To the Hearts in Hiding

Dear invested performer,

How’s your heart doing?

And why does that question scare the mess out of everyone?

It’s not just you, ya know. Everyone gets nervous to some degree when it comes to the heart. But have you ever thought about why? Why so much pressure about keeping it safe from those who would harm it? Why so much emphasis on protecting it from damage and noticing the passions within it? Why does no one worry about my kidneys with the same urgency?

The truth is, nothing else so clearly reflects who we really are like our hearts. What brings us pure bliss and what frustrates us to the core can be found there. Whatever we treasure there will be what motivates our actions and decides what our intentions are in every act and every word that comes from us. Our hearts are where we feel the heaviest emotions and carry the deepest pain. That’s the most passionate part of us and where we find our uniqueness. Someone can use your physical kidney if they needed a transplant, but your figurative heart only makes sense if it’s inside of you. So yeah, in a world where the most important thing in life is to find out who you are and live out your purpose, I’d say taking care of the source of everything that makes you you would be quite high on the priority list. So if our hearts are obviously of immense significance to us and to living life well, then why want to hide them so badly? Why are we often so closed off about them and so unwilling to be honest about all the treasures we hold within them?

Because truly the most important part of our hearts is that whatever we deem most important inside them is ultimately what we value most; in other words, what we worship. Worship doesn’t mean creepy humming and wearing a dark cloak and bowing to a statue. Worshipping something/someone is putting value on it/them. It’s saying that is the most important thing in your life and your heart loves it more than anything else. And if what you value more than anything else does not belong in that position, you can feel it. It feels like guilt, and it feels like shame, and it feels like it needs to be hidden from anything and anyone who might bring it out into the open.

And that makes perfect sense, you know. You’re not crazy. You’re not the only one. Not even close. You’re not a fake Christian for loving Jesus but having other things taking up too much space in your heart. But you definitely won’t be a very impactful one until you clean it all out. I understand the instinct is to hide your heart problems and just keep on living right on the outside, but it’s truly for nothing if your heart isn’t right.

But can I just ask why are there other things taking up space in that precious heart of yours? How did those things get so high up on the priority list in the first place? How can that happen when your mind knows very well that the rightful owner of the highest position in your heart belongs to God?

I think that’s exactly it. You know in your mind, but that isn’t enough. It has to go deeper than that to effect your desires and your passions. It doesn’t effect who you are if it never reaches your heart. You can know in your mind that God says you should keep your body pure until marriage, but have no motivation in your heart to obey Him. You can learn in church service that God says to honor your mother and father, but have no passion from your heart to fuel that motivation you need to actually do it. And really that motivation will never come if you continue keeping the Lord at arms length.

It’s so easy to learn in our minds how to be a Christian, but never let our hearts truly experience live-giving change. It’s obvious that our hearts are fragile, and valuable, and worth protecting, but if you’re anything like me, then you might reach the place of holding onto your heart too strongly. Of gripping it so tightly, keeping it so safe from damage, that nothing truly beautiful can reach it, either. The fear of letting in pain is keeping you from letting in love. You can’t stand the thought of opening yourself up to change, or worse, to honesty about what you really worship.

And I truly believe that’s innate. That we naturally are concerned about what happens to our heart because a power bigger than ourselves has placed that sense of importance inside of us on purpose. This power is God, and as the Creator of the Universe, He can absolutely be trusted to know what’s important and what’s not. And I think that part is acceptable to most of us. We can agree that God gave you your heart and has even impressed upon you how precious it is. But when it comes to trusting Him with that heart, everything gets messy and stressful and terrifying and enormously resistant. And that makes sense, too, given how important we know that it is. Especially if you don’t know Him very well, of course trusting your most prized possession with a stranger would be frightening to say the least.

