Recently we studied Matthew 13, the Parable of the Sower. As Jesus taught about the soil He revealed that it's our own heart that determines whether God's truth is able to grow. Uptown member, TJ Loeffler wrote a beautiful reflection and steps to identify "weeds in our soil". We hope you will walk through this simple 15 min exercise with keys to maintaining a healthy heart.

As we talked about the importance of cultivating "healthy soil" for "seeds of truth" to be planted and take root in our lives I reflected on how we can examine ourselves to pull out unhealthy roots that often crowd out truth. Without a healthy condition of our heart, we can't receive truth about a potential positive change that we get to make in our lives...

In its simplest form, an unhealthy condition of the heart will often reflect characteristics of pride, bitterness, and judgement towards others. The good news is, it's fixable. In the opposite sense, a healthy condition of the heart will likely mean you're unoffendable, and willing to bestow loads of grace (undeserved love) in circumstances that would otherwise make you respond defensively, or in a hurtful manner. Most importantly, though, grace bestowed by a healthy heart will come from a place of "compassion" instead of the lawful nature of "compliance".

The seven steps below are here to outline a very practical process you can use to improve the health and overall condition of your heart. We look to explore where our pride, bitterness and judgement might hide --- then we look to take those lies we may subconsciously believe, and we consciously replace them with truth that sets us free.

By the end of this simple exercise (15 minutes), you should have an actionable next step that you can implement immediately.

How to Improve the Condition of Our Hearts
1. Grab a journal and pen. Find a quiet room where you feel both a) safe and b) free from distraction. At the top of a fresh page, write the date, time, and where you're writing from.

2. Now think of the one person you seem to have the most challenging relationship with. Write their name down. Then take five minutes to write a list of the first 7 things that come to mine when you think about them. You must be honest with yourself. This is not the time to be politically correct. Many of us have been taught to hide any unhealthy thoughts or emotions. The problem is that, while they may hide, they're still inside. You must see the weeds if you want to pull them out. Think about it - if this is genuinely a challenging relationship then it's more than possible you write some things that aren't so nice about someone...and that's okay. Caution: Don't judge your own thoughts about someone else.

3. Once you've made your list of 7 things you see in them, write a "check mark" next to every quality you see in yourself.

4. Write "Truth" or "Lie" next to each word you marked in the previous step. Remember there's a difference between reality and truth. Reality is that the doctor may hand you a paper that says you have less than 3 months to live. Truth is you can be radically healed (seen it). More simply, you know it's "truth" if it's a freeing thought. With that said, once you've labeled "truth" vs. "lie", cross out each "lie" and replace it with "truth". Example, the reality is somebody may be extremely "unforgiving". But the truth is they weren't born that way. So what quality do you see on the other side of unforgiveness? Admittedly, sometimes it's hard to see what truth might be. In those times, close your eyes and try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment. Ask HS to show you something you may not be seeing. Is there something going on in their marriage? Are they facing a lot of pressure to perform at work? Have they been seeking someone to connect with be feeling particularly isolated because they don't know how to be vulnerable with people? Seek empathy and understanding by trying to understand what you don't know about their past or present trials or worries. The truth is what we don't know is far greater than what we know. So it's likely there's something we might not even be aware of. If all else fails, look at your own life and write down three worries your co-workers, friends, or even family members aren't currently aware of.

5. Ask for forgiveness from God for all the lies you’ve believed. Then, receive forgiveness from yourself by writing these words at the top of the next page: "I forgive myself for..." Then list what you want to receive forgiveness for. Be clear. This step might sound trivial, but the Lord cares about the little things. From the hairs on your head, to the simple process of going through self-forgiveness. In my experience coaching, lack of self-forgiveness is one of the main reasons we're experiencing an epidemic of isolation, burnout, and, ultimately, apathy. If we don't go through this process, you risk changing the way you interact with others without changing the way you think about yourself, which can lead to harboring seeds of self-hate that will choke growth over time.

6. Write the name of the person (or people!) you might want to ask for forgiveness from. I'll also challenge you to write a short list of one to three things, specific examples, representing specifically what you need forgiveness for. Again, you need to see the weed to pull it.

7. If you don't feel ready to ask for forgiveness, message a friend you trust to share the thoughts and experience you just had. If you feel led to ask for forgiveness, so long as you feel there's an "open door", message that person to set up time for a face-to-face coffee, matcha, or other favorite expense of your (their) choice. Also, for some, there may be people we'd like to receive forgiveness from who aren't nearby (or alive). This is where it's important to dive deeper into your relationship with the Lord by asking HS to guide you to understand how you can navigate that process with someone who can't be present. The very nature of having to be open to what's possible (healing) in that situation is exactly what a "healthy condition of the heart" will look like in practice (see note below).

Important Note: I didn't talk about receiving forgiveness from others. The truth is we have no control over others. All we can do is remove the plank from our own eye, and hope they turn their heart to the Lord and see the same. It's vital to understand this concept because otherwise we risk approaching someone to ask for forgiveness under the expectation that we're not free unless we've received forgiveness from them. Not true. We've already received forgiveness from the Lord, and ourselves. Therefore, because we're not tethering our freedom and value to anyone else, the exercise of asking for forgiveness from someone else can simply be an outpouring of genuine empathy vs. something we expect to receive.