim it as an intimate companion.”

-Henri Nowen, Life of the Beloved

I absolutely love this quote and have been deeply impacted by its truth. My natural inclination is to simply avoid the brokenness in my life because facing it is just too painful. However, the Lord is teaching me that the journey to healing involves facing my brokenness and even befriending it.

A couple of years ago, I identified a new area of brokenness in my life:

Social anxiety.

Although social anxiety had been a struggle for me for many years, it reached a new level of intensity a couple of years ago. In the past, I had attributed my extreme discomfort with unknown social situations to my introverted personality. However, as the symptoms of my anxiety kept increasing, I began to wonder if my difficulty was more than introversion. One day I started researching everything I could about social anxiety. I was shocked to read my personal experience described so succinctly and clearly. I also took a detailed online test that suggested I had “marked social phobia”.

This realization was incredibly overwhelming for me. Honestly, I felt a lot of shame about my anxiety and didn’t want people to know about my struggle. I also felt sincere regret as I realized how many opportunities I had missed because of my anxiety.

At the same time, I actually felt relieved to have language to describe what I had dealt with for so many years. I also was comforted to learn that I wasn’t alone. As I researched about social anxiety, I learned that 18 percent of the US population battles anxiety disorders and 7 percent of the population struggles specifically with social anxiety. This showed me that social anxiety isn’t a unique struggle, but rather a challenge faced by a significant percentage of people.

Additionally, as I gained courage to open up about my anxiety with trusted friends and family members, I was shocked to discover how many people in my life also struggle with anxiety. It was encouraging to see how God used my brokenness to offer understanding and hope to others with similar struggles.

God has brought so much freedom to me in this area. But this freedom hasn’t been easy. It has required facing the deeper reasons and roots beneath the surface of my anxiety. I’ve had to be vulnerable with the people in my life and let them in to help me. I have started seeing a counselor for support. I’ve also had to put myself in situations that stretch me way beyond my comfort zone.

Even after all of this work, anxiety is still a struggle in my life. Social anxiety is no longer my constant experience. However, It does pop up from time to time, especially during seasons of stress and change. I would rather write about something that is completely healed and no longer an issue. However, I feel compelled to write about this even though I am still a work in progress.  God is bringing freedom into my life day by day and I’m excited to share my journey from brokenness to greater wholeness.