But what about those of us who do? What about the ones who say we know God and have allowed Him to come into our heart, but still don’t want to trust Him with it? I think this is where our acting careers take off. To whoever realized that it’s “easier” to just learn the role of a Christian and make sure we look the part on the outside, you’re the worst. Because now so many of us have been doing this, and for so long, too, that we can barely even tell we’re acting anymore. We’ve gotten so caught up in making sure we look like we’re doing all the right things, that we don’t even know why we should be doing the right things in the first place. And when you don’t have a good reason to be doing something, naturally, it’s extremely difficult to keep doing it.

So we fail. And we’re guilty. We’re not sure why, but we are. So we do some more good things to make ourselves feel better. Because we guess that’s what everyone seems to do. But it doesn’t work. And we fail again. And we see those around us who are so godly and never seem to fail and we feel even worse. And now we don’t fit in with them anymore. And now it’s more comfortable to fail. Because there’s no pressure to measure up in sin. Sin doesn’t require you to be good enough, but rules and commandments do. But you’ve already learned all the right things from church and developed this image of being a good Christian and you don’t want to lose that positive attention, so even though you think the rules are stupid and pointless and not at all what you want to be doing, you try your hardest to at least make it look like you’re good at living the Christian life.

But how’s your heart doing?

And why does that question scare you more now than before?

I think a major reason for the guilt in the invested performer’s “Christian” life is because you can feel that God is worthy to be obeyed, but you don’t understand or agree with His commandments. First, I think it’s really important to realize that God’s commandments are in place because He loves us enough to give us direction and guidance in this crazy life. He created everything; all of it. He’s the designer of the game, and so naturally He is the One we would look to for instructions on how to play it properly. The best possible outcome will come from following the directions of the One who invented it all in the first place. It just makes sense.  We all want guidance and direction in life so badly, and He gives it directly in His word. And it isn’t from a need for power or authority over us, it’s out of love. The more you get to know your Creator, the more you see that everything about Him stems from His insane and uncontainable love. Everyone sees the word “obey” and immediately is turned off because their pride tells them the idea of surrendering to someone else’s idea for your life is absolutely ridiculous. But your pride also tells you that you’re the author of your own life and your way is the best way of living, but we already agreed on who holds that position in this universe… And if it makes so much sense for God to hold that position in the universe then does it not make perfect sense for Him to hold that same position in your own personal universe? Is it not the perfect example of where the Lord belongs in your heart?

To not love any other god before God is not the most important commandment just because God wants our love. Of course He does, but He also loves us enough to warn us. He drew the whole map, He knows where all the pits and valleys are. He knows that when we let something else take His place as the first position in our heart, we’re looking to the wrong thing for direction. We’re letting the wrong thing lead us. The wrong thing is motivating our actions and being reflected in our words. And when we allow for something besides the Lord to be first in our hearts, He knows it leads to sin. Sin is going against God’s commands, and it breaks His heart. He’s heartbroken not because He isn’t being obeyed as the all-powerful supreme being, but because He knows it leads us down the wrong path in life; the path that gets further and further from Him with each step. He knows that sin is the thing that will bring the exact destruction and pain and damage to our hearts that we’re so afraid of. But His love for you outweighs the risk of His heartbreak, so He chases after you anyway. He goes out of His way to direct you and help you anyway. Don’t you see? God hasn’t burdened your life with commandments to ruin all your fun that you better keep or you’re in big trouble. No! He has gifted us with help in this life; with guidance on how to walk in the true joy and peace that our hearts long for.

So to the ones who are invested in their Christian performance, who are working hard to hide their hearts, who are holding God at arm’s length, I need you to stop where you are, and

e   x   h   a   l   e.  

Whether you’re hiding your heart out of fear of it being broken, or out of feelings that tell you you’re not worthy of being loved for who you truly are, or out of shame from what you’ve allowed into your heart that doesn’t belong there, let me just speak to that carefully and uniquely knitted together heart of yours: God is safe to be trusted with your whole heart. 

