Bound Up In The Little Indulgences

Below are two ransomed heart emails that I have recently received (a little while ago now, holding off on publishing this post until I’d finished a couple of other drafts, oh well) full and complete, usually I only post the bits that are relevant, however, in this case both are completely relevant; to only chop out a few bits to quote just won’t give the whole picture leaving anybody who reads this with an incomplete understanding of what the emails are saying and what I am saying. Both these emails were very encouraging, they spoke to my heart, fanning the desires of my heart and the last two lines in the second email gave me my “wake up!” slap!!

I received ‘A Passionate Voice Within’ on January 4th and loved it. ‘A Distant Whisper’ came on January 5th and after reading it I was quite, well, “shaken to the core” is probably over dramatising it just a little, but I was most definately shaken. And I found it interesting when Tim said they were both the same, just said in different ways, whereas for me they had a profoundly different effect.

A Passionate Voice Within – Some years into our spiritual journey, after the waves of anticipation that mark the beginning of any pilgrimage have begun to ebb into life’s middle years of service and busyness, a voice speaks to us in the midst of all we are doing. There is something missing in all of this, it suggests. There is something more. The voice often comes in the middle of the night or the early hours of morning, when our hearts are most unedited and vulnerable. At first, we mistake the source of this voice and assume it is just our imagination. We fluff up our pillow, roll over, and go back to sleep. Days, weeks, even months go by and the voice speaks to us again: Aren’t you thirsty? Listen to your heart. There is something missing. We listen and we are aware of . . . a sigh. And under the sigh is something dangerous, something that feels adulterous and disloyal to the religion we are serving. We sense a passion deep within; it feels reckless, wild. We tell ourselves that this small, passionate voice is an intruder who has gained entry because we have not been diligent enough in practicing our religion. Our pastor seems to agree with this assessment and exhorts us from the pulpit to be more faithful. We try to silence the voice with outward activity, redoubling our efforts at Christian service. We join a small group and read a book on establishing a more effective prayer life. We train to be part of a church evangelism team. We tell ourselves that the malaise of spirit we feel even as we step up our religious activity is a sign of spiritual immaturity, and we scold our heart for its lack of fervor. Sometime later, the voice in our heart dares to speak to us again, more insistently this time. Listen to me—there is something missing in all this. You long to be in a love affair, an adventure. You were made for something more. You know it. (The Sacred Romance, 1-2)

My attention is caught with the first couple of sentences, ‘Some years into our spiritual journey, after the waves of anticipation that mark the beginning of any pilgrimage have begun to ebb into life’s middle years of service and busyness, a voice speaks to us in the midst of all we are doing. There is something missing in all of this, it suggests. There is something more.’ Since May 2007, almost a year after stepping into our new life, and being totally rairoaded (see ‘Stepping Into A New Life’ posts for more details), I have often wondered if we would have changed our lives so dramatically and be heading off in an entirely new direction if we were still caught up in the ‘service and busyness’ that had been a part of our lives for so long. I guess I will never know, but as I have said before and will say again, I am thankful that Tim having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has slowed us down, caused us to rethink and draw us closer to God. But it took about ten months of us being pretty much out of leadership and out of the loop before we started listening to our hearts and really hearing them. The reality is it took much longer than that, probably starting around September 2004 when Tim first came down with glandular fever and some other unknown virus and by November 2004 I no longer held an ‘official’ leadership role, and still it took another 2½ years and a whole lot of heartache and pain before we started getting in tune with our hearts!

My heart has whispered, has sighed in the past and I felt ‘something dangerous, something that feels adulterous and disloyal to the religion we are serving. We sense a passion deep within; it feels reckless, wild.’ I have felt for a long time that there is ‘More To Life’ (see post) and sometimes when I was more open to hearing from my heart, I would be overwhelmed by sorrow, I would be depressed, I would be yearning for something, I felt bereft of something, but all the while I did not know what, and mostly I would just become a sobbing mess as the emotion overcame me – I was leading a ‘life of quiet desperation’ and I didn’t even know it. It is beginning to seem to me that even us Christians, those of us who have the answer still live ‘lives of quiet desperation’ because we’ve let ourselves get sucked into second best, into believing that this is all there is. As much as I longed for it, I didn’t believe that there really could be more, I beleived that this was my lot, that life was always going to be this hard and this much of a struggle, that we would never do more than struggle in pretty much every area of our lives. Hoping for me was just dreaming, a fantasy. But it also scared me – reckless and wild – my life has never been like that, not really, and in those few moments when it did almost got me into lots of trouble. So as much as I longed for adventure if it scared me, I would stay where it was safe. I might not like where I was being safe (which I didn’t) but it was safe. Supposedly.

