A question for Valentine’s Day

dead flowers

My favorite song of the last year is Brandy Clark’s “Love Can Go to Hell.” If you haven’t heard it, please give yourself the sweet, melancholic gift of listening — if for no other reason than Brandy Clark is one of the smartest writers I’ve ever run across.

But lest my love of this song make you think otherwise, my heart is pretty soft these days, in the rawest sense. Recent events have left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. No need to get into the details, but I’ll tell you this: I feel like a stray dog who has spent the past several years hiding under a garage to avoid being kicked, and when finally coaxed out by kindness personified waiting across the street, I got hit by a car.

[Awkward and abrupt sidenote:
Speaking of terrified dogs,
check out what happened last
night in my own backyard!]

I’m okay. I really am. Just sad — which, if emotions were college subjects, is sort of my major. Sadness is my wheelhouse. I’m well-practiced in it to the point that it actually feels a little bit comfortable (said the Enneagram Four). And I would rather my heart be soft enough to hurt than safe to the point of numbness.

Because after all:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” —C.S. Lewis

So here is my question, and it’s not a rhetorical one. I am truly interested in your answers, if you’d be brave enough to share.

How do you keep your heart soft in a hard world?

Because I have to believe a soft heart is worth fighting for.



  1. Molly on February 14, 2017 at 12:44 PM

    I can’t wait to see the responses here! I’m an 8 with a 9 wing and basically have no heart, so I’m looking for how to have some heart! My honest initial thought to your post was, “why do you feel like you need to do that?”. So typical of 8. It was quickly followed by, “actually I think I might need to know the answers to this.”
    The song “Cold Hearted Snake” by Paula Abdul plays in the back of my mind when I think about my Enneagram results. #LivinTheDream #ThisIsMe

  2. Miranda on February 14, 2017 at 12:53 PM

    I thought about this long enough to hopefully not sound like a pat answer, but short enough to actually write something and not change my mind about posting it. :)

    I try to be honest with God about my fears and disappointments. It’s easy for me to either keep them inside, complain about them, or talk about them with people as if they’re no big deal (a twisted kind of small talk!). When I talk to God about them though, I eventually realize my need for His help. That usually starts to soften me. When I pray, I sometimes see my life from a bird’s eye view, which reminds me of other times in my life when I was sad, lonely, disappointed, afraid, confused, anxious, etc., and I remember how God changed me (or my situation) over time. Those memories sometimes cause me to be thankful for how I’ve changed. And usually, gratitude also softens my heart.

    It was good to think about this question. Thanks for asking, Annie!

  3. Katie Noah Gibson on February 14, 2017 at 1:16 PM

    Oh, Annie. That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I seem to be unable to live any other way – but having a soft heart often hurts. I think one answer for me is to keep seeking out beauty. And to find a few safe people who I know will be gentle with my (soft, vulnerable, frequently cracked-open) heart.

  4. Amanda Berger on February 14, 2017 at 1:39 PM

    Annie, you are a lovely writer, and never fail to make me think. How do I keep my heart soft? Well, I make art. I read books. I hold my child. I let the tears come, even if it is only in response to a TV show (or movie, or commmercial). I try to be honest with myself. I’m a 3 wing 4, and I think sometimes the achiever in me says, “Doesn’t matter what you feel like. Do it anyway. You have to or you won’t ever be enough or you won’t be satisfied.” And so, this year, my mantra for myself (and this sounds mean when you say it without explanation) is “Don’t care so much.” It isn’t really about not caring, but about letting myself off the hook. Letting myself be real, and vulnerable, and not give in to the do more, be more place that is so my reality. Instead, I’m trying to be present over being perfect. I’m trying to be real over putting on an act. And my hope is that in the midst of all of it, I learn that I’m okay just the way God made me.

  5. Lan | MoreStomach on February 14, 2017 at 2:38 PM

    a few months ago, back in november, i signed up to volunteer with the IRC. i now mentor a refugee family from burma, which means i tutor them in english. i am terrible at it, i am not a natural teacher but i can’t not participate in their acclimating to living in the US. it keeps me humble and it reminds me of the era when we first came here from vietnam in 1980/81, somehow we made it to the other side. this family deserves that too. that’s one way i keep my heart soft.

  6. Jacquelyn Ormsbee on February 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM

    I also believe a soft heart is worth fighting for. And I too have had heartbreaks that cause me to believe I need to protect my soft heart. But I continue to brave those heartbreaks mostly because life as a hard-hearted person is just not vibrant; I begin to feel mean and life-less. I find things to be soft-hearted about, my animals, meeting sweet children in an Indian orphanage, helping those that appreciate help, helping those who need help even if they don’t appreciate it. The fulfillment I gain helps build up my heart for the inevitable heartbreaks.
    I read something recently that reinforced this, it said, “Soft and kind hearted people are not fools. They know what people did to them, but they forgive again and again because they have beautiful hearts.”
    You have a beautiful heart, it will always be soft no matter how hard you try to guard it.

  7. Whitney on February 14, 2017 at 7:45 PM

    I don’t know, but for questions like these, I assume the poets have the answer. Mary Oliver, in this case. Pay attention (to what makes your heart feel soft, to what makes it feel hard, to what makes you feel tough or loved or angry, pay attention to it all). Be astonished (that you woke up this morning somehow, that it is still so cold or finally getting warm, that the sky comes up in a dusky pink despite the total blackness or the night before, that life goes on/drags on/marches on, and you along with it, that it is all still happening and even though it hurts like hell, there’s that dusty pink sky, with a little bit of orange this time). Tell about it (tell yourself, tell God or the Universe or whatever you call the Love and Light of the world, tell your family, your friends, sometimes strangers. Tell them that you’ve carried on, or that you’ve turned a little hard, or maybe a little soft. Sometimes only tell yourself, and sometimes tell everyone). Repeat, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

    That’s all I got.

  8. Marijke on February 14, 2017 at 10:41 PM

    “I’m okay. I really am. Just sad — which, if emotions were college subjects, is sort of my major.”
    -Favorite blogger of life

    Side bar, the older I get (and its kind of feeling old for a single person) the more I realize that somehow a soft heart comes from an understanding that sadness and pain are often about thing but also not about the thing… It’s a history of disappointment and pain piling up. But slowly I am realizing that somehow God’s goodness HAS to be enough for what I need and my only real hope. And I haven’t figured out how, but I know it must be. In the most non cliche way I can possible say, he literally is the only hope for my life. Hell or highwater, he is the only chance I have for true contentment. And I will get there or suffer and die trying. But I honestly don’t think anything else will do it.

  9. Jen on February 24, 2017 at 4:38 PM

    I love you. Reading this with post v-day eyes. I’m thankful for you and your words. I’ll stand (or collapse?) with you in hope for a soft heart.

  10. K.C. Yatsko on February 27, 2017 at 11:53 PM

    Fight for it with all you’ve got, because it’s the only kind of heart worth keeping. “So don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart” – Carly Simon, “Comin’ Around Again”

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