Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Breaking down the walls of our stony hearts

By LORRAINE V. Murray, Commentary | Published September 18, 2020

One of the biggest lies of childhood is that adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

The saying assumes our feelings can’t be injured by a cruel nickname. Go to any school and ask the fat kids, the skinny ones, the ones with glasses, the short, the tall–and the list goes on.

A baby is born with a heart fully open and innocent, but when that baby enters kindergarten, he may start hardening that heart to protect it. When we become adults, we often guard our hearts through sarcasm and irony, which deflect potential hurt.

The quick, snappy reply to an insulting remark can be the first line of defense for people who long ago stopped crying in public.

Sometimes we meet someone who causes our stony heart to drop its defenses. We let that person in to our deepest being, we share our secrets, we share our wounds.

This is often the start of a close friendship or a love relationship, when the walls between people fall down. The prophet Ezekiel talked about replacing a heart of stone with a heart of flesh, and we sometimes say our heart melted when we first fell in love.

Faith resides in the heart and doesn’t bow to the rules of science, which says a man can’t walk on water or raise a man from the dead. But the heart assures us “With God all things are possible.”

The heart is so delicate that we refer to it being shattered after someone dies. Oscar Wilde said, “How else but through a broken heart does Lord Christ enter in?”

Sometimes it takes a desperate situation for us to open ourselves to God. It could be the death of a loved one, a serious illness, an economic downturn–or a pandemic.

We often harden our hearts against God and overlook the obvious signs of his presence in our life. The green flash of a hummingbird, the brown blur of a rabbit, the vast undulating sea, the castles of clouds against an azure sky.

In “The Little Prince,” the fox shared a secret: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” we read in Revelation. God waits for an invitation into our hearts and won’t force himself on us. Sometimes we have to empty ourselves of hatred, bitterness, greed and prejudice to make room for him.

Some were raised with an image of God as punishing, severe and gloomy. Some preachers, unfortunately, portray him as taking delight in tossing people into hell. They forget the many instances where God heals, forgives and embraces his people.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” says the psalm. But we can’t hear his voice over the din of traffic, leaf blowers and news shows.

Jesus went to the mountain and the desert to pray, because he wanted quiet, serene places where he could be alone. God invites us to serene places today, even if our desert is the back porch and our mountain is a park bench.

God speaks to us in the delicate chirps of hummingbirds, the rumbling of a cat, the excited barking of a dog, the laughter of a friend. He paints the amazingly striking sun rises and sunsets, and the fat, glowing full moon.

God is not a faraway old man in the sky, but rather as close as our own heartbeat. He can be our fondest companion and our dearest love.

He’s like a small child standing outside a party, waiting for an invitation. Maybe today will be the day we drop our defenses, hear the Lord’s voice and invite him into our hearts.

Artwork, “Cair Paravel,” is by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is