And this, this is describing me really well – ‘We tell ourselves that this small, passionate voice is an intruder who has gained entry because we have not been diligent enough in practicing our religion. Our pastor seems to agree with this assessment and exhorts us from the pulpit to be more faithful. We try to silence the voice with outward activity, redoubling our efforts at Christian service. We join a small group and read a book on establishing a more effective prayer life. We train to be part of a church evangelism team. We tell ourselves that the malaise of spirit we feel even as we step up our religious activity is a sign of spiritual immaturity, and we scold our heart for its lack of fervor.’ Not only have I done this to myself, being in a position of leadership I have been guilty of doing it to others, and for that I am so incredibly sorry. Again and again I have done this to myself and I have done it to others. But this time, this time we couldn’t, this time we were physically and emotionally unable. So this time we had no choice but to not be involved, to not get caught up in those things. We have found ourselves in a place where apart from family survival (and that took up a lot of time and energy so there wasn’t anything left to give) a place where God drew us closer to him and a place where our hearts could speak and we began to listen, we began to take them seriously. And we have, we know that to others on the outside that the way we are living makes no sense, seems silly, many others don’t understand where we are coming from and think we’re totally insane, but then, I think perhaps we are! And I’m okay with that.

And then the next day I get another email message from ransomed heart

A Distant Whisper – When the young prophet Samuel heard the voice of God calling to him in the night, he had the counsel from his priestly mentor, Eli, to tell him how to respond. Even so, it took them three times to realize it was God calling. Rather than ignoring the voice, or rebuking it, Samuel finally listened. In our modern, pragmatic world we often have no such mentor, so we do not understand it is God speaking to us in our heart. Having so long been out of touch with our deepest longing, we fail to recognize the voice and the One who is calling to us through it. Frustrated by our heart’s continuing sabotage of a dutiful Christian life, some of us silence the voice by locking our heart away in the attic, feeding it only the bread and water of duty and obligation until it is almost dead, the voice now small and weak. But sometimes in the night, when our defenses are down, we still hear it call to us, oh so faintly—a distant whisper. Come morning, the new day’s activities scream for our attention, the sound of the cry is gone, and we congratulate ourselves on finally overcoming the flesh. Others of us agree to give our heart a life on the side if it will only leave us alone and not rock the boat. We try to lose ourselves in our work, or “get a hobby” (either of which soon begins to feel like an addiction); we have an affair, or develop a colorful fantasy life fed by dime-store romances or pornography. We learn to enjoy the juicy intrigues and secrets of gossip. We make sure to maintain enough distance between ourselves and others, and even between ourselves and our own heart, to keep hidden the practical agnosticism we are living now that our inner life has been divorced from our outer life. Having thus appeased our heart, we nonetheless are forced to give up our spiritual journey because our heart will no longer come with us. It is bound up in the little indulgences we feed it to keep it at bay. (The Sacred Romance , 2-3)

I was encouraged by ‘it took them three times to realize it was God calling.’ I don’t feel so bad that it only took me 2½ years of ‘wilderness experience’ to realise that God was speaking to me through my heart!! And as far as silencing my heart, I have been guilty of both shutting it up in the attic and giving it a life on the side. As I have read ‘Captivating’ and ‘Waking the Dead’ I have realised that my heart longs for adventure, yearns for it, hungers for it; and my heart yearns for romance, longs for it, hungers for it, for the pursuit, the battle, the realisation of love so amazing; and the desire to be beautiful, to make a difference as I walk in a room, to be elegant, to have presence, to have influence, respect, even power. My heart longs for all these things, yearns for them and hungers for them so much so, that at times it can be really is quite painful. There is an unfulfilled ache within me, a hole that has not yet been filled, unfulfilled desire and dreams that have not come to pass. I know there is more to life, I know I was created for more, to live a life that is more than just this, to be more than I am. At times I just feel like a shell, a shadow. I know that I am not all I can be, all I should be, all I was created to be.

