“Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
“Let every heart prepare Him room.” – Joy to the World
My heart’s often been full, but not always of what it should be full of. Anxiety, recrimination, the burden of responsibilities, the fear of disappointing someone or letting them down; these things have kept up a permanent residence in my heart and it’s been difficult for anything else to get in. Oh, sure; I have love in my heart for my husband, family, friends, and pets. I feel waves of great compassion towards people who are grieving, in pain, or struggling. Yet, even these feelings are, I fear, driven in large part by a sense of obligation; which derives from the anxiety, recrimination, the burden of responsibilities, fear of disappointing someone or letting them down. My heart has been confused; and lately, I’ve experienced an almost overwhelming cacophony of noise. I’ve blamed it on the external: the pets running around in the morning when I’m trying to be quiet and pray, or the landscapers coming by my kitchen window with their deafening machinery. I’ve been figuratively beating my chest and pulling out my hair while crying out to God, “How can I hear you above all of this NOISE?” The other day I was quite ungracious about the whole thing and told my husband, “I’m just going to give up trying to talk to God because I have no peace and quiet.” I didn’t mean it, not really; I was just so frustrated because, in all honesty, I was having performance anxiety. God was going to be disappointed if I didn’t figure out some way to talk with him without being distracted. Later that morning, I thankfully had a moment of clarity when I heard God say, “You talk to me in other ways, it’s ok.” That kept me soldiering on.
So intellectually, I get Jesus. I get that He came to heal the sick, set the prisoners free, give hope to the poor and suffering. I also get that this can be both literal and an analogy. “Set the prisoners free”, for example, may mean to literally free those who are wrongly imprisoned, but it may also mean to set people who are enslaved to their addictions free. I think my brain, if I can get it off its “To Do” list, does grasp the concept of Heaven on Earth; of the simplicity of doing nothing but Love God, Love Each Other; which is not nothing, but everything.
Still, it’s ironic. Or maybe it’s typical. I don’t know, but here I am the most involved with church that I’ve ever been in my entire life. And it’s not just churchy-church stuff, but, I’m studying the Bible, I’m attempting to open myself up spiritually to new ways of being, I’m serving, I’m giving. But my heart, my heart has been so weighed down for as long as I can remember; and if I dwell on that too long, I start to slide down the slippery slope into self-pity. I think if my husband hears me wail, “It’s always been the story of my life!” one more time, he may close the book on me (no he wouldn’t, but I can sense his frustration because he can’t tell me what I need to hear).
A year or so ago, I was feeling guilty because I thought I wasn’t doing enough to serve Christ. I went on a silent spiritual retreat where the Spiritual Director gave me several scripture verses to mediate on. When she wrote down Psalm 131, she instructed me to envision myself being wrapped in God’s arms of strength and comfort. “I’ve given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead I am content and at peace.” Psalm 131:1-2. Well, in those moments I WAS at peace! I heard God say, “Amy, there is nothing wrong with your heart”. I felt a burden lift! I was assured that whatever I was doing or was not doing, it was for the right reasons.
Several months later during Lent, many of these stinking-thinking emotions had unfortunately crept back in; all that junk taking up residency in my heart and leaving no room at the inn. So, I decided to go through an exercise to banish them from my life. I thought of them as “My Goats”; you know, as in the goats that Jesus rejects and sends off to the left when He’s separating them from the sheep (who go to the right). I thought I might pick 40, for the 40 days of Lent, but even I couldn’t think of 40 goats, so I went with 20. For each one, I found an appropriate scripture verse reinforcing its elimination and amplifying the message of hope. I wrote the goat’s name (e.g., “Recrimination”) and its accompanying scripture (2 Timothy 4:8) on a wine cork and lined them all up on the shelf where my Bible, devotions, and other spiritual paraphernalia reside. By the time Easter arrived, I’d added this litany of reciting scripture, goats, and more scripture to my daily prayers (usually at noon Bells). On Easter Sunday, I took each cork in turn, named the goat, recited its scripture, and threw it into a huge ornamental vase, symbolically eliminating them forever from my life.
Yeah. That didn’t really work. My goats; they had a way of finding their way back to the barn.
So, here’s how our God works. This morning while doing the practice of Lectio Divina on a passage from Isaiah 11:1-3, I was at my wit’s end. The focus was on “justice” and in all honesty, I was having to force myself to even do the work because I wasn’t feeling it, getting into it, whatever. But, I gave it the old college try because, well, I didn’t want to disappoint God. The two words that jumped out at me were “not judge”, and this is what I wrote down:
“It’s not my responsibility to judge anyone, including myself! Christ is the perfect judge because He is full of wisdom, knowledge, perfect love, and fear (awe) of the Lord (the Father). Understanding this, why would I even try to judge? I can’t see; I have too many logs in my eyes and I can’t hear, my ears are closed to things I don’t agree with. I also need to be easier on myself. Trust in Christ’s perfect wisdom. Let go of the burden that I have to be responsible for everything (which leads to resentments). Christ came for me too! He’s not standing there saying, “Yeah, well, you still need to do this, that, or the other things before I’ll save you!” He came to free me from myself. Holy God, may I have a “Helen Keller at the water pump moment” this Advent! May I truly “get it” so I can be set free from all of the imposed and self-imposed judgments of myself and others.”
Well, my watershed moment came this morning as Pastor Michael was wrapping up his message on The Messiah as Conqueror; Jesus coming not to conquer in the worldly way, but in the other-worldly way; to intervene in whatever way we need Him to. I had an image of a moth flitting around a lantern, persistent, never stopping. I thought of Jesus standing at the door knocking, “Let me in! Let me in! I will take care of this for you!” And I got it. I got it. The reason I couldn’t get rid of the goats was they were not listening to me. But, they will listen to Him. I couldn’t conquer them, but He can, and He will. As much as I thought I knew Jesus, I’d done with Him what I’ve tended to do most of my life, and that’s to shoulder all the responsibility (and then feel resentful about it). But this Jesus, this Messiah, He’s persistent! He’s been working on me for some time now. That noise? Him trying to get my attention. “Let me in!” So just like that, I let down my guard and in He walked. Right there, right then, that moment, and I felt instant relief and a lessening of tension. Freedom. Peace. Quiet. (I finally gave Him the stool, Mark ♥) If I were Pentecostal, I would have stood up at that moment in church and shouted “WA-WA!”
“Jesus said, “Those who come to me will never be hungry, and those who believe in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
In September 2011, I came to Jesus, but it took another six years, some excellent preaching, and His steadfast love and grace until I finally heart-believed He’d also come for me.
Today is my 54th birthday. What other gift could I ever want or need?