Jesus, the Enlarger of Hearts

It sounded like I was walking on Pringles. The tightly-packed snow, sitting above a layer of freezing rain, crunched with every step. Twenty-four hours was too short a time to spend here; in God-terms, the time was just enough.

I woke up in the fishing-hut-converted-spiritual-retreat-cabin with the sound of silence pressing on my ears. Dozens of acres were all solely mine and God’s to enjoy. A stirring in my soul prompted me that it was time to take a walk. We had already established that the time I spent at this place was for the purpose of finding peace in Christ. I was ready to go and do what He would have me do.

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 
Isaiah 1:18-20

Today held my decision. I’d had quite enough of refusing and rebelling. I had never imagined it would have taken me this long, but oh – no one had told me how satisfying this food could be. All advised, “it will not last, it will not satisfy,” but au contraire, it filled me to the brim. I could gorge all day on the sweetness of its taste. If it made me feel a little sick, so what? That would go away in time, to be left with hunger again that could be beautifully and slavishly satiated. Some call it the cycle of addiction. I call it the cycle of satisfaction. They are, of course, one and the same.

I had made my home in the dumpster, both queen and slave of my own miserable, beautiful kingdom. My stomach longed to be filled with the richest of foods, but the forbidden fruit was realistically getting further and further away. Where once all I had to do was reach up and twist it off from the branch, I would now have to make a deliberate, anxiety-ridden trek to the tree, all the while fueling my bitterness and rage and sorrow to such a degree that I would eventually crash into apathy – and then, at last, I would take what was rightfully mine. I was almost ready to do it, too. Hardened by war, I had become a soldier ready to die.

But true Love will not allow its child to live forever in the refuse of this world, and it will do anything to prevent us from dying for our own personally-crafted gods.

It was thus I entered my spiritual retreat, returning from my war in the garbage dump as queen, slave, and soldier. It didn’t take long before I realized how very much I’d changed. I had wrestled with God and emerged with a terrible limp. I had fought my battles with this so-called handicap and by the grace of God had emerged alive each time – and the scars became my daring exploits of narrow escapes and crippling losses and victorious turning points where the love of God had been my bullet-proof vest all along, that the wounds I would receive would not be fatal, though many parts of me would die.

Walking along the snow-covered path around a lake, I was prompted to stop at various places to surrender different parts of my life: my work, my friendships, my family, my deepest desires . . . I thought it would have been more difficult, to be honest. But it was then that I realized I had already gone through the worst of it. Indeed, I had already died. God had already knelt down on the battlefield and breathed life into me and said, “Go and sin no more.”

All that was left now was to get up from the dust and start walking.

And so, at times crying and at other times laughing, I talked aloud with God, releasing my firm grip on all the people and things I so cherished, everything in which I’d placed my hopes and dreams of fulfillment thus far.

His Kingdom, my kingdom.

Both had always been there. For so long, I could not escape the first, yet I did not want to leave the second, so I scrambled to live in both. No matter how hard I tried, I had found that God would not bow to me and to my disordered loves. Long had I professed that my one goal was to love God and love people well – and long did I try to convince him of this.

I just want to love, I just want to love, damn it, I thought you were Love – just let me love!

Mercifully, perhaps my greatest revelation was brought to life in Till We Have Faces, a myth re-told by C.S. Lewis. Through this story, I finally was able to admit to myself that my greatest desire to love another person holistically was in fact a selfish desire to have someone who is mine, someone who I can comfort and cherish in boundary-less, obsessive infatuation.  I long to be someone’s savior, and to invite them to be mine. But it is not my place to have anyone. It is not my place to claim anyone as wholly mine, no matter how gentle and comforting and seemingly loving are my intentions. There is only one Savior, and it is not me. If I tried to step into a role I was not created for, it would only bring destruction in the end. Crossing the line and taking the forbidden fruit and living a love I have defined as good would only lure myself and the person I claim to love away from true Love, and that would be the greatest tragedy of all.

And so, my surrendering this weekend was really a plea to turn every part of my life from tragedy to triumph. It is only God who can do such things, and far more abundantly than I could ever imagine. I will still struggle with bitterness, envy, anxiety, and a countless number of other things in this journey as well as others. I am confident of this. But I am also confident that “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” (Psalms 119:32).  My dependence on Him has been solidified only through this great and painful and glorious daily journey of Him enlarging my heart.

As Simon Tugwell puts it,

“The gift which God makes of himself in this life is known chiefly in the increase of our desire for him. And that desire, being love, is infinite, and so stretches our mortal life to its limits. And that stretching is our most earnest joy, but it is also our most earnest suffering in this life. So those who hunger and thirst are, even now, truly blessed; but their blessedness is that of those who mourn.”

