So it’s a brand new year. Here’s a question to kick it off.

How’s your heart?

The heart is pretty vital. It’s what we live out of really; it’s the wellspring of life. Our hearts help us feel the highs and lows, navigate wonder and mystery, keep our imaginations stimulated and our dreams alive. It is the place where hope and faith live.

While I don’t know about you, I have found that the longer I live, the more intentional I have to be at keeping my heart open and fully alive.

I think that’s true for a lot of parents. When you’re in your twenties, your marriage is fresh, being a parent is cool. . .sort of, except for the sleepless nights. But you hit the wall of real life somewhere in your thirties or forties and a natural casualty is your heart.

For almost all of us, as time goes on something happens to your heart.

It gets hard.

You grow cynical.

It stops beating the way it used to.

Too many disappointments.

Too many people let you down.

Too many hopes dashed.

Too much fear that maybe your family isn’t turning out the way you once dreamed.

The signs of a hardened heart start subtly but eventually become hard to miss:

You don’t really celebrate and you don’t really cry.

You stop genuinely caring.

What used to be meaningful is now mechanical. Everything that used to be fun is now an obligation.

Passion is hard to come by. For anything. Including your marriage.

You no longer believe the best about people. Even when you meet someone, you’re thinking about what’s going to go wrong, not what’s going to go right.

So how do you get your heart beating again? Believe it or not, you can get your heart back in 2019. It will beat again.

Here are five ways to renew your heart:

1. Push past your feelings.

Sure, there are seasons where what’s supposed to be meaningful feels mechanical. Do it anyway. Go to work. Kiss your spouse. Hang out with your kids. Read your Bible. Pray (even if you feel you’re talking to the ceiling). Just because you don’t feel like it’s real doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Eventually, your emotions will catch up to your obedience.

2. Get some rest.

Fatigue and overwork can numb your heart. Sometimes I find my heart grows hard because I’m not resting. Get eight hours sleep for a week. Take a day off and do something you love—like going on a hike, exploring a city or reading a great book. Even God took a Sabbath. If you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take you.

3. Don’t over-personalize your failures and successes.

My kids remind me all the time that I can take things too personally. They’re right. If your life is going well, it might not be because you’re so awesome. And if things are sputtering, it might not be because your so incompetent. Take the long view.

4. Decide to trust, again.

This one is huge. Because most of us are once-bitten, twice-shy, it’s so important to consciously re-engage your heart and trust people again. Someone may have hurt you, but not everyone will. Yes, you will be vulnerable, but trust again. God did. And still does. Jesus’ arms were wide open when he died, despite the pain of the wounds and the scars.

5. Fight isolation.

Community is the problem for most of us (it’s hard to get hurt all by yourself). But community is also the solution. You will want to be alone. Don’t. Solitude is used by God. Isolation is used by the enemy. Talk to God. And talk to a friend. Find a mentor. Process privately while leading publicly. And yes, sometimes go see a counselor. My very first trip to a counselor over ten years ago happened because I realized my heart had gone hard. We were coming out of a very difficult time as a church and it really impacted my marriage. The counsellor’s help was providential. Time with a counselor is one of the reasons my heart still beats and can still leap and soar today.

So those are some ideas that can help you care for your own heart.

I don’t know which method for renewal resonated most with you, but I do know this:  your heart can become new again.

And one day, you’ll look back on this season when your kids were young and be so thankful you did what you needed to do to get your heart healthy again. It’s not just an investment in them—it’s an investment in you.

What’s helped your heart find new life in a tough season?

(originally published January 2nd, 2013)