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.

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Loved

In this 24th year of my life, I’ve decided to go on a journey. Long have I taken up the banner of loving God and others well. Long have I been overwhelmed by a pharisaical burden of doing the right thing, always. Long have I felt (and enjoyed!) my self-worth being bolstered by spending every part of me to give others just a little bit of hope. Long have I lived in agony at the breaking of my self-inflicted impossibly high standards for my own character and actions.

This year, I’m setting the “love God, love others” banner down and exchanging it for one that says, simply, “loved”. Daily, I will try to choose to shift my focus. It’s going to be difficult. I will fall into patterns of legalism. I will fall into traps of temptation. I will forget why I’ve shifted my focus. I will allow myself to fail. I will fall into God’s grace.

Quotefancy-319505-3840x2160You see, I have skipped a very important step in trying so hard to love God and others well. I’ve forgotten (have I ever really known?) how much God adores and delights in me. If my pride knew no bounds and every single thing I did was purely for selfish gain, God’s love for me would be unending. If I was paralyzed and unable to communicate or take care of myself let alone others, God’s love for me would not diminish. If I threw all caution to the winds and indulged in self-destructive desires, God’s love for me would not change. If I cursed Him and made it my mission in life to destroy all belief in Him and I became a tyrannical dictator and killed everyone who stood against me, His love for me would remain unequivocally strong.

This kind of love is CRAZY. I can’t imagine it!

I’ve always known that God has loved me. But, that has never been the focus of my study, my emotions, my life. Imagine everything you do, everything you think about yourself and others, flowing out of the unshakeable trust that you are unconditionally loved by God as you are, were, and will be.

Jesus said that the equally important commandment to loving God is to love others as you love yourself. In an especially honest conversation, a friend reminded me that if I can’t love myself, if I can’t internalize how deeply loved I am by God, there’s no way I can love others well. How do I love myself? By delving deep into the riches of the love that chose me before the universe was born, the love who sticks with me in all my wandering and denying and destroying, the love who gives His life for me and will one day bring me into everlasting joy.

Sidenote: If you’re interested in going on this journey of discovering (or re-discovering) God’s love for you, here’s a great place to start: Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging.

I Need You

I don’t know if I ever have loved writing purely for its own sake. I love writing because of the gifts it gives me or others: satisfaction, comfort, companionship, courage, hope, clarity, energy . . . If “writing” was a person, my relationship with it would be all take and no give. How terrible! Even so, the primary reason I love writing will likely forever be because there is some sense of me needing it in order to survive and/or thrive.

The sort of love I have for writing is not unlike how I love God.

C.S. Lewis, modern master of Christian thought, writes in his book The Four Loves,

Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God. But man’s love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love. This is obvious when we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations. But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing-for it ought to be growing-awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for HIm who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose. [This] Need-love, the greatest of all, either coincides with or at least makes a main ingredient in man’s highest, healthiest, and most realistic spritiual condition.

I’ve always thought that loving someone out of one’s need for that person to be very unlike love. In fact, I’d see it as an offense to what real love is. Love is patient, love is kind, love is not self-seeking… however, by default, there is some degree of this need-love in every relationship. In reality, lack of community is just as deadly as dehydration. Starvation of human friendship simply provides a slower, subtler death over physical starvation. We need each other and that’s okay. Lewis references, and I repeat Genesis 2:18 – “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Acknowledging that loving someone partially out of need is not always a bad thing is not an awe-inspiring concept for me.In human-to-human relationships, need is part of what love is, but hopefully not all or even most of it.

What is enlightening is the idea that I can best love God not by:
1. doing good things for Him
2. trying harder
3. feeling a connection with Him
4. spending more time alone with Him
5. trying to love His character more than His gifts

The best way I can love God is to acknowledge how very much I need Him. All the other things, frankly, may or may not follow in this life, and if they do, it will be more of a sporadic, faltering process than I would like (as it has thus far been in almost-24 years). For a person who feels weak and needy the majority of the time, this thought is overwhelming in its magnitude.

Jesus, Bread of life, Living Water, I love You the only way I know how at this point . . . and perhaps it is not as inferior of a love as I have always imagined . . .

I need you.