Soft is hard to do.

Soft feels vulnerable and weak. In the face of perceived threat or anticipated discomfort, I default to hard. I brace and resist. Hard feels strong and safe, protected and secure. Hard is a lie.

Hard seeks to dominate and control. It always has a ready answer and an argument to defend. It never backs down. Hard is reactive and ironically, although it longs for control, hard is powerless. It is a three-year-old temper tantrum that throws me to the ground kicking my feet and screaming, “It’s not fair.”

Hard always starts with “No.” It approaches the other with judgment and calculation. Hard would rather be be right than sustain relationship. It is always planning its next response before hearing the other with empathy.

I go to hard because I am afraid. I am afraid you will take from me something I cannot afford to give up. I retreat to hard to  protect my fragile sense of identity. Hard is a brick wall behind which hides a small child who feels threatened by the uncertain realities of a world that feels dangerously out of control.

There is a great deal of support in the world for hard. Soft gets trampled by the harsh realities of human interaction. Hard crucifies soft.

But hard does not work for the spiritual life. It is a poor shelter against realities it cannot control. This is why Jesus said,

Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 19:23)

It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with material prosperity. The problem is that the richness of material well-being, or extravagant talent, good looks, or vast intellectual capacity, is a trap. It enables me to believe in the illusion of my own invincibility. To be “rich” is to believe in the myth of self-reliance. When I am “rich” I am able to fool myself into believing my “wealth” makes me strong and insulates me from the possibility of pain.

Hard is not strength. Hard is brittle and brittle breaks more easily than supple. Hard is the illusion that I can keep at bay all those forces that I perceive as threatening. Hard cherishes the fantasy of a world in which I can assert my control so successfully that I never again need to feel vulnerable, uncertain, confused, or frightened.

Ancient wisdom does not believe in hard. It favours soft:

The Tao Te Ching chapter 76
(Lao Tzu, approx. 500BCE)

WHEN a man is living, he is soft and supple.
When he is dead, he becomes hard and rigid.
When a plant is living, it is soft and tender.
When it is dead, it becomes withered and dry.

Hence, the hard and rigid belongs to the company of the dead:
The soft and supple belongs to the company of the living.
Therefore, a mighty army tends to fall by its own weight,
Just as dry wood is ready for the axe.

The mighty and great will be laid low;
The humble and weak will be exalted.

Half a century later Jesus made the same point in a slightly more cryptic manner when he informed his followers,

Blessed are you who are poor. (Luke 6:20)

This is not about exalting material poverty. There is no virtue in being unable to provide adequately for one’s material well-being. Certainly, Jesus was not insensitive to the plight of those who are forced to live in grinding poverty. But, Jesus understood that the way to true humanness does not lie along the path of power and strength; trues strength lives in the land of vulnerability and powerlessness.

Jesus made the point dramatically when,

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2,3 NIV)

The word translated “little children” is paidion. It means “infant.” An infant is soft, vulnerable, weak, and dependent. Jesus instructed his followers to leave behind the hard way of domination, control, and self-protection in favour of openness, flexibility, and gentleness. It is a challenging path. I am going to need to think about how, as an adult who is so accustomed to hard, I might follow more closely the soft and vulnerable way of the infant.