During my difficult marriage, I had a hard heart. My heart was hard and cold and wounded and tired and done. Not hard to God. Not cold toward my family or friends. But closed off to the one I once loved most.
During my second-to-last Lenten season of my first marriage, I decided to get ready in a different way. I view Lent as preparation. As giving something up. As laying something down—something of value to you. Something that takes up your thoughts and your time and your energy. Something that may even be good but isn’t the best. Something that moves your thoughts and your time and your energy away from the Source of Life and Love. And, in preparation, we could replace those empty spaces with thoughts and time and energy that focus on the Resurrection of Life and Love. I hadn’t given something up for Lent in years. I wasn’t planning on giving anything up that year either. But what’s forty days in the scheme of things?
In my specific life circumstances at that time, forty days did not just bring me to Easter. It brought me to the six-week point after a benchmark meeting. A meeting where a gauntlet was thrown down by our church leaders, for me and for my then-husband. I had asked our church leadership for help with our marriage and they had stepped in. Months into our separation, we both had several things to work on within ourselves to be made whole. But when it all came down, my main task was this: be ready if he tries to win your heart back.
There is not one thing I could control regarding my husband’s thoughts toward me, his intentions toward me, his words or actions toward me. But I was (and am) in control of the state of my heart—at least, I am told that I am. So we were both told, one final time, to do what we were supposed to have been doing all along: my husband, pursue me; me, receive any pursuing.
It did occur to me, what is the worst thing that can happen? I open my heart, I begin to want my husband back, I begin to long for him again, and my heart gets broken one more time? Oh well. Then God would just have to heal my heart yet again. He’d done it before, he could do it again if need be.
So for the next forty days, each single day, for the purpose of being obedient to God and looking for Christ in everything, I chose to give up my hard heart for Lent. It began with the idea of simply saying to God something like, “Here is my heart, Lord. Please take it and change it,” each morning during my devotions. Then I ratcheted it up a bit, once I realized that my thoughts were wandering and going haywire a thousand times each day. I decided to take those errant thoughts captive, and each time a cynical thought about my marriage slithered through my mind, I would say out loud, “I’m sorry, Lord. My sin was enough on its own that you had to die. I am a sinner. Please change my heart of stone into a heart of flesh.”
Ahh, but then entered friendship. I have women surrounding me who love me, who challenge me. And one dear friend suggested I up the ante even more. She suggested I take my love of rituals and create a moment that would allow me to look back and remember that I had laid my hard heart down once and for all.
So one morning, I found a stone from my beach collection and wrote on one side: “my hard heart toward my husband.” On the other side I wrote: “Surrender. Ezekiel 11:19.” I walked out to the pond that was attached to our property— the one I could see from my office desk and from the living room— and I waded through spider webs and bramble and thistles and mud. I found a spot at water’s edge, and with the weight of the cold rock in my palm, I held it up to God and looked at the sky. I told him that this was a symbol of my hard heart, that I had become so used to it as a comfort and as security and as protection, but that I wanted to be free. I then confessed that I wasn’t ready to give it up fully but acknowledged that this was a start. I hiked my arm back and flung it as far as I could, hearing the splish and watching the ripples as it sank to the bottom and the sludge. I walked away, thanking him for the process of replacing my heart of stone with a heart of flesh.
I stepped into my house and grabbed the laundry, feeling quite the same. But then I looked out the window to the pond and said, to no one in particular, “My hard heart is out there now.” And my heart was in a posture of resting and watching and waiting for God. No matter what happened.
Maybe you need to create a ritual for yourself. Maybe you have unforgiveness or bitterness or fear lurking in your heart today, whether you're still married or separated or divorced. I understand, trust me. You have been so very hurt. (You might still be currently be hurt.) And yet. Perhaps consider finding a stone, writing your key word on it, and burying it or tossing it into a field or lake. And then wait in anticipation for what God will do.
God, my heart is in quite the state. Your word says that my heart can be deceitful above all things. My heart can be evil, it can be troubled, it can be drawn to things it shouldn’t be drawn to. It can be hardened, broken, led astray, unyielding. But my heart can also prompt, it can be moved, store your word, be inclined to you, and love you with its whole being. I believe that you know my heart better than I do, so I lay it before you in whatever condition you find it in this moment. It’s yours. Do as you please. Amen.
Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. (1 John 3:20)
If this post resonated with you, you would benefit from Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage or Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of a Christian Marriage.