Circumstances can harden the human heart until a person becomes resentful and afraid. 

Years ago, a friend told me about some of the best advice she ever received. When she was 14 years young, she was struggling with emotions caused by her gradual adolescent acceptance of her sexual orientation. In her small town of less than 10,000 residents, all she knew about lesbianism had been learned through reading while standing in the aisle at the public library. One afternoon, as she was trying to figure out how to come out to someone in her family or a close friend, she found herself walking along filled with confusion, anger and the desolation of loneliness. She felt misunderstood and unloved. As she kicked an empty Dr. Pepper can down the sidewalk, she passed by a shady yard. From that shade, an older woman spoke wisdom from a rocking chair: “Young lady, don’t let life harden your heart.”

This past year, I remembered this story as I listened to a young woman from a small town tell me how her family is learning how to embrace her and her wife. Yes, circumstances can harden the human heart until a person becomes resentful and afraid. However, the same life circumstances can be embraced by a person to nurture a softening of the heart resulting in deeper self-awareness and broadened capacities to express compassion. 

These are days when self-awareness, acceptance, kindness and compassion seem to be unexpected alternatives — like those short news stories at the end of the broadcast reporting some surprising initiative of graciousness or peacebuilding by a citizen. Increasingly, although the evils of mean-spiritedness, bias, prejudice, discrimination and violence are often the focus, there are increasing signs that hearts are softening toward LGBTQ+ persons. 

Society is increasingly becoming more embracing of LGBTQ+ persons according to a report in US News and World Report (‘Global Acceptance of LGBTQ On the Rise,’ by Juhie Bhatia, June 25, 2020). While persons who have a higher degree of education, younger persons and less religious persons voice more acceptance than their peers, a study by Pew Research Center reports that 72 percent of Americans in their studies say homosexuality should be accepted. This is a tremendous increase from 46 percent in 1994 and 51 percent in 2002. Almost 60 percent of Christians are now accepting of LGBTQ+ persons. So, while 72 percent is not high enough, it certainly reflects a gradual softening of human hearts toward the LGBTQ+ community. 

However, because many organizations, institutions, businesses, religious communities, political movements, etc. still refuse to appreciate the struggles that accompany sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, let us persevere with patience. Let us not lose heart as we collaborate with reflective actions on behalf of increased acceptance and understanding. Let us help people move beyond every prejudice as we intensify our efforts toward human rights and community building based upon kindness and compassion. Let us not be deterred by people motivated by resentment, fear and confusion. Let us continue to share the light and truth we know which always prevails over darkness, injustice and evil. We are doing more than kicking the can down the road. We are creating a better world. 

My friend who was kicking the empty Dr. Pepper can down the sidewalk at age 14 is now in her 60s. She is a professional person with national influence on other leaders. Today, she is still actively faithful in her service of others celebrating gradual progress while refusing a hardened heart. May we listen to voices of wisdom from the shade.

Dennis W. Foust is the Senior Minister of St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, N.C.