Invested actor, I need to be honest with you. You’ve been reapplying your stage makeup so much that it’s starting to irritate your skin; you’ve been going through so many costume changes that your clothes are starting to rip; if you keep running lines over and over like this, you’re going to lose your voice. Whatever reason you have for wanting to fake it until you make it isn’t good enough. Your heart is desperate for something deep and life-giving and you know it. No amount of good things you do can mask that emptiness. Maybe the people around you are fooled, but God sees you. He doesn’t care about the other stuff like He cares about your heart. All those reasons you have to value your heart and protect it so much? Yeah, God has them too. You think you have reason to keep your heart from harm? Imagine how much more invested is the One who took the careful time and energy to create it with such purpose. He is the expert in taking proper care of it.

Yes, I know you have your reasons for keeping your heart hidden, but can I just tell you that God sees it anyway? You might not acknowledge what’s inside it, but the Lord does. He sees past everything and looks right at your heart, every time, always. He sees you when no one else does. He knows what’s truly going on with you, but never rejects you. Can we let that sink in? He literally knows who you truly are, even the parts you’re ashamed of and don’t talk about. He fully knows you – all the good and all the bad – and STILL loves you. You can never stray too far from His reach. You can never offend Him so much that He’ll never talk to you again. You can never hurt His feelings enough to stop Him from forgiving you. You can never insult His creativity enough to make Him stop gifting you with purpose. He’s in relentless pursuit of you. Not the hard, shiny plastic surface of you that you show to everyone else, but the real you. Your core – what drives all your thoughts – the source of your actions – the reason behind your words – where everything you do flows from. That. Is what the Author of Life is concerned with. The inner depths of YOU.

Whatever false hope you’ve been clinging to is not enough and you can feel it. The godly people around you are not enough to fill you. You are always responsible for your own relationship with God. You are always as close and as honest and as passionately pursuing Him as you want to be. Because that’s the other part of this – God knows exactly how to live the best possible life, but he NEVER forces you to listen to Him. He loves you too much to not let you choose. But you better believe that while you’re going back and forth debating whether you want to fully trust Him and be honest about your messy heart or not, He is on the other side relentlessly chasing after you without a single doubt that you’re worth it every moment of every day; constantly drawing you to Himself; putting in the careful detailed work required to capture your mind and heart, because He is that crazy, madly, deeply, truly, unconditionally in love with you. All of you. The entire you. The raw you.

There’s no other love like that. It’s the exact love your heart is desperate for. That kind of love deserves the #1 spot in your heart. It deserves its very own, personal, devoted, and honest relationship. Won’t you let Him in closer?

Today, I’m not just praying for you, but I’m accepting and believing the Truth with you.

Lord, thank you for seeing me and loving me anyway.  My heart is Yours. 

Love,

The Clay


Scripture:

  • Psalm 33:15
  • Luke 12:6-7
  • Psalm 32:8
  • Exodus 20:3-6
  • Psalm 27:8
  • Psalm 37:4
  • Psalm 73:22-26
  • Psalm 139:1
  • Psalm 139:13-14
  • Proverbs 4:23
  • Matthew 22:36-38

Songs:

  • “King of My Heart” – Bethel Music
  • “Out of Hiding” – Steffany Gretzinger
  • “How Beautiful” – Mosaic MSC
  • “You Know Me” – Steffany Gretzinger – Bethel Music
  • “Here’s My Heart” – Lauren Daigle
  • “We Dance” – Steffany Gretzinger – Bethel Music
  • “Like Incense/Sometimes By Step” – Hillsong Worship
  • “Have It All” – Brian Johnson – Bethel Music
  • “Heart Abandoned” – Kristian Stanfill – Passion
  • “I Love You Lord/Passion – Acoustic/Medley” – Hillsong Young & Free
  • “Nothing Without You” – Will Reagan – United Pursuit
  • “Running to You” – Mosaic MSC

Actual Rest for the Seriously Weary

Dear exhausted soldier,

I’m sitting in the first floor of the LSU Student Union alone on a long bench against the wall and I feel Him.

I’ve got my headphones in and “Passion” by Hillsong Young & Free is filling my ears and taking over my thoughts, tuning out the jumbled murmur of the many different voices all around me.

