Pursue God: In the Dark Places of the Heart
“Christ says give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you.” C.S. Lewis
The therapist sits cross-legged, typing notes on his tiny computer. With probing questions, he delves into my emotional state with disquieting ease. In an immediate sense, I am here because I have turned to alcohol in an attempt to ease the pain of life. In a more existential sense, I am here because I am a Christian who no longer recognizes the abiding presence of God.
I unwind the story; recount the day that my youngest son, Titus, began vomiting. I tell of the weeks at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, how I prayed to a God that never seemed to show up. “Where was God?” I ask. “And really, where has he ever been? I’ve never seen God act as a healer of the sick, not really.”
The therapist asks me for more, and I expound, explaining that I was a severe asthmatic as a child. I tell him that my parents took me to a sharp-dressed faith healer who told me that with enough faith, all things were possible.
“Do you believe?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said with all of the faith of a child.
“Then in the name of Jesus, be healed.” He dabbed olive oil on his thumb, crossed my head as he proclaimed my healing. I was six. I am thirty-six now and still suffer from asthma.
“How much faith does it take for God to show up?” I ask. “No matter how much faith I conjure, God has refrained from healing me, and now, he’s withheld wholeness from my son.”
The therapist stops typing, looks up from his computer screen. “You’ve never seen God heal, and so you doubt his presence. There’s pain in that doubt, so you’ve turned to the bottle to numb your pain. Is that right?” The question hangs like a pallet of bricks suspended by a gossamer thread. To admit this means to be crushed by the weight of my disbelief. Breath quickening, tears welling, face flushing, I refuse to answer.
“Good,” he says. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
We speak of pursuing God in external terms. Pursue God at your workplace; live in such a way that the unbelievers cannot criticize your life. Pursue him at home; create spaces of family devotion and prayer. Pursue him in the marketplace; let your purchasing decisions reflect the values of God.
King David was a man of conspicuous pursuit. He wrote great psalms celebrating God’s goodness, and he publically danced before the Ark of the Covenant. He passed his heritage of faith down through his sons. And yet, despite the external appearance of his God-ward pursuit, his failure to follow God into the darkness of his heart led him astray, carried him headlong into adultery and murder.
In his famous Psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, David recognizes this failure of inner pursuit, and he cries out for the mercy of God. He writes, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (ESV). These words serve as a reminder: failure to follow God inwardly, failure to sit with him in the pain and darkness of the “secret heart,” can be the very thing that leads us to miss God altogether.
The therapist tells me it’s time to go into the darker places of my heart, to follow God into the pain and see whether God is there. “Let’s put God to the test,” he says, “see if he shows up in the pain; how does that make you feel?”
I am a house fire, skin burning, fingertips tingling. I say, “It makes me want a drink.”
“This is how you avoid the inner heart,” he says. “It’s how you numb the pain, how you keep God at arm’s length. But let’s practice sitting in the doubt and pain. Let’s practice following God into the darkest places. If you do, you’ll find a new depth to his presence.”
I close my eyes, sitting with God’s seeming failure to be a healer to me or my son. As the pain rises, I do not fight it. Instead, I pray in the words of David, “Teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” I pause and listen.
First, it comes like a whisper, and then, relief. “I will not leave you or forsake you,” I hear. Then, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. Do not be troubled.”
I recognize these as the words of Jesus, the holiest of promises. This is my first inkling of the abiding peace that the Spirit brings from an inner pursuit of God, from a yielding of the whole self. It’s not comfortable; in fact, it’s painful. But the truth in the Spirit is cool water to the house fire, and that is enough in the moment.
AUTHOR NOTE: Perhaps your external pursuit of God is in order; perhaps the world sees you as a devoted follower of Christ. But if, in an honest moment, you find yourself plagued by addiction, emotional disruption, or doubt, consider confiding in a trusted pastor, therapist, or counselor. Sometimes the full pursuit of God requires a nudge in the right direction.
What does it mean to pursue God in all aspects of life? How do we live in such a way that every area of our lives and every facet of ourselves is available to the pursuit of God? Are we living fragmented, viewing parts of our lives as sacred and other parts as secular? What would happen if we let the different parts of our lives exist together in an integrated life, pursuing God in every aspect of who we are at work, at home, and at church? Dictionary.com offers a few definitions of the word pursue, one of which includes the idea of following in order to overtake or capture, but who can capture God? Instead, let's consider an alternate definition that lifts up the idea of following close upon or going with. In this series, Pursue God, we'll consider how to go with God in every aspect of our lives—inviting him to integrate each part of our lives and to be Lord over all.