The Tiger Within

*Scroll to the bottom to hear me read this post.

This picture has no relation to today's post, but I'm reminding myself--as it was only 12 degrees when I woke up this morning--that the time of beautiful green crickets clinging to open screen doors will come!

This picture has no relation to today’s post, but I’m reminding myself–as it was only 12 degrees when I woke up this morning–that the time of screen doors and beautiful green crickets clinging to them will come!

I sat on his bed to kiss him goodnight and saw it the moment his head turned toward me.

His lips were pinched, his eyes hard.

“What’s the matter, Bud?” I asked.

His voice had an edge as he reminded me that the birthday party we’d talked about a month ago has not yet happened. “You said we might do it this weekend,” he accused.

Never mind that he has just spent more than twenty-four hours with a best friend.

Never mind that we’d never done more to plan the party than simply talk about it.

Never mind that I’d told him several days ago that the party would not happen this weekend—we simply had too much going on.

He was so focused on self that gratitude and perspective—logic, too—had fled.

I could completely identify.

“You’re miserable, aren’t you?” I asked him.

The flat look stayed a second more but then slipped. He nodded.

We prayed together, and I reminded him of all the “never mind’s.” We talked about all the good he’d experienced this weekend, and the things we could be thankful for in that very moment.

Suddenly his small chest rose and fell with a great breath, and he smiled at me.

I smiled back. “It feels good to let it go, doesn’t it?”

I told him then I have the same, awful struggle, and sometimes I imagine SELF (or rather the focus on self) to be like a coiled kitten deep in my gut. When it slumbers, it seems harmless, so I pet it a little, and it raises its head. I continue to stroke it, and it rises higher, higher. Still all seems well, but then it stands on hind legs and hooks its needle-sharp claws into my heart.

And I am overcome.

“Why don’t they see what I’m doing?”

“It wouldn’t hurt them to be just a little grateful!”

“Well, I did that for her. Shouldn’t she do something in return?”

“All I do is clean up (cook/work/drive/do) for everyone else.”

“Don’t they notice all I’m doing?”

“When is someone going to do something nice for ME? When is it MY turn?”

“How is this going to affect me?”

The thoughts bombard, and I can’t stop them. I am miserable in my self-focus, but I’m also powerless to do anything about it. I try to pull the claws from my heart, but as soon as I get one free, another is entangled, and they keep sinking deeper and deeper! I realize what I thought was a harmless kitten is in actuality a tiger, fierce and strong, with not a hint of give in its eyes.

“That’s why we had to pray,” I told my son. “We can’t fight the tiger in our own power. We have to come to Jesus and tell Him we need Him. I have to keep re-learning this very lesson.”

Recently I discovered this song by Audrey Assad (©2013) about this very thing. I’ve been praying it lately. I hope you find it helpful as well.

 

“I Shall Not Want”

From the love of my own comfort;

From the fear of having nothing;

From a life of worldly passions:

Deliver me, oh God.

 

From the need to be understood;

From the need to be accepted;

From the fear of being lonely;

Deliver me, oh God.

Deliver me, oh God.

 

And I shall not want; I shall not want

When I taste your goodness I shall not want.

When I taste your goodness I shall not want.

 

From the fear of serving others;

From the fear of death or trial;

From the fear of humility:

Deliver me, oh God.

Deliver me, oh God.

NOTE: The title link above leads to a video of Assad playing and singing this song.

 

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The gentle power of God’s pursuit

God’s pursuit of a human is a wonder.

Yesterday, God pursued me.

He had to.

I’d woken for several mornings with a numb heart. I didn’t want to feel too much, to have my heart stretched by His great Presence. Nothing was “wrong.” I simply wanted to stay cocooned in a tight chrysalis of control and predictability. I didn’t want my days rocked by eternity. I didn’t want to see myself as part of something bigger. I wanted my cocoon to be IT, cozy and snug. Nothing else fit—and I didn’t want it to.

But here’s the rub—the truth. If I want my tight little cocoon, I have to let go of ALL the things that don’t fit, like fullness and joy and inexplicable peace. Like amazement and wonder. I can’t have “control” AND fullness of life. My chrysalis tightens, and my focus narrows, my heart squeezes, and my vision tunnels. MY to-do list magnifies and lengthens.

After only a few days of a numbed heart, I sensed this narrowing, but rather than open myself to God’s gentle knockings, I avoided. I read a book; I checked e-mails—again; I worked—past quitting time. All fine things, except when they’re used as a substitute, as anesthetic to numb myself to God’s touch.

But yesterday God used “little” things to break through my shell. Son Jake had a dentist appointment in the morning, so I had to delay emails and writing assignments. We went to the dental office and learned our appointment was delayed, so we had some extra time together—REAL time, not like the working-on-homework-together time we’ve had so much of recently.

Of course, Jake, being Jake, asked questions I couldn’t answer out of myself. I had to silently cry out for help.

Then I had an interaction with an employee at a store—a good interaction, though nothing “big”—and in it was this reminder: if I want to spread Christ’s love to others, I have to be open to it myself. I have to be a receiver FIRST and ALWAYS.

My chrysalis was cracking; bits were flaking off.

I dropped Jake off at school, and there was silence. My phone was quiet. The radio was off.

I reached to turn the radio on—and stopped. Into the stillness came this thought: If I didn’t allow God to break my cocoon, it would only get smaller, and what could fill it then? It wouldn’t have room for Him. It could only be filled with ME, with a me that would have to shrink to fit, a me that would become smaller and more self-focused by the day.

Ugh.

The last remnants of chrysalis shattered.

And my heart took a deep, deep breath.

 

Oh, Lord, help us to open our hearts to You. We know this is not a painless process. Your presence draws up deep hurts done to us and reveals our own hurtful ways. Your presence expands our hearts so we can sympathize with others. That, too, is painful. Yet with Your presence there is fullness of joy! There is LIFE. (Psalm 16:11)