I’m trying not to spill my now cold coffee I’m holding in my lap while I attempt to make yet another list (I have a thing about making lists of things), and I just can’t focus.

I can’t remember what I was about to put on my list; I can’t remember who I was about to text; I can’t think about anything except how strongly I can feel the presence of the Lord with me right in this moment.

I suddenly can’t hear the many voices talking about eating Chickfila for the seventeenth time this week or about the lab that they’re thinking about skipping this afternoon; I can’t hear my own voice trying to plan out the rest of my day or struggling to put my thoughts into an organized list; there’s only one voice that has seemed to capture all of my attention, and it isn’t even a tangible one.

I’m not even sure how to explain it other than it’s just this overwhelming sense of peace and love that is absolutely undeniable. From my head to my toes I feel so comforted right now. And I have no doubt that it’s my Heavenly Father reminding me of how close He is, of how He sees me, of how He has me in His arms at all times, because well there simply is nothing else in all of this world that will ever reassure me of any of these things except the Potter Himself.

You know, that is so important yet so easy for me to forget. Literally so many things every single day captivate my attention and speak into my life. Some things take my attention by force and speak rather harshly, others I invite in willingly and maybe end up listening a little too closely. Either way nothing comes close to listening to your very own Creator. It is such a special and essential thing to take time to shut out all other voices and solely tune in to God’s presence. Depending on how your day or even your week is going, putting in your “headphones” so all you can focus on is how good your Father is can seriously be your lifeline. It can make the difference of whether you will find the courage and strength to fight back against all the lies you’ve been hearing from the enemy lately or laying down and taking more hits. It can determine how you will react in about an hour or so when they completely forget your order at Starbucks for no good reason. And it will absolutely make a difference in how in the world you will possibly get through that thing that is weighing down so heavily on your heart right now that you instantly are thinking of as I bring it up.

I’m not going to just lie and say that spending time alone with God -maybe meditating on some bible verses that have stood out to you or listening to worship songs that really minister to your heart- will instantly make what you’re dealing with go away. (Honestly, depending on what it is, it very well could, though.) But it definitely will energize your soul to keep going. I mean let’s be honest with each other: fighting for peace in your heart, for joy, for security, your sanity, is all super hard and exhausting -I don’t care how hard you may try to convince everyone otherwise. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Soldiers get worn out and need rest and food to refuel and get back to battle. They don’t take the realization that they are feeling weak as a sign that they just aren’t cut out for this whole “soldier” thing and should probably just give up. They acknowledge that their strength is finite, that their stamina does run out, that they cannot do this on their own.

Fellow solider, you are not the only one struggling to keep fighting and you are not forgotten by your Creator. You are allowed and actually need to admit that you are tired; that no matter how much you’ve worked out, this is still too heavy for you to carry; that no matter how much sleep you’ve been able to get lately, the bags under your eyes are starting to affect your vision; that even though you’ve been eating your healthiest lately, you still barely have the energy to get through the day. You’re not a disgrace in the Kingdom of God for not being able to handle things on your own. It’s actually one of our key family values to acknowledge how badly we need our Savior.

I know sometimes it can make you feel guilty or embarrassed to be a Christian and just feel so inadequate and weak over issues that you think other Christians probably don’t even see as a big deal. But when reminded that healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do, does that start to eliminate some of the guilt? And when reminded that the Lord’s ways and understanding far surpass our own, does that start to contradict your reason for embarrassment? There’s no need to feel guilty about reaching super weak points in life, and there’s no good reason to feel embarrassed about not having all the answers or not being able to figure things out on your own, even if you’ve been saved for years.

I say all this to hopefully help you realize what the Lord had me realize today, which is that battles can be long and tiring and there comes a point where you just need to go back to base and recharge. This isn’t a shameful retreat in a surrendering-to-the-enemy kind of way because you’re just to weak to handle the fight; this is simply because you’re a good soldier, you recognize when you’ve run out of supplies and for your own health and safety and success in battle, you need to return to base to refocus on the battle-plan, refuel, and look for further instructions from your Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And through this precious meeting time with the One who knows your past, present, and future you will have undeniable peace begin to flood your mind, love heavier than any of the weight you’ve been carrying through this fight poured out onto your entire being, and much needed rest for your soul. Spending time in the presence of the Lord truly realigns your focus on the situation and restores your strength to get back to the battlegrounds. But take heart, because He’s going out right on side of you, not sending you out on your own; He never did in the first place.

