Thaw our frozen hearts

Guest Post by Stephen James, MA.

I interrupt this program…

I like movies. Some of my favorites are “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Star Wars,” “Lars and the Real Girl,” and “Tree of Life”.  I am drawn to human stories of struggle, growth, and transformation. They give me hope and they point to what I long to be true: Love conquers all.

Here’s my big problem: “Real life” is not a Hollywood blockbuster…it’s not even a really cool, Indi, art-house film with a quirky soundtrack and oddly attractive hipster kids. Sure, I have picturesque moments, sublime experiences, and surreal encounters, but most of the time my “real life” is less tidy. It’s often mundane. Its lessons are rarely obvious. The good guys and bad guys are hard to tell apart (and sometimes they are same person). In my “real life,” beauty, grit, tragedy, hope, heartache, and mystery are swirling like half-frozen vegetable soup in a blender.

Because we are unable to discern a narrative in the midst of the swirl, many of us attempt to maintain a precarious balance between being good, doing right, and knowing more. Predictability and pleasantness is often the goal. Our extraordinary attempts at manufacturing happiness are revealed in the time we spend, the systems we create, and the substances we use to control life. The faster life swirls, the more we attempt to freeze dry our lives life against heartache and volatility. In the end, though, life is not on our terms.

In the movie “Lars and the Real Girl” the lead character, Lars, is talking to his friend Margo.

Lars:         I was hoping winter was over.

Margo:      No, it’s just a thaw—winter isn’t over till Easter.

I identify with this. There is nothing wrong with hoping for winter to be over. We are made to hope for such things—for that glorious eternal summer. But, life’s not a beach. That is not the season in which we live. Parts of our hearts are frozen.

One way we stay frozen is by making judgments about, and vows against, being a human. Most often these judgments and vows originate at times of betrayal, neglect, abuse, or degradation. When we experience emotional pain and relational rejection, it is easy to invite these winter winds to freeze our hearts by conditioning ourselves with statements like,

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

“It was really my fault.”

“I want too much.”

“I should have tried harder.”

“I’ll never put myself in that position again.”

These judgments and vows become demands and conditions we place on God and others for how we will receive love and be in relationship.

If you’re like me, far too often I want Jesus to do something he will not do. I want him to make me not feel, need, nor desire. I want him to liberate me from my life by quickly erasing the wounds of my past. This reveals my desire to not be human and my resistance to journeying with Christ into the heartache of my story.

More and more I’m coming to believe that the radical question of the Christian faith is not “Is there life after death?” The real question I think Jesus is asking is this: “Is there life before death?”

Jesus is asking us to follow him into something that is more vibrant than we can even imagine. He is not interested in reinforcing the predictable routines and rhythms that sterilize our lives. He is not willing to reward our efforts to be self-sufficient and happy. His love is working to dismantle the systems that constrain our hearts.

Jesus is daring us, inviting us, wooing us, and empowering us to live fully with him on life’s terms not on our own. His good news confounds our best thinking and trips up our best laid plans. His love is conquering all.

I invite you to take the risk of rescinding the historic judgments and vows that keep your heart in the bleak midwinter. What scenes from your story are still buried beneath a snowpack of self-contempt and suspicion? Where do you refuse to let love warm and melt you? Where do you reject and/or avoid the delight of others? Would you even dare to actually answer these questions?

To live with Christ now, we have to surrender our attempts to secure ourselves and defend our hearts against life. We have to allow ourselves to be more human and quit trying so darn hard to become more like gods. We have to be willing to experience our feelings and our neediness. We must practice living the honest truth about who we are. Only in being more human do our hearts thaw in the warmth of his love.

I hope you will let Christ’s love warm and melt you.

Thomas Merton said it this way. “Yet before we can surrender ourselves, we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess.”

Stephen James, MA, NCC, ’03 graduate of The Seattle School, practices psychotherapy in Nashville, TN where he lives with his wife Heather and their four children. He is the co-author of five books including, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. You can find our more about him at