Jesus, the Enlarger of Hearts, invites us to come along with Him on the journey. I encourage and entreat you to do the same. Dare to delve deep into your minds and hearts. Question everything. Start from scratch. Be honest. Be enraged. Be mournful. Be hopeful. Be humbled. Be in community.

Be whole-hearted, desire-driven truth-seekers.

The journey will stretch you. It will stretch you further than you think you can bear, but remember, the stretching is to make room for the greatest Love of all.

Exposed – An Imaginative Re-telling of John 8:1-11

Obvious but I’m gonna say it anyway: this is a creative re-telling of a Scriptural story. Please do not take my imaginative musings as Scriptural truth. haha. K thanks. 🙂 

Exposed.

There was no escape now. The servant boy had snooped into things that should not have been his concern, things that should have been kept secret. The boy had notified her husband, who came quickly at the accusation. She would never forget the look of betrayal on her husband’s face – he had choked back an angry sob, turning away from the scene of impropriety.

As if suddenly repulsed by the woman who just moments ago he had so tenderly embraced, the man caught with the adulteress shoved her off of him. He scrambled to put on his robes and retain some semblance of dignity.

In the span of a few moments, the woman’s ecstasy had turned to panic. She managed to put on her own clothes before her husband grabbed her by the arm, digging his fingernails into her soft skin. It was then she realized with a stab to the heart that he could never, would never, love her again.

Her husband threw her to her knees in the midst of the religious leaders. He had taken her to the Temple, undoubtedly for her humiliation and punishment. Seething, he explained the situation, ending with kicking her mercilessly in the side. The woman didn’t cry out, or else it was indistinguishable amid her endless sobbing which had persisted since the scandal had been discovered.

“This is a perfect case for our new ‘prophet’ to judge, I should think,” said one Pharisee maliciously, wrinkling his nose in contempt at the woman before him. A bloodthirsty crowd paraded the adulteress into the presence of Jesus, who was in the middle of a teaching. By now, the woman was preparing herself for the pain of a humiliating death, likely by stoning. Jesus looked at the woman with compassion and turned to the leaders to hear their judgment.

“This woman has been caught in adultery. You know what the Law requires. What would you have us do?” one leader asked, lifting the woman by the hair, for she had been hiding her face in the dirt, identifying with it in her shame. The woman could not bear to meet the gaze of the Teacher, the Prophet that some rumored to be the Messiah. She closed her eyes in utter despair, tears still streaming down her dusty cheeks.

Wordlessly, Jesus came close, bent down and scrawled something in the dirt.

“What is that supposed to mean?” cried the leaders angrily, as the woman opened her eyes and read the message. She could not read, but somehow He had opened her eyes to recognize this one word. What looked like meaningless scribbles in the dirt to others who looked on, was a message meant for the eyes of one woman alone, the word: Emmanuel. God with us. What could this mean? New tears filled her eyes, this time of a wild, inexplicable hope.

As it seemed Jesus was not going to respond, the Pharisees pressed him again. “This is nonsense, you are playing in the dirt like a child. What would you have us do with her?”

Jesus smiled at the woman and then stood with the authority of a great Prophet, or perhaps something more. “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone!”

There was not one face turned towards the shameful scene that was unmarred by the ravages of grace. Again, Jesus stooped down and wrote another message on the dirt to the woman – what looked again like meaningless lines to the stunned crowd. But as clear as the bruises on her body from this fateful day, the words revealed themselves in the woman’s mind: I AM.

Suddenly both afraid and relieved, confused and confirmed, the woman threw her face back into the dust in a gesture of worship before Jesus. Jesus took hold of one of her hands and looked towards the crowd – but they had dispersed like feathers in the wind. Sobs were wrecking the woman’s body and heart. She was at the mercy of the only righteous Judge, the Great I AM.

She knew in her heart that she deserved death. Yet even if she managed to escape condemnation, could anyone possibly love her now? Her husband had not filled the gaping hole of longing in her to intimately know and be known, love and be loved. Every grasp at human affection had been tainted by unmet longings. It was why she had an affair in the first place (and only after a prolonged attempt to restore the spark that once existed between she and her husband.)