For me today, my time in God’s presence has shown me that it doesn’t matter where you are physically or emotionally to spend time with Him and hear from Him. He didn’t require me to be in an intimate church service and He didn’t ask that I dust myself off and toughen up first. My time in His presence today also has tuned me into hearing that my current situation is not some catastrophic event, but an important time of growth that He and I can handle together, and that He can make way for me to come out more mature and refined on the other side. And it’s now, for the first time in about a week, that I feel strong enough to handle this, and it’s only because my strength has officially run out and the Lord’s strength is all I have to rely on. I have confidence in His power, and we are ready to get back to the battlegrounds, together.

For you today, I pray that you take some time to put your “headphones” in, listen to the  only Voice that matters, and see what happens. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The most empowering moments of your life will come from surrendering everything you have and solely relying on the strength of God. Surrender and trust – that’s what it’s all about.

Love,

The Clay


Scriptures that influenced this letter that you should absolutely check out:

  • Psalm 73:22-26
  • Jeremiah 31:25
  • Matthew 11:28-30
  • Matthew 9:12-13
  • John 16:33
  • Genesis 16:13
  • John 16:32
  • Joshua 1:9
  • Exodus 33:14
  • Isaiah 12:2
  • Psalm 89:8
  • Psalm 91:1

A few songs that correspond with the heart of this letter:

  • “Passion” – Hillsong Young & Free
  • “Pursue / All I Need Is You” – Hillsong Worship, Hillsong Young & Free
  • “Prince of Peace – Live” – Hillsong United
  • “Tremble” – Mosaic MSC
  • “God I Look to You” – Jenn Johnson, Bethel Music
  • “Shepherd” – Amanda Cook, Bethel Music
  • “Your Voice” – Kim Walker-Smith, Skyler Smith
  • “We Dance” – Steffany Gretzinger, Bethel Music
  • “When the Fight Calls” – Hillsong Young & Free
  • “Lion and the Lamb” – Leeland Mooring, Bethel Music
  • “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song) – Live ” – Hillsong United

The Beauty in the Process

Dear fragile jar of clay,

As I sit at my desk to start putting on the little bit of makeup that I actually know how to use, one of my favorite Spotify playlists shuffling on point as usual, I catch my reflection in my tiny desk mirror and am suddenly wildly confused. As far as the people closest to me and I are concerned, I am the furthest thing away from a morning person. So what’s with the excited expression on my face? I mean sure the coffee in my mug is really good (it did come from Costa Rica, after all) but it’s not that good. That’s when I started thinking: You know, I’m always happy to sit down and get ready in the morning. Sure, I hate having to wake up early. But I love when I get to jam to worship music and take my time drinking my coffee while I slowly become a more presentable version of myself. It does take many different steps that can be kind of tedious, but I don’t ever mind because I know that it’s all necessary to reach the result that I want. Now am I saying it isn’t annoying when I accidentally inhale powder, or that it doesn’t hurt like nobody’s business when my eyelash curler catches my eyelid four times in a row? I’m not even capable of telling such a lie. However, I still do all of it. I wipe the powder out of my nose and I put the curler to my lashes a fifth time, and even a sixth if necessary. It’s worth it to me because I always feel more beautiful and ready to take on the day afterwords. But it’s actually going through the motions that I have fun with. I take delight in actually seeing everything that it takes to get the result I’m going for. Having to put in effort and fixing many mistakes along the way makes me appreciative of the finished product. I enjoy the process.