And when I watch a movie with these elements I just get caught up into it, swept away into the story, completely consumed by it. How do I know this is true? On January 1st I watched the third ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ movie and was totally caught up in the adventure of it, longing and desiring to be a part of something so fantastic, so incredible, so amazing. I wanted to be Elizabeth Swann, beautiful, resourceful, clever, dangerous, able to fight with swords, brave, fighting for something she believes in, in love with and being pursued by William Turner. My heart was caught up in it and for the next few days it was almost all I could think about.

And my heart was consumed by longing for the kind of romance between Elizabeth Swann and William Turner – the awkwardness and tension that needs to be resolved, the pursuit, and finally the declaration – although, I could live without the ‘one day for ten years’ separation aspect of their relationship! They are married while they are fighting for their lives, fighting the bad guys together, each backing up the other and each looking out for the other, working together beautifully. And even though they are to be separated for ten years before they get one day together, William again declares his love for Elizabeth, giving her the chest containing his heart, asking her to keep it safe and telling her that his heart has always belonged to her.

It was beautiful even though it was sad. They were amazing, the adventure was grand, bigger than just them and that’s where I wanted to be, so since watching ‘Worlds End’ I kept slipping off into a fantasy land, an adventure where I played an important role, where I was being passionately romanced, where I was incredibly beautiful, resourceful, clever, dangerous and brave, where I was someone other than myself, living a life that is far more interesting and fantastic than mine, but the kind of life I long for, the kind of life I desire, the kind of life I only dream of living.

And then I received the second email, ‘A Distant Whisper’ on January 5th which was all good until I read the last few lines, ‘Having thus appeased our heart, we nonetheless are forced to give up our spiritual journey because our heart will no longer come with us. It is bound up in the little indulgences we feed it to keep it at bay.’ I was jolted rather violently, slapped even; it was kind of like having cold water thrown in my face and I was left gasping and dripping. I was feeding my heart ‘little indulgences’ and this was not the first time either!

I have realised, much more than I ever have in the last six months, that those little daydreams I have been allowing myself to indulge in were not all that good for me. In these I am living my life as someone else; it is a different life in a different world and when I am there I have been like Elizabeth Swann, beautiful, elegant, have presence, influence, respect and power, where I am clever, resourceful, good at martial arts, brave, courageous, strong and dangerous; where I stand up for what I believe in and fight for it passionately, and of course there is always a ‘romantic element’, unrealised in the beginning so there must be a ‘chase’, and then a realisation of the love each feels for the other and eventually, a declaration.

These daydreams are what I have been feeding my heart, they are my escapes, the things that keep me ‘sane’ or so I thought. But I am realising, these daydreams, fun though they are, they are keeping my heart captive and stopping me from moving forward. ‘Having thus appeased our heart, we nonetheless are forced to give up our spiritual journey because our heart will no longer come with us. It is bound up in the little indulgences we feed it to keep it at bay.’

How can I move forward on this amazing, incredible journey God has for us, for me, when my heart is trapped in and addicted to this little fantasy world I have created to keep me and my heart happy, sated? Up until this moment I did not fully realise or truly understand the effect my little daydreams of romance and adventure were having on me, on my heart. Deep down I have known that they were not all that good for me, and every now and again I would make a conscious effort to stop them, especially when something convicted me! But after a while I’d slip back into them again, a little bit here and a little bit there until I am having full blown daydreams of adventure and romance once again whenever I don’t have to be present, escaping into it any moment I got – while cooking dinner, in the shower, on the toilet, washing dishes, relaxing anywhere, even driving! It’s like the lobster in the pot, the water is slowly getting hotter and hotter, until the silly thing is boiling alive, but the lobster doesn’t realise that until it’s way too late! That’s me!! All I can say about that is thank you God for your amazing and incredible mercy, compassion, grace and love; thank you for taking me out of the pot before it boils.

What I have realised over the last couple of days as I write this enormously long post, is that what I am doing is offering my heart a substitute, a very poor substitute, for what my heart truly longs for, desires, was created for – it’s like eating mince meat patties as a substitute for porterhouse steak! And while I feed my heart this poor substitue, ther is no need for me to move on, because my heart is sated, well, kind of, but while I keep stuffing it with junk food my heart remains passive and “content”, but I have noticed that when I stop feeding myself this crapola, I stop being content and the discontent surfaces with avengence. Read ‘More to life’ and ‘Not Satisfied’.

