Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Our life is a story. A rather long and complicated story that has unfolded over time. There are many "firsts." Your first step; your first word; your first day of school. There was your first best friend; your first recital; your first date; your first love; your first kiss; your first heartbreak. If you stop and think of it, your heart has lived through quite a story thus far. And over the course of that story your heart has learned many things. Some of what you learned is true; much of it is not. Not when it comes to the core questions about your heart and the heart of God. Is your heart good? Does your heart really matter? What has life taught you about that? Imagine for a moment that God is walking softly beside you. You sense his presence, feel his warm breath. He says, "Tell me your sorrows." What would you say in reply?
So there I was walking in the mall, doing the usual rounds trying to take a breather. But the more I thought about the reactions I got from the announcement, the heavier I felt. I couldn't place a finger on what it was that was bothering me. It was all so abstract. I know the pain is real and so is the anger and regret. I went inside Powerbooks and tried reading a book on singleness by Charles Swindoll because that's what I thought I was dealing with: The problem of loneliness. It was sorta related to it but it wasn't exactly that thing I was dealing with here.
Why is it so easy to get angry at, or to resent, or simply to grow indifferent toward the very people we once loved? The answers lie down in the heart. "For it is with your heart that you believe," Paul says. And in Proverbs we read, "The heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out." Our deepest convictions—the ones that really shape our lives—they are down there somewhere in the depths of our hearts.
You see, we don't really develop our core convictions so much as they develop within us, when we are young. Down deep, in the inmost parts they form, down in deep water, like the shifting of the continental plates; but they form when we are vulnerable, without our really knowing it, like a handprint in wet cement, and over time the cement hardens and there you have it. Think of it this way: Have you always known down deep inside, down to the tips of your toes that your heart is good and that your heart matters to God? Me neither. No, what we've come to believe about those ultimate issues was handed to us early on, in most cases by our families.
It took a lot of time for me to understand everything and Dad finally got to point it out to me during one of those times when I took time to be alone. It wasn't about being lonely and longing for companionship. No, it was a lot deeper and more personal than that. It was about a question I evaded for the longest time: Am I good enough as an artist? Just like I thought earlier yesterday it wasn't about my convictions (hey, everyone knows my convictions and what I believe in) or being able to meet the requirements (I'm grateful for those compliments), it was about being good enough. Growing up there was a sense of wanting to "perform" and showing what I can do before the public but being so painfully shy and all I kept almost everything to myself. I never dared to show my drawings to everyone for fear of both compliments and the critiques.
The worst blows typically come from family. That's where we start our journey of the heart, and that's where we are most vulnerable. What we learned from our parents and siblings about our heart defines us the rest of our days; it becomes the script we live out, for good or for ill. Cinderella's father calls her "a little stunted kitchen wench which my late wife left behind," and her stepmother sees her as "much too durty, she cannot show herself!" What do you suppose she learned about her heart from growing up in that home?
The worst blows tend to come from those who know us well and should have loved us. In the German myth, Siegfried was a great warrior: he slew a terrible dragon; he was fearless in battle. Siegfried was invincible—except for a small place on his back, between his shoulders. There, he could be wounded. An uncle discovered Siegfried's "weak spot" and murdered him. Stabbed in the back. By family. Small wonder this tale has endured through time.
Even Jesus endured this sort of assault—not the open accusation that he had a wicked heart, but the more subtle kind, the seemingly "innocent" arrows that come through "misunderstanding."After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus' brothers said to him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
I think we can relate to that. Did your family believe in you? Some did—but far too many more believe in the person they wanted you to be. Did they even notice your heart at all? Have they been thrilled in your choices, or has their disappointment made it clear that you just aren't what you're supposed to be? At another point in his ministry, Jesus' family shows up to collect him. "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." They think he's lost it, and they've come to bring him home, poor man. Misundertsanding is damaging, more insidious because we don't identify it as an attack on the heart. How subtly it comes, sowing doubt and discouragement where there should have been validation and support.