This realization really meant nothing to me until what I believe was the Holy Spirit (because we all know that I’m not this good alone) put on my heart and in my thoughts that this is such an accurate picture of the way God feels about the process He does in us after salvation. My mom taught me a long time ago that makeup isn’t supposed to hide you like a mask, but is supposed to take attention away from your flaws and draw it towards the enhancement of your naturally beautiful features (and wow do I love her for that little wisdom nugget!). And you know, that’s what the Lord does for us. He is the Potter and we are the clay, and as He lessens our sinful desires and enhances our God-given passions and talents, we slowly feel less ashamed of who we are – of our own reflection – and more confident. Now this confidence isn’t in ourselves, but in the way that everything He is shines through us. I truly enjoy going through the steps in my routine to lessen the irritated redness in my blemishes and enhance the natural brown color in my rather large eyes, and then getting to see the finished product and feel pleased with the outcome – and so does our Father. He works in us because He loves us. Isn’t it amazing how He doesn’t stop caring about us once we’re saved? He could just push us aside after winning us because He has so many other lost souls to worry about. But He doesn’t do that. He cares deeply about them AND us still. He pursues us even after we’ve declared Him our Savior for years. He wants us to reach our full potential, our best version of ourselves, and carefully orchestrates our lives to accomplish just that. He molds and shapes us by transforming our hearts and through the renewing of our minds. All so that we may become more like Him and bring glory to His name. And He enjoys that process. He loves watching and helping us grow and change to become more beautiful, from the inside out. And if that means having to help you curl your lashes twelve times in a row until you finally understand that you aren’t supposed to blink when you have them in place, then He gladly does so. What’s so incredible is that God has the power to force you to be perfect, but He would never do that to you. He loves you so much that He is patient with you and wants you to learn and grow so that you can become stronger, more compassionate, and more grateful for all that He is for you. But He doesn’t need that – that’s for us, for our benefit. If that doesn’t leave you in complete awe, then you might not fully understand what I’m saying.

I realize that makeup is often associated with the exact opposite of this idea, but it really depends on the makeup artist. And ours is the Creator of the Universe who has no interest in slapping a thick mask over our face to hide who we are. No, He knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows the number of hairs on your head and has plans for you to prosper and have a future. He put specific desires and dreams in your heart that are uniquely shared between you and Him. His intention as the Potter is to constantly shape you, the clay, into new forms of yourself that are continuously becoming more and more effective for His Kingdom. He smooths out the rough areas and integrates the most exquisite designs and details that start on the surface but reach deep into the center of your being. This work that the Lord does in us takes a lifetime of closeness with Him, and that is exactly why He takes joy in it. You are the most valuable, one-of-a-kind piece of art that the Lord has ever Created. But unlike worldly artists, He could never let us be sold and displayed for someone else’s enjoyment. No, you – His most prized possession – you could only be bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God’s one and only son, and He was more than willing to pay the price. What’s beautiful is that this wasn’t the end. Jesus dying on the cross was not the end, it was the beginning. Your salvation is not the epitome of your relationship with God, it’s only the beginning. Giving your heart and life to Him starts the most insane adventure you could ever imagine, but you have to be willing to be stretched.

I think what’s important about understanding all of this is seeing that not only does God love you more than you can understand, but He also takes all of your flaws and blemishes and turns them into beauty marks with an important testimony to share. He teaches you from the times you get powder up your nose and He never lets any of the twenty-three times you pinched your eyelid in your eyelash curler be wasted. Because with God, all of the trials are actually growing pains, and every long and testing season is actually part of the process of making you more beautiful than you ever could have been on your own. So I hope, if anything, you’re encouraged and maybe challenged to see the trying times in your life in a new light. Most of all I pray that your heart is softened to the gentle touch of your Potter’s hands; that you aren’t determined to stay set in your ways, but are embracing the shaping and molding of the Lord to become the person He intended you to be – the best version of yourself – because well, why wouldn’t you want that?

Love,

The Clay


Scriptures that influenced this letter that you should absolutely check out:

  • Romans 12:2
  • Isaiah 64:8
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7
  • Genesis 16:13