Lord God, I ask for your help. Unfetter my heart, unchain my heart, set it free; set me free. Thank you God that you have done this already, when Jesus lay down his life for me, his blood was shed and the prisoners were set free and the broken hearted healed. Thank you God that I am free to be all you have created me to be and free to do all you have created me to do. Thank you God. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Holy Spirit.

I want to move forward on this journey, this spiritual journey, this physical journey. I already know that staying here just physically, is killing me, slowly destroying me by sapping my energy and desire. And finally, I am following my heart, but my heart is not completely free, I keep chaining it up; every time I feed it “junk food” I wrap the chains around my heart yet again. I need to stop feeding the cravings, there’s gonna be a withdrawal time, which I’ve kind of gone through sort of a few times, but I’ve never truly got out to the other side, I’ve always given in and slipping back into the comfortable, familiar “junk food” way of satisfying my heart.

But Jesus has laready set my heart free, he has broken the chains that have bound me and my heart, he has broken open the prison door. As I sit in my dingy, dank, dark cell holding onto those familiar chains I can see the broken door hanging open, wide open, and I can see the light, the glorious, beautiful light, beckoning light that is calling me, calling me out, but I sit there wrapping those familiar chains around me once more, even though they are broken and have no power over me any more I welcome their bonds which are more familiar to me than the beckoning light from beyond my prison door. Oh I want to go, I am desperate to go, I keep reaching for it, striving for it, but without letting go of the chains. I know, I can see, that if I don’t let go of these chains and step out my heart will give up and I will be trapped, trapped because I choose it; trapped because it is safer to stay here in the darkness and dinginess than risk stepping out into the light; trapped because the adventure that awaits me when I step out of the darkness and into the light is too scary, too much to bare, too much to cope with…

NO!!! I will NOT do this!!! I will NOT stay trapped in the familiar, the safe, the comfortable. I WILL embrace the passion, the reckless and wild passion, the adventure. My heart is free! My heart is good! Jesus has set me free, his blood was shed for me, for my heart; he set the captives free, he set me free! I have already been shown this – I have used the sword of the spirit to slice through those horrid things that bind, but every time I feed my heart that “junk food”, the poor substitute for what it really desires, I pick up those broken chains, wrap them about me and keep myself in a prison of my own creation, I am in there of my own volition. No more!

I let go of the chains; I feel them slip from my fingers, hard, cold heavy, metal links, they hurt and they clatter loudly, hollowly as they hit the stone floor of my prison. I step over them towards the door. I stand at the edge of the light that has pooled through the broken door hanging listlessly upon one hinge and then I step out of the darkness into the light, even here, not yet through the doorway, it is beautiful, radiant, glorious. ‘I could just stay here, here in the light, I don’t have to go through the doorway’, a thought suggests gently, slipping into my mind. I pause, ‘yes, I could just stay here, that way I am still safe, still comfortable, but I am also in the light where it’s not too strong, not too scary’.

No, I will not stop here; here is still just a poor substitute for what is offered through the doorway. I will step through into the light, the beautiful, glorious, radiant, life giving light. I am reminded of the ‘angel light’ I sometimes see as rays of sunlight stream through holes in the clouds but it is much stronger, much brighter than that. At first I must squint and hold my hand up in front of my face, shielding my eyes. I can’t see and I am afraid, I almost turn back, to go back to just inside the doorway where the light wasn’t so bright and didn’t hurt my eyes, where there is no discomfort, not really and it is safe. But I know if I do that then I have given up and am settling for a half life, becoming one of the ‘living dead’ again.

No, I will not go back there. I will move on. I will walk in the light and follow my saviour. The light is warm, I can feel it on my skin cleansing me, removing the dirt and the grime, the stains, it tingles, burns even, it’s scary, it hurts, but it feels good as the old dirty stuff is burnt away. I am standing in the flames, but I am safe, I am being refined, made new and I am in the hands of my Maker, my Saviour. I am free, my heart is free, I am alive, truly alive. I trust in my God, he is my Saviour, my Lord, my Counsellour, my Friend and my Provider. I trust in my God. He sets the captives free and heals the broken hearted.

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