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Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Wednesday March 1 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Lent begins this week, on Ash Wednesday, March 1st. If you'd like to look over my Lenten devotional using a psalm for each day of Lent, you can download the pdf here.

As we grow in maturity, many of us experience increasing honesty about the powerful and dark forces at work inside of us that draw us away from God and from what we know to be good. In our early adulthood, we can often fool ourselves into the illusion that we are pretty good people, free of irrational anger, vindictiveness, all-encompassing fear, and petty desires. Many of us find that as we age, we experience all sorts of ugly emotions, and it is no longer possible to hide the truth from ourselves. We truly do have a lot of ugliness inside us. We realize the complexity of our inner emotions: rejoicing and content in God’s grace one moment, irritable and unpleasant the next.

With maturity many of us face our addictive behavior with new honesty. We begin to see more clearly the various counter-productive ways we have tried to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside us. We know our deepest longing is for God, yet over and over we choose food or shopping or pornography or alcohol or something else to try to satisfy that longing. Common to maturity on the journey of faith are honesty and humility in acknowledging the incredibly inappropriate ways we strive to fill our emptiness.

How can we change? How can we learn to live with our emptiness and longing, when all the cultural voices around us are telling us to hurry up and fill up that hole? Gerald May believes that we need to change the way we view life and come to understand that emptiness is a part of the earthly journey, a part that our culture will do nothing to affirm and everything to negate. As I expressed in the blog posts in this series about the Psalms, praying and pondering the Psalms has been a significant source of help, comfort and re-orientation in addressing this issue for me.

Gerald May, in his book The Awakened Heart, discusses the seeking and longing that characterize our lives.

Emptiness, yearning, incompleteness: these unpleasant words hold a hope for incomprehensible beauty. It is precisely in these seemingly abhorrent qualities of ourselves – qualities that we spend most of our time trying to fix or deny – that the very thing we most long for can be found: hope for the human spirit, freedom for love. This is a secret known by those who have had the courage to face their own emptiness. [1]

Gerald May writes that we are able to fall in love with life and enjoy each day when we learn to befriend our yearning rather than try to avoid it, when we enter into the “spaciousness of our emptiness” [2] rather than trying constantly to fill it up. This is easier said than done, but many Christians have described a kind of contentedness and peace that comes in accepting life as it is and looking for God’s presence in daily life, rather than constantly expecting God to make everything easy and nice.

Unfortunately, in our culture, we are encouraged to fill our longing for freedom, wholeness, and joy with countless material objects and endless thrilling experiences: clothing, cars, home furnishings, food, sex, alcohol, drugs, vacations, sports, and so forth. Our culture tells us that if we are experiencing desire of any kind, the most important thing to do is fill that desire with something – anything! – immediately. Thus we rush to satisfying our yearnings and cravings without sitting with them long enough to learn from them and to allow them to draw us towards God.

Seminary professor David Rensberger writes,

Although our hunger and thirst are for God, we are always trying to satisfy them with other things. . . . Indeed, our consumer society energetically organizes these means of avoiding the quest for God, offering us a false quest that is sustained with enormous force and skill by the engines of economy, media, and government.[3]

Rensberger believes that it requires an equal force and determination to resist our culture and cling to the truth of the Gospel that only in God can we find what we long for. How do we find in God what we long for? By facing our inner darkness, accepting it, bringing it to God (perhaps by praying the Psalms), relying on God’s grace and forgiveness, and resting in God’s love and presence with us through the Holy Spirit. These are all part of drawing near to God with the heart.

This is the fifth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:
Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms        
God's presence through the Holy Spirit

(The series continues next week with "Tears."  Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

[1] Gerald May, “Entering the Emptiness,” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, Michael Schut, ed. (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), 48. (An excerpt from The Awakened Heart.)
[2] Ibid.
[3] David Rensberger, “Thirsty for God,” Weavings, July/August 2000, p. 23.



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