The Lord has really been peeling back the layers of my heart lately. There are a few huge skeletons that He yanked out of the closet all at the same time. It’s been actually overwhelming. My mind wants to say, “Lord, I could deal with any of these issues one at a time, but how do You expect me to deal with them all at once?!?” But that’s just how He works. My love for the Word and desire to spend time each day in the Word has really grown over these weeks through our ladies’ book study at church, and as a result I’ve come across passages of Scripture that are poking at these places in my heart that I’d really rather not deal with. It’s the sins that feel normal, feel comfortable, sins that I know everyone else has in their life but for some reason they are “acceptable.” These are the sins the Lord is asking me to kill in my life. Have you ever tried to root out a sin that has been part of you and your thinking for as long as you can remember? The roots go so deep that it is an intensely painful process to yank them out. And I’m not writing this to say that I’ve gotten them all the way out. I’ve just begun yanking. More some days than others because the heart- and mind-work involved in literally exhausting.
The first one that He brought to light involved eating/food. I’ve longed to lose weight for what seems like my whole life, I’ve known that I’m overweight, I’ve been aware of the fact that my eating habits are not healthy. But I never really labeled them as sinful. Then several little “coincidences” happened all within a few weeks, and boom! All the sudden I’m on a journey that is totally challenging the way I approach every bite I take. A book I’ve been reading, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick, has been phenomonal to open my eyes to the ways I’ve been sinning in this area. But it’s such a huge change in thinking that it is mentally draining. (Although I have to be honest: the 11 pounds I’ve lost in the process are a great motivation to keep doing the hard work necessary to root out this sin!) It’s been so eye-opening to think about the freedom we have in Christ to not be legalistic about our eating, and yet at the same time, to examine my motives for eating what I eat to see if they are sinful or not. So, I’m eating without the guilt that has always accompanied my meals (I’m eating too much, I really shouldn’t eat this, etc.) even as I see how sinful my approach to food has really been. A longer review of this book will come when I finish it, but I have to read it in little chunks because there is simply so much to process. Part of me would rather still be eating in ignorant bliss of the idolatry present in my heart–that’s why this journey is such a struggle. It is difficult to deal with the “acceptable” sin of over-eating and emotional-eating, especially when everyone around me eats as much as they want of whatever they want, but I am thankful for His grace to open my eyes to this sin in my life, as hard as it is to kill it.
The next corner of my heart that He ordered me to sweep out–literally at the same time as He was cleaning out the sinful-eating corner–was that corner where bitterness had pulled up the rocking chair and settled in for a nice long stay. I’ve been aware of some bitterness in my heart for awhile, but when the Lord had pointed it out in the past, I’d never really done anything with it. I may have shaken my finger at it and told it to get out, but bitterness is a lot stronger than that. I’ve been reading the last week through the book of 1 John in little tiny sections. The theme that is repeated over and over is that if I don’t love my brother, I am not in Christ. At one point it speaks even more strongly: “Whoever does not love abides in death.” (3:14) Wow. That hurt. All of the sudden that morning, faces started flashing through my mind of people toward whom I have been harboring bitterness. There are people in my family that I do not love. There are people in my church that I do not love. There are people from different places in my past that I do not love. “Whoever does not love abides in death.” It seems okay to feel bitter toward people who have hurt us. It’s another one of those “acceptable” sins. If we have to be around them, we avoid speaking unless absolutely necessary, and for me, even though my voice is friendly and there is a smile on my face, it’s all completely fake and I’m mentally calculating the quickest escape possible. The issue I immediately brought up in my mind when the Lord pointed these people out to me was this: They have hurt me (or someone I love) deeply and yet have never admitted that they were wrong, have never apologized, and in some cases are continuing to add to the hurt. So how do I forgive and love them? But the question remained: Do I want to abide in death? Well, of course not. So the Lord is asking me to take steps to show love to people who have plotted against my family, to people who have thrown poison arrows with their words at me and those I love, to people who hurt me through such careless and thoughtless actions that they don’t even realize what they did, to people who are fiercely unwilling to even acknowledge that a break exists in our relationship. He wants me to step out and show love to these people even though most people around me will not “get it.” The thought frankly scares me to death. I picture myself speaking love to these people and I can already feel the words choking in my throat. But I do not want to abide in death, so I’m thankful for His grace to show me this sin so that I can begin to oh-so-painful process of killing it.
Finally, He’s been dealing with me regarding the fear and lack of trust that has always resided in my heart. As we’ve gone through various trials, and as my understanding of the sovereignty of God has developed, my fears have changed somewhat, but fear still remains in another one of those dusty, skeleton-inhabited corners of my heart. I used to be afraid of what might happen to me because I did not grasp the sovereignty of God. Now I’m afraid of what might happen to me because I do grasp the sovereignty of God (at least much more than I did several years ago; the sovereignty of God is so big and mind-boggling that it can never fully be grasped in our tiny, finite minds). I look at the uncertainty that surrounds our lives right now, particularly in regard to church since we are without a pastor, and I feel fear. I know what I want for our future, but I know that God is much bigger than that and He may have other plans in mind for us. I know in my mind that His plans will be for our good, and that He will be ever faithful to care for us and provide for us. But my heart realizes that even those good plans may involve pain and a “no” answer to what it is that I think I desire. That’s what scares me. And that is what He’s pointing at when He asks, “Do you trust Me?” He’s pointing to that corner in my heart where I’ve allowed this fear to take over, the corner that causes the tears to well up in my eyes when I think about getting a “no” answer to my desires. Do I trust Him? Am I willing to quietly surrender my desires to His perfect plan and wait quietly on the Lord? Wow, this is a hard one, too. And it’s silly, really. Because His plans are going to come to pass whether I have a quiet, submissive heart or a heart filled with fear. But I know which kind of heart is pleasing to Him, which kind of heart is more like Jesus. And that’s the kind of heart that He’s calling me to cultivate. Who knew that letting go of fear would be so hard? But the root of fear is deep in my heart. Yanking it out hurts.
I’m not really sure why I’ve chosen to be so vulnerable here, except that I made a commitment to myself to be authentic and real and honest. So this is real for me right now. I can feel His hand on my heart. I can feel myself responding in ways I never have before, like taking the thoughts that I think out of habit into captivity to examine them and see if they are true, excellent, lovely, praiseworthy. But the path in front of me in this process still stretches out so long. I want to harbor no sin in my heart, even if it is “acceptable” and so deeply rooted that removing it threatens to change my very way of thinking. So I cautiously continue to open the Word each morning, to see what skeleton He will point at today. I beg for grace to change what He’s told me to change. And I shed some tears as the thorns on the roots of sin pierce my heart as I pull them out. This is sanctification. It’s not often pretty and fluffy and comfortable as Christian coffee cups and t-shirts would lead us to believe. It’s hard. It hurts. But it’s worth it. And best of all, it’s possible through Christ who promises to never leave us, to give us strength to do all things, and to bring us to completion at the day of glory. That is why it’s worth pressing on.