My wife and I recently took our kids to a family camp for a summer holiday, looking to relax away from the city while creating new memories.
I should point out this was technically a faith-based retreat, as the families attending were all Catholic and seeking to grow in identity as families rooted in Christ’s love and teaching.
One of the activities at the camp was communal meal time. Families all ate together in the dining hall at their respective tables, while pitching in with clean-up chores afterwards.
Personally, I loved dishwashing duties.
With soap suds halfway up my arms and a sponge in hand, it was gratifying to help out after each meal while chatting with people about a wide variety of topics.
As the week progressed, I found myself more and more focused on the sponge when I was washing dishes – all thanks to a priest, believe it or not.
You see, during a morning Mass early in the week, the on-site priest made a comparison in his homily between a person’s heart and both a sponge and a rock.
As we were reminded, Jesus teaches our hearts are to be open, merciful and filled with love for everyone. In other words, they are to be soft like a sponge.
Conversely, people’s hearts can also be jaded, closed to those different from them in any way or scarred by unfortunate life experiences, thus making them extremely hard like a rock.
I was struck by the image of a sponge, as well as the Biblical passage which cautions us against hardening our hearts. (Hebrews 3:15)
Reaching for the sponge each day or night after a meal that week, I couldn’t help but think of that sermon, wondering what kind of heart mine was.
Now back home, I am still challenged to assess who I am inside each time I scrub some dishes in the kitchen.
Do I exhibit a hardened heart, irritated by those around me?
Is my heart open to others, willing to accept them and introduce them to who I am?
When dry, the sponge beside our sink is rough and crusty. Hard to bend, it features an abrasive side that scratches your skin.
Once immersed in warm water, however, the sponge immediately becomes squishy, so flexible that you can squeeze it into different forms when scrubbing dishware of various shapes and sizes.
I can appreciate how a lot of our hearts can be like this today.
On the surface – and for whatever reason – many of us can at first be firm or cold to others, giving an impression that can rub people the wrong way.
And yet, once comfortable enough to let down our guard, we allow people to get to know our true self, welcoming them to discover our wonderful personality.
Clearly, our hearts, much like a sponge, are most effective when soft.
And just as a sponge absorbs and retains water, a warm heart invites others to enter into our lives, allowing us to begin and nurture positive, meaningful relationships.
But let’s not forget a sponge soaks up water only to wring out the excess.
Similarly, we are called by God to fill our hearts with His grace, learning and living out Jesus’ Gospel, and then pour out our hearts to the world, enabling everyone to encounter God’s unconditional and eternal love. (Matthew 28:19-20)
So the next time you’re scrubbing a pot or swiping some cutlery with a soapy sponge, try to pause if only for a moment, and recognize how soft your heart can be, filled with love waiting to be given to the world.