Perhaps if she ran off now in secret to another town, where no one knew or expected anything of her, she could be moderately happy. Perhaps given another chance in another lover’s arms, the longing in her heart could be satisfied. Men had not proved themselves capable of real love thus far. Maybe she was looking in the wrong places. Women, after all, had always been her solace, had always allured her with their beauty . . . in the arms of a woman, there could be mutual comfort and understanding, an intimacy so wonderful and —

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

The woman jolted out of her brooding thoughts. She still did not dare lift her eyes. “No one, sir,” she whispered in quiet astonishment.

“Daughter, look at me,” The woman rose to her knees. It was some minutes before she could bear to look at Him, but when at last she dared to do so, her desperation and shame were again met with Love in the eyes of the Teacher. “I don’t condemn you either,” He said, smiling with blessed assurance. “Now go and leave your life of sin.”

The Immensely Frustrating Step-by-Step Guide to Filling the Holes in Your Heart

A stunningly wise twenty-year-old friend (living proof of 1 Timothy 4:12) told me recently that in order for God to fill the hole in my heart, I’ve got to stop trying to fill it myself. In all my newly acquired knowledge and vast longings, I am asked to feel the immense gaping hole and allow it to remain unfilled.

The funny thing is, all this time I thought that was exactly what I was doing.  But acknowledging longings and being kind to them is not enough.

If we don’t invite Jesus to fill our holes in His way and His time, we will never see the great and mysterious goodness of Himself and the plans He has for us with which He wants to fill them.

In that vein of thought, I’ve written a guide for myself and my fellow travelers on how to fill the holes in their hearts. It is a fallible, incomplete guide, and often one must go through the steps out-of-order. Sometimes one must be participating in all of the steps at the same time. It is also highly likely that the individual will return to any and all of these steps for each of the holes in his/her heart . . . multiple times.

Overwhelmed yet? Keep reading.


The Immensely Frustrating Step-by-Step Guide to Filling the Holes in Your Heart

Step One: Acknowledge the Hole
Peer down into the terrifying depths of dark vacuity and shudder. If you don’t know the hole is there or if you choose to ignore it, you are living half-alive.

Step Two: Climb Down the Hole
Build a ladder, tie a rope around a tree and rappel down it, or stumble down the perilous footholds as best you can. You don’t know what you’ll find. It could be much deeper than you initially thought. The further you go, the more alone and terrified you might feel. But somewhere within you is a light, however faint, that keeps you from being consumed by the darkness and that illuminates just enough to keep you going.

Step Three: Observe Your Surroundings
As you make your way down this seemingly bottomless pit in your heart, you stop along the way to observe your surroundings. The light within you sometimes illuminates a whole section of the cavernous hole. And here you must live and learn to look with compassion on what you have neglected.

Step Four: Meet with Jesus
When you finally reach the bottom (or what you think is the bottom because let’s be real, the hole is probably always deeper than you realize), you are exhausted. You crane your head back and look up to see how far you’ve gone. How are you going to get back up there? If climbing down was this difficult, how agonizing is it going to be to go back up? Is it even possible?

Its here where you see Jesus most clearly.

Here is John 1:5 incarnate:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Step Five: Return to Top with Jesus
The climb up with Jesus is both draining and invigorating. Sometimes you want Him to carry you the rest of the way. Sometimes you want to push him off and muscle your way back to the top in your own way.

Step Six: Panic
When you finally take that first step out of the hole, you realize you’ve changed. You may be back where you started in a physical sense, but you will never, ever be the same.

Panic sets in. Now that you know so much, you want to know less. At the same time, you want to know so much more. You do what you don’t want to do and don’t do what you want to do and really all you want is to feel ok again. You regret going down the massive hole in the first place. So you attempt to fill the hole on your own.

Again and again and amen.

Jesus stands off to the side. You’ve kind of forgotten about Him. Or you think He’s kinda passive and doesn’t really care about filling your hole except with spiritual crap so you acknowledge Him politely and say, “You can stay here, but I’ve got this, ok?”

Jesus is always happy to stay.

Step Seven: Cue Despair . . . and Jesus
At some point in your desperate efforts, you realize that nothing will ever fill the hole.

Nothing.

Cue despair.

That also happens to be Jesus’ cue.

At this point you are muddied and bruised and battered and probably look half-dead. You’re sitting at the edge of the hole in numb resignation to your fate of unmet longings.

Step Eight: Allow Jesus to Fill the Hole
“Are you finished?” asks Jesus gently. He sits next to you and places a holy hand on your dirty shoulder. You feel the warmth of undying affection and lean into His chest and weep. “Good,” He whispers, kissing the top of your head tenderly. “Now watch what I will do.”


Heavenly Father,
help us to live
with the massive holes
in our hearts
that You may fill them
in the way
and time
that You see fit.