Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:14-15, 20-23
Recently I had the great idea that I would try to wean myself off my menopause hormone therapy. Ack! What was I thinking? I know I’m going to have to come off of it at some point, but doing so was miserable. I started feeling listless and unmotivated. I found myself experiencing depression, paranoia, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear and negativity.
It would have been easy to blame all of this on my med change. And in a way, that’s true. But what is also true is that the new chemical imbalance was a catalyst to bring out what was already in my heart.
Jesus said something radical in the passage above. He said it doesn’t matter how good our life looks. What matters is what is in our heart. Because if there is bad gunk in there, it will come out at some point or another. It will affect us and others.
I had this moment of clarity a couple of Sundays ago. Ken and I were driving to church, and I was picking at my husband. (Don’t we always struggle with something on a Sunday morning?) But this time, instead of taking the niggling issue to its conclusion, I stopped and looked at my heart.
If my heart was like a pool of water, I could see that the water was brackish, slimy with bitterness, anger and fear. I saw that the thing I was talking to my husband about wasn’t really the problem at all. The problem was my fear. I was afraid that my husband’s actions would trigger a downward spiral.
And I saw more clearly than ever that this fear is the theme of my life. I fear so much that one bad thing is going to lead to another. Chaos will win, and I will be powerless to stop life from going down the drain. I hate that feeling. (I know, I’ve blogged about this before. But I keep grappling with it.)
So my solution is to be like the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike.
I’ve got to stop every leak to make sure chaos can’t get in. I work very hard at making sure everything goes right. I try to be a good wife, mom and Christian.
But keeping my finger in the dike never really gets rid of the fear, the fear that is so huge, so solid, that all my years of Bible study have only chipped away at it, not done away with it.
It’s like a Godzilla Fear!
It’s like a Terminator Emotion. Remember those movies and how they kept trying to kill the bad Terminator, but it kept coming back?
That is what my fear can be like.
Probably a lot of us have Godzilla Terminator Emotions — anger, bitterness, hurt, or insecurities — feelings that we think we’ve gotten under control, but reemerge in the pressure cooker of life, and then loom so big and real that we act out of them instead of our faith and convictions.
And this is the stuff Jesus says defiles us, that we need to clean out of our inner selves. But how? It seems impossible!
Here are a few things I’m learning that are helpful. (And also, let me be sure and say here that emotions themselves aren’t necessarily bad. But they can come from sinful thinking, and lead to sin.)
Find the root. I do a lot of yard work. One of the most frustrating parts of it is dealing with the vines and small trees that grow out of my bushes.
Sure, I can snip at them when I trim the bushes and my yard will look nice for a while, but they’ll be back, fouling my nice landscape! The only real way to get rid of these “weeds” is to go under the bush, find the root, and pull it out.
The same thing is true with our heart. We need to go under the surface, find out what’s really bothering us, and deal with that. In gardening, pushing through stubborn branches and digging in the dirt is unpleasant. So is digging through our emotional baggage. But we’re not going to be able to get rid of it if we don’t see clearly what the problem is.
There are effective tools in helping us with this. I recommend reading a book like “Spiritual Discovery,” and having someone to talk with (even a professional) to help you process.
Look for the shoots. In the passage above, Jesus listed a whole number of nasty things that can come out of our heart. It reminds me that sin doesn’t just sit there passively. It propagates more sin
There are weeds in my yard that have a root system. I can pull out one weed, but others still pop up because the weed has sent out shoots into the soil.
In my life, I see how my root of fear leads to other sins popping up – faithlessness, self-hatred, and the big one, PRIDE. Pride shows up when I think I have to fix the world to keep the chaos out. It’s up to ME.
So trying to get rid of sin can be like nightmare weeding! Is there hope? I have found that what is most effective is to not only seek to take out the sin, but to replace the sin with something good. In my yard, Ken and I took out this huge oleander plant that was getting out of control. Once it was gone, the other nice plants in my landscaping thrived, and I put a knockout rose in the empty space that also took off. (Okay, the rose bush is kind of obscured in the picture.)
So here is what we can put in our heart that will really help us:
A more total dependence on God!
I recently read this great book, “No Place to Hide.”
It was written by W. Lee Warren, a neurosurgeon and admitted control freak who was a military doctor in the Gulf War. He talked about a pivotal moment in his life when he was out in the open and bombs began to rain down: “During that attack, huddled against a concrete wall in nothing but a running outfit, it became laughingly obvious to me that even my own survival was utterly out of my control.“
It was then that Warren finally let go of control, finally let go of fear. When he did, he said, “The mental clarity that resulted was stunning to me, and the list of things I could not control played across my mind like movie credits rolling up the screen. . . And then, at the end of the list of all the things I couldn’t do, I finally understood the one thing I could do: have faith that whatever God intended to do would be best for me and for my kids.”
In the end, what we really need is the Big Guy with the Big Guns. We need to give EVERYTHING to him, every bit of control, every worry, every insecurity, every failing, every hurt. Ultimately, the most effective thing we CAN do is have faith.
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29
Having faith takes work.
Last week I watched a Ted Talk that was utterly compelling. It was given by a Colombian woman, Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels and held captive in the jungle for six years.
She talked about how much faith helped her get through this terrible time. She said, “Faith isn’t rational or emotional. Faith is an exercise of the will. It’s the discipline of the will. It’s what allows us to transform everything that we are — our weaknesses, our frailties, into strength, into power. It’s truly a transformation. It’s what gives us the strength to stand up in the face of fear look above it, and see beyond it.”
Wow. I want that kind of faith. But, as Betancourt said, I’m going to have to exercise my will to build it.
So that is what I’ve been doing, having “faith workouts.” Every time the emotions start to rise, I start doing “reps,” telling myself over and over what I believe. Here are a few of the truths I repeat:
- God loves me incredibly. Romans 5:8, Matt. 18:12-14
- God is merciful and compassionate. Lam. 3:22-23, Titus 3:5
- God is a provider. Phil. 4:19, Gen. 22:14
- God is good. I Chron 16:34, Ex 33:19
- God is perfect in all of his ways. Ps 18:30
- God is my father. Matt. 6:9
- God is faithful. II Thes 3:3, I Cor. 1:9
- God will fight for me. Ex 14:14
- God will mature me. Phil. 1:6
- God wants to give me good gifts, and all things. Luke 11:13, Rom. 8:32
- That I can approach the throne with confidence. Heb 4:16
- That my name is written in heaven. Luke 10:20, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:3
- That there is hope. Rom 5:5
- That Jesus is willing. Matt. 8:3
- That my prayers will be answered. Mark 11:24
This is just a starting point. Let’s all think of many more truth exercises.
I’m still fighting my Godzilla Terminator Emotions. But I have to tell myself that the good thing about this is that they reveal what is in my heart. They help me see the “roots” and the “shoots.” I am beginning to see, too, the dysfunctional patterns they cause in me, like my efforts to control everything.
All of this brings me on my knees before God, and that is the best place to be. More than ever, I know that I need to keep putting things into HIS hands, doing this a thousand times a day with every concern and upsetting feeling. My efforts have to be put into having faith, not control.
And faith feels good. It is purifying and healing my heart. And that is the goal.