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Soft Hearts and Hard Feet

By: Kim Scott

In early 2023, I led an Alpha course for the church I worked at as a ministry leader. Alpha is an evangelization program that is video-based coupled with food and small group fellowship. In one of the videos, Jackie Pullinger, a Protestant missionary, was spotlighted.

The “tall” story of Jackie’s call to missionary work goes like this: when she was 21 (1960’s), she boarded a ship and prayed she would know when to get off. She debarked in Hong Kong and ministered to refugees in what was called the Walled City for years. To explain her passion for her work, she said,

“I think God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The problem with us is that many of us have hard hearts and soft feet.”

This resonated with me and I think about this often especially when I feel stuck and not sure what to do or think during crises and conflicts in our own country and around the world.

When I think of the model of having a soft heart and hard feet, I can’t help but think of Jesus. So many of the gospel stories display and demonstrate his soft heart and his hard feet.


My Reflection

Having a soft heart means to listen, to speak, to reach out, to draw opinions with COMPASSION. The literal meaning of the word, ‘compassion’ is to suffer with another. To step in (perhaps with hard feet) to another’s suffering.

That’s a tall order. To understand another’s cry, another’s perspective, pain, and position. This is certainly easier to do when you have similar opinions, hurts, complaints. It is the most difficult when another’s position and hurt is polar opposite of ours.

But the standard of Jesus is clear -

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
(Matthew 5:43-45)


Take A Spot of Time

You may want to take a minute…a spot of time…to chew on that…unpack that a bit. What does that say to you especially as a Christian? God grants gifts of sun and rain to ALL. What should our standard be?


One of my favorite reflections is on the gospel story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples - his friends - even one whom Jesus knew would betray him and lead him to his death.

There is nothing clearer to me in this story about how we should treat others. Humbly…on our knees…giving comfort and compassion.

Long ago, when I was raising young people to be leaders in ministry, I used this scripture as the teaching and actually had them wash each other’s feet as I read through the scripture and likened this posture to how they should minister and walk with others. When I left that church, my team gave me a sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of Peter.

For years when I worked in my next ministry office, I had this on my desk as a reminder of the sacrificial posture I should assume in my interactions with others. I’ll admit honestly and humbly that I didn’t always follow the model of Jesus’ standard. There were many times when I allowed bravado and ego to lead my conversations; those are not moments I am proud of and admit that I led with a hardened heart and soft feet.

But when I allowed the Spirit to guide me with compassion and a posture of sacrificial love, those were conversations and interactions that resulted in two sides moving closer together - leading to a deeper understanding of the other.

Compassion and sacrifice are not easy but worthy virtues. Especially today.

With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the continuing war in Ukraine, and the upcoming political race in our own country, more compassion is needed. There is hopelessness and hurt and loss, and brokenness on all sides of every conflict.

As I write my thoughts, I am looking at the sculpture of Jesus…I am moved and guided to share that if we could all just give a little - sacrifice just a little - for the sake of peace, love, comfort, and healing.

If we could listen with compassion -

if we could seek to understand from a humble posture on our knees -

if we could live out the standard of Jesus with soft hearts and hard feet -

perhaps instead of finding ourselves on opposite sides of an issue, we might be guided to lean in and suffer with, and move closer to understanding.

As Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister, recently wrote,

“It is time to put away the swords and lead with the heart.”

Amen Amen, I say.

Peace be with you.

Empower Hope and Healing.


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