Many of us are familiar with the parable of the sower as told in Matthew 13:3-8. In the parable, Jesus Christ tells of a sower who scatters seeds, but not all of the seeds land in places where they can grow. Some fell in shallow or rocky soil, so their roots couldn’t grow deep enough. Others fell on compacted soil so instead of settling in, they sat on top where they were found by hungry birds. And others were surrounded by competitors that choked them out. A few, however, landed in good conditions and were able to grow, bringing forth a healthy bounty.
This parable is often compared to the Word of God being delivered unto the hearts of men, and if our hearts are not open to receiving, the gospel will not grow in us. And while this is a perfectly good interpretation, I always felt that something was missing. What condition is my heart in? Can I change it? Or because of how I was raised, life experiences, or personal situations, am I doomed to never have the joy of the gospel grow in my heart? The undeniable answer is that I have control over my destiny.
To illustrate what I mean, allow me to take a step back and talk about dirt. Soils naturally have varied textures and structure, just as we as humans are varied. In soil, too much sand and it can’t hold water for plants. Too compact and water will run off the surface, again leaving the plants without life-giving water. But the worst condition of all is a salty soil. If the soil is too salty, plants can be in inches of standing water and still die of thirst.
But what can be done? Natural conditions of the soil, like natural conditions of our hearts, are changeable and can be improved. If a soil is too sandy, you can introduce a more silty or loamy soil to help balance drainage. If you are naturally uptight, like me, you can purposefully find ways to limit stress in your life and improve communication.
Caused or inflicted poor soil conditions, like those of our hearts, are slightly more difficult to improve. If a soil is deeply compacted due to heavy machinery being moved across the surface, you can’t just add new soil to the top. For the soil to be hospitable to new plants, you have to break up the crust or compacted layer, often with heavy machinery. It may seem like counter intuitive, even painful work, but it is necessary for the natural structure of the soil to return. Similarly, if our hearts are hardened by grudges, it can be a long, painful experience to find forgiveness. But forgiveness is needed to find healing.
And then there is the seemingly overwhelming task of restoring a salty soil. Plants are able to extract from soil all of the water and nutrients they need through absorption and by harnessing the power of osmosis. This process has allowed plants to live and grow for millions of years, but if there is enough salt in the soil that dissolves in the water, it can be so concentrated that the plant cannot encourage favorable osmosis. Even surrounded by more than enough water – enough water to create puddles or marshes or even ponds! – the plant simply cannot get to it. The plants will eventually die, and few, if any, plants will be able to grow, leaving a barren landscape with crusty, salty soil. This problem cannot be solved by adding more water. It cannot be waited out. It will not fix itself. You have to deal with the salt.
I think this situation can easily be compared to feeling disconnected from your Heavenly Father, loved ones, your testimony, or even yourself. Little by little, things add up- just like the salt. So how can this be even slightly improved? How can we deal with salt, it all looks like dirt!
You have to go after the underlying cause of the salt. In soils this means taking care of both drainage and compaction, and there are different ways- you can introduce more sand to the soil or a slope, aerate the soil heavily or break up the crust by hand. In hearts, the root cause is often more difficult to pinpoint, and there is even more variation in proper treatments. With introspection, help from loved ones and trusted leaders, and starting small, we can all discover where we can improve our hearts. We may need to forgive others or ourselves, follow through with goals, pray more, serve those in need, or a whole host of other actions. In all cases, results will not be instantaneous, progress will be slow, and the effort will be tremendous. But the key is that it is possible. No soil, however damaged or altered, is too far gone. And no heart, no matter how hardened or un-receptive, is doomed to remain in that state forever.