“Why must holy places be dark places?”
C.S. Lewis’ “Til We Have Faces”
Let’s start here: I consider myself to be a fairly self-aware individual. I can tell you my five values I use as a framework for decision making in my daily life. I can tell you my strengths and shortcomings, virtues and sin struggles, and hopes and despairs. I can tell you my personality type and how it shows itself in work, relationships, and spirituality. I can tell you specific examples of life experiences that have shaped the beautiful parts of my heart as well as my wounds. And yet, when my spiritual director posed the following question to me last week about my prayer life, I didn’t even know where to start.
“Claire, what is the geology of your heart?”
Some context: I felt as though I’d hit a wall in my prayer. For a few days, I experienced rich fruitful prayer, feeling led by the Holy Spirit as I read scripture and sat in silence. But after a few days of consolation, I reverted back to a prayer life consisting of litanies of requests, tired mind wandering, and scripture reading that did not lead me to “delight in the law of the Lord.” It was as if I went from intimacy and honesty to distance and doubt in my conversations with God in less than 24 hours.
Why was this? I am not under the impression every experience of prayer is going to be consoling, uplifting, and world-altering, but I also know the oscillation from fruitful to barren is not quite right either.
This is what led my spiritual director to pose the earlier question. She explained the idea that “plateaus” in the rhythms of our prayer life are normal, but a plateau should not be mistaken for a barrier of artificial nature that prevents us from growing in intimacy with Jesus through prayer. The difference between a plateau and a barrier: plateaus are accompanied by peace; barriers leave us longing. I quickly recognized the longing in my heart for Jesus to enter in more deeply, but didn’t know how to proceed.
What is the geology of my heart? What is the artificial barrier keeping me from entering into a deeper place with the Lord in prayer?
After some additional reflection, I came to an important realization: I am afraid to show Jesus the dark parts of my heart. The longing I have for greater intimacy with the Lord is interwoven with a fear He will be ashamed or I will be denied love if He were to see my darkness up close.
Throughout my life, I have encountered God in innumerable ways. I have encountered His love in profound experiences of praise and worship, I have encountered Him in the testimonies of other believers, and I have encountered Him in rich community being surrounded by other people chasing holiness. Additionally, I have encountered Him in solitude, being filled with peace as I think about what it is like to sit at His feet and gaze upon His face.
Every once in a while, but a much rarer occurrence, I allow Him to encounter me in my doubt, despair, and hopelessness. I cry out to Him and receive the love of the Father in my desolation. However, after this exchange, I stand up and dust myself off, scurrying away like a person who tripped on the sidewalk carrying a bag of groceries. I gather my things, thank God for the talk, and continue out into the world to celebrate all the good things, glad to be rid of the brooding dark cloud.
By pretending the dark parts of my heart don’t exist, or exist only in the form of easily exhaustible fires, I have hidden the parts of my heart most in need of the light of Christ. I have two faces. One face desires to stand in the light. One face desires to hide.
This desire for me to hide is a hereditary tendency, passed down from Eve to all of her children. Just as Eve hides in the garden after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, I hide the part of my heart that does not trust God has a plan, that sometimes believes He will withhold good things from me for no reason. A podcast I listened to recently with a commentary on C.S. Lewis’ book “Til We Have Faces” described it like this: “We have this inherent tendency to play God. On a conscious level we repudiate it as pride and arrogance and idolatry, but the unconscious is much harder to redeem than the conscious.”
There is a part of my unconscious that desires to play God, and I have hidden it in a dark corner of my heart and built up a big ole wall, afraid to show Jesus it exists. I am afraid He will see that after knowing Him for so long a time, I still am not able to fully trust Him.
It is time to bust through the wall of the hidden part of my heart and let the light in.
1 John is a beautiful commentary on light and love in Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:5 reminds us of God’s nature when it says, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Darkness is defined as the absence of light. Therefore, if God is light, where He is darkness cannot exist. Later in chapter 4 it says, “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”
God is light. I know and have felt the love God has for me. Fear and love do not coexist. These three truths are the pick-axes and dynamite sticks I need to bust through the barriers in my heart. As soon as I feel fear at the thought of the light exposing my heart for what it truly is, I can call upon the truth of God’s infinite and deep love for me. He is not ashamed of me, and His mercies go farther and deeper than I can comprehend.
I can’t say I am excited about this newfound insight about the state of my heart. In fact, I think it is going to be rather unpleasant to unpack the lies, resentments, and doubts I have kept shut away, afraid of what others would think of me, what God would think of me, if I brought them out into the light. However, in the midst of it, I am incredibly hopeful. I am filled with anticipation of what God will invite me into, and the new opportunities to say yes to abundant life with Him that will emerge.
St. Augustine says, “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself.” It is with this confidence that I will move forward.
I will enter into prayer more honestly this week. I will tell Jesus everything He already knows about the lies I have believed and the things I have tried to hide. I will not let shame stop me. I will confidently abandon myself to the love and light of Christ until the geology of my heart is more like an open cavern with lamps and living water, rather than a hidden conglomerate of caves and corners.
Holy places are not dark places, so long as we say yes to the light of Christ.