"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I choose to live in hell

What is it when I struggle and search for peace, for closeness to God, for that heart-connection with Him, when I strive and reach out my hands to touch the face of God, and yet, nothing—nothing. I feel as empty as when I began, the head knowledge now just clutters up my mind, and I keep dragging along on this treadmill, wondering if it will ever be any different, or if living only half-alive is really all I can ever expect. I read truth that should change my life with dulled eyes and a half-dead heart, impervious to any change, like a child who has been lied to so many times that she will never trust again.

Where is God, I ask? Here, I know, inside my heartbeat, gliding in my breath, closer than my soul. Why can’t I be changed? Why can’t the truth inside me, the knowledge of Scripture, the classes in theology, the books on transformation—why can’t they transform? I think it is something simple, but yet something very hard—the catalyst that can bridge the death-gap between my life and the transformation I know, somehow, is there.

It is not talked about much, and yet is talked about a great deal.

It is time.

Busy—busy—busy—we all instinctively know we are too busy. Every one of says that we want to slow down, do less; we long for vacations, we feel inadequate to perform all that has to be done; it is a God-given, created longing that we all feel. But we ignore it—we never slow down. Not ever. If we don’t believe enough in the importance of time today to make time, we won’t tomorrow. We will become busier and busier until our spinning, frenetic minds cannot even comprehend the rest of the King. Either you are moving toward rest or you are fleeing it.

We’re addicted to a lie, the lie of constant movement, constant performance, constant filling of time. We know we want to rest, but in perhaps Satan’s greatest triumph, we never, ever believe it. “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” we say callously. Could Satan have us believing a more deranged lie? He laughs as we exchange the truth of God for a lie, as we utterly spit on Jesus’ words that He is Rest and His yoke is Light. Satan replaces that truth with busyness, because he knows that without time, without rest, without peace, there is no transformation, and, even more, the busyer we become, the more we fall into a false identity that we have to perform to be worthy. In one fell swoop, Satan removes the key to spiritual transformation in our lives while locking us in a prison cell of a feverish, works-based life, altering the very gospel of Christ itself from one of peace to one of absolute pain. He does not need to make sinful Christians. He just needs to make busy ones.

We blame our busyness on everything and nothing. College. Work. Career. Children. It’s a season of life, we say. It’s just the way things are going right now, we say. We laugh it off, having informal contests, comparing who is busier and seeing our full schedules as trophies of our hard work and discipline. Imagine if we were to have a similar contest about how much we could ignore the Lord’s presence. It would not be so funny, then, would it? But that is not so far off.

In fact, those are excuses. Imagine we said the same thing about something critical. “Oh, not breathing is a stage of life. Someday I’ll start breathing. Yes, I know I’ll be far happier, far more whole, far more available to the Lord if I were to start breathing now—but, well, I just won’t.” Do you know what that is? It is not brave. It is not courageous. It is not valiant. It is absolutely irresponsible.

By time, I mean rest, and by rest, I mean peace. By putting margin in my life, it is not that I have nothing to do and so use it to have busywork; by margin I mean that there is a cloud of peace, of rest, around every activity. I mean to claim that promise of peace Jesus has given me. If my extra time is not peaceful, then it is not doing its job.

What are you afraid of? Why will you not rest? Do you fear that if you take the time to slow down, you will not like what you see? Perhaps you will wonder where your worth is. I was saddened, some time ago, to find that I unknowingly had put all of my worth in what I did. I realized that if I were to become completely paralyzed, if I could not move and I could not speak, I would feel absolutely worthless. I could do nothing, be nothing, and would be worth nothing, I felt. Indeed, until I can be confident that, if I were to become paralyzed, my self-worth, identity, and confidence in the value of every day of my life would not change, I will be busy. Why? Because I will need to perform. I will need to act and do and earn my salvation. And Jesus weeps.

This peace is necessary for my joy. Perhaps I am just one of the slowest thinkers on this earth, needing peaceful time, quiet time, extra time, more time than I ever thought, to have truth enter my life and transform me. That is possible. But it is also possible that that is something beautifully and compassionately laid within the human condition by a God of Rest—that love, relationships, the presence of God—they are all blocked without a peaceful life. Do you know how beautiful it is to have that abundant time? To listen to a friend without thinking of leaving, to be stuck in traffic without ever worrying, to watch a movie with your sister without pausing, to lay in the grass and listen to the birds without even thinking—does it sound too wonderful? Does it sound like home, like you hope heaven will be? You’re right. So why are you choosing hell?

We deeply desire such time, such peace, not because we are lazy but because eternity is in our hearts. Do we really understand what that means?

"We are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. “How he’s grown!” we exclaim, “How time flies!” as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal."
 --C.S. Lewis in Reflections on the Psalms
Humans were not made for time and peace is the call of eternity. We were created at the beginning of the world for eternity and for a deathless world and one day in heaven it will come again. But for now, in this fallen land of sin, we struggle with time and cannot comprehend it. We treat it all wrong over and over, as if we did not know how to deal with it or manage it—for we do not. Yet having time—peace—rest, this is as close as we can get in this world to simulating eternity, and the closer we come to that, the closer we come to God and to who we were created to be and will one day become. The more we bury ourselves in busyness, the less we touch eternity and the less we respect and reflect the image of the eternal God in ourselves.

I began all of this by asking—why cannot I touch the face of God? Many reasons, perhaps. But one, so heart-wrenchingly critical, is because in busyness I have ignored the image of the God of Eternity that is created within me and turned my face away from the God of Eternity who loves me. It is not that I cannot touch the face of God.

It is that I cannot stop my hands long enough to reach out to Him.