“A fire prepares his path; it burns up his foes on every side.” You can tell where a fire once burned because of the lush new growth in its place, where the decades of old growth, dead branches and weeds choking out any new fruition, have been cleared away.—Well, what are the Lord’s foes if not our sins, our worldly attachments and desires, the brokennesses we bear, the wounds inflicted on us by the world? He desires to make our heart his home, but first, a fire must clear the way…
“I remember the devotion of your youth,” says the Lord through his prophet Jeremiah: “How you loved me as a bride, following me in the desert, in a land unknown. What fault did your fathers find in me that they withdrew from me, went after empty idols, and became empty themselves?”
Most of the time I think, “I am not so bad.” Most of the time I cannot call myself, with Paul, the “foremost of sinners”—not in the honesty of my heart. I compare myself with those who are much worse than me and judge myself well by comparison—not against those who are so much better than me, which reveals how very far I have to go.
I mentioned the other day how I was feeling like God was “too good to me.” Well, I felt it then almost in a … smug way, a secure way, like I knew his goodness was too exorbitant, but somehow I really did deserve it—I must! Otherwise how could so many blessings have come to me? How could He shower so much goodness on me if I wasn’t—in some mysterious way, at least—worthy of it?
Now I feel it with a heavier heart, and yet—although I do not feel the same easy happiness I felt before at knowing myself to be loved, and loved unconditionally, I think I feel it more deeply … Not now on the level of emotion, but in the bones I know He loves me, and that love has nothing to do with my conduct, with anything I could do for Him (or, conversely, with what I might do against Him)—I am not in this to please Him so as to somehow merit His love or His blessings or salvation—no! I look at myself now and I can say, with an honest and critical eye: “I suck”—and yet, “He loves me” and “I am His.” And that is an unconditional state, not subject to good behavior or dependent on any “thought, word, or deed” of my own! Do I need to strive to please Him and do His will?—Yes, but not to impress Him or win His attention or His favor! Just because I love Him and love entails a certain submission to the beloved, a death to self (by which—sweet mystery—we become more our self than ever.)
In my prayer tonight I was restless. I kept moving from one position to another: sitting up straight, then hunching over; stretching out my legs, then sinking to my knees. My mind was awhirl, as usual, with questions and the worries of the day. And the Lord said, “Be still. Why are you in motion even now? Rest here with the one who loves you.”
And when I tried and still could not quiet my mind or my body he said, “Stop striving to reach me. Don’t you know I am here with you? Let me reach you.”
Inwardly I said then, with a deep sigh, “All right, Lord … I know you’re right, and I trust you, even if I don’t see how I am blocking your way by trying to run after you.” As I said it, I saw myself as if from behind, standing in the entrance to a beautiful mansion. I stepped to the side and said to Him, “Once again I make this little act of surrender. Come in!”
And almost before I had said so there was a great light shining in through the open doors, and for a long time I rested with Him in peace.
Then before the end of my holy hour, the Lord showed me the beautiful marble floor covered over with the ugliest shag carpet you can imagine—and as if it weren’t ugly enough to begin with, it was all stained and covered in cigarette burns, and there were chunks of it ripped up and torn. And He said, “When in your vanity you imagine yourself to be good enough by your own efforts and merits, and not by my grace, it is like someone who lays down carpet over marble and congratulates themselves on the hard work they have done to improve the space … And it is marred further by your sins of vanity and pride, stains on what little beauty there was even in the carpet, which itself obscures the true beauty I have put in your heart.”