"How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?" These blows aren't random or incidental. They strike directly at some part of the heart, turn the very thing God created to be a source of celebration into a source of shame. And so you can at least begin to discover your glory by looking more closely at what you were shamed for. Look at what's been assaulted, used, abused. As Bernard of Clairvaux declared, "Through the heart's wound, I see its secret."
Let me put it this way: What has life taught you about your God-given glory? What have you believed about your heart over the years? "That it's not worth anyone's time," said a woman. Her parents were too busy to really want to know her. "That it's weak," confided a friend. He suffered several emasculating blows as a boy, and his father simply shamed him for it. "That I shouldn't trust it to anyone." "That it's selfish and self-centered." "That it's bad." And you . . . what have you believed?
Those accusations you heard growing up, those core convictions that formed about your heart, will remain down there until someone comes to dislodge them, run them out of Dodge.
Those who don't know me personally may find it hard to believe and those who do may have an inkling but not much to try and talk about it. I'm really scared to pursue my dreams but deep down inside I really want to expose my art to as many people as possible. In fact my ultimate dream was to establish an amusement park that would rival that of Disney's. That it would be more of a walk-through a world I created and peopled by the characters I created. I know i'm not motivated by pride to do this. Dad knows this and he always keeps me in check. But right now I'm just just overwhelmed by this sense of worthlessness, that what I do is not worth anybody's time and my achievements are hardly something to be proud of.
Most of us simply try to "put things behind us," get past it, forget the pain as quickly as we can. Really-denial is a favorite method of coping for many Christians. But not with Jesus. He wants truth in the inmost being, and to get it there he's got to take us into our inmost being. One way he'll do this is by bringing up an old memory. You'll be driving down the road and suddenly remember something from your childhood. Or maybe you'll have a dream about a long-forgotten person, event, or place. However he brings it up, go with him there. He has something to say to you.
Notice also that Jesus asks Peter the penetrating question three times-one for every betrayal. Peter is hurt by it, and that is the point. The lessons that have been laid down in pain can be accessed only in pain. Christ must open the wound, not just bandage it over. Sometimes he'll take us there by having an event repeat itself years later, only with new characters in the current situation. We find ourselves overlooked for a job, just as we were overlooked by our parents. Or we experience fear again, just as we felt those lonely nights in our room upstairs.
I'm also afraid of the pain involved whenever the drudge is stirred to the surface. I fear it so much whenever I go through these times I can't and won't even look at myself in the mirror. Weird right? These accusations that I'm not doing my job right or the art that I do is hardly something that moves people are the things that snap at my heels driving me to try harder the next time around. On one hand it's good but then the question remains, till when? I used to think that I'm a closet "attention whore." I craved and starved for reactions (even really bad ones, just as long as they react) but refusing to stoop down to doing carnival acts.
There are all invitations to go with him into the deep waters of the heart, uncover the lies buried down there, and bring in the truth that will set us free. Don't just bury it quickly; ask God what he is wanting to speak to.
That's when I finally figured out that no matter how many compliments or reactions I get from people who liked or didn't like my work (both strangers and people I respect) it will never be enough for me. The addiction for approval and reactions were always there because I didn't get any of it from those who matter the most. And that the timing this was brought back up again on the "eve" of this really big project was no accident at all. It was about time I faced it and dealt with it. Dad won't allow me to go on to the next level until I've finally made a closure on this.
Maybe . . . the thought began to creep in . . . maybe the world has been wrong about me. "The world has been wrong about you. They've hated your glory—just as the Evil One hates the glory of God. But we need your gift. Come forth." I began to believe the truth, and it set me free. The doctrine I knew—kind of. But having a doctrine pass before the mind is not what the Bible means by knowing the truth. It's only when it reaches down deep into the heart that the truth begins to set us free, just as a key must penetrate a lock to turn it, or as rainfall must saturate the earth down to the roots in order for your garden to grow.
Yeah. I think I will take his counsel and end all this running right now. Thanks Dad!
* Excerpts taken from John Eldredge's book "Waking the Dead," pp. 112-118; 122; 126