Why Life's Greatest Challenges
Make Our Hearts Wise and Beautiful
Eyes squeezed shut, her body swayed and twirled as her arms reached boldly to something in the distance. A few other children dotted the alphabet carpet that had transformed to a dance floor. They danced to the upbeat worship music that piped through the speakers, following along with the choreographed kids lip-syncing on the screen. But, next to her, they moved with more self awareness and restraint, their bodies a bit clumsy with self consciousness. A group of girls clustered by the door, giggling and whispering as they waited for parents to sign the magic paper that released them to catapult themselves onto the play structure and swing across the monkey bars.
I was there to pick up my almost six-year-old from Sunday school. She’s normally part of the cacophony of girls positioned near the exit, waiting for her own release to race the playground. But today, Bree didn’t notice my arrival. I lingered in the back of the room, not wanting to interrupt. My daughter was swept up in the worship music. She didn’t follow the dancing troop of kids on the screen, or even notice them And while I stood six feet from her dancing form, she was in her own moment of abandoned worship to an audience of one.
Her untethered devotion makes me think about Mary who gave herself lavishly to Jesus. Paying no mind to social expectations, she was fully present in vulnerable adoration. She pours out all her earthly savings upon Jesus' head. She unravels her own hair, and cleans his feet with her most private and prized covering. Her movements are fluid, unaware of the blur of disapproving looks, the dissenting murmurs buzz around her like cicadas. Maybe Mary’s eyes were squeezed shut too, or blinded by tears. Or maybe they were locked on Jesus. Mary was in her own moment of abandoned worship to an audience of one.
In our contemporary Christian culture we often look at our church activity to measure our rightness with God. In a life group? Check. Went to church? Check. Completed volunteer work? Check, check, check.
But right now my book club is reading Unseen by Sara Haggerty. Her message reminds me of the sacred work God does in our hearts as we hide ourselves in Him.
“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” Psalm 51:6
My daughter’s childlike abandon was so refreshing because she wasn’t performing. She wasn’t thinking about how to impress, get ahead, or even capture attention. In that moment, she was pouring out her heart to God like a fragrant offering. Not following a religious checklist, measuring the impact, not considering the outcome, just fully present and devoted to God, hidden in His love.
My husband, Nathan, is wrestling with hiddenness as his role at work transitions from outreach and missions to prayer and care ministry. It’s a hidden work that happens on its own timetable that doesn’t arrange around family events or planned days off. He’s kind enough to ask me, “Can I go and pray with Alma? They’re not sure how much time she has left,” when the only answer is, “yes, hurry.” In this humbling transition from being in front of a congregation to being in hospital rooms and on family room couches, he is encountering God in a painfully real and intimate way. He’s pouring out his time and love into hurting hearts, praying over diseases whose pain he can’t ease, facing loss that his presence cannot lessen. Fully present, broken, poured out as he sees the gaping human need and can do nothing but look up and fix eyes with Jesus and beg for Him to come and meet them there. No longer trying to infuse Jesus’ loves in the bright community events with bold signs and a big turn-out, he’s encountering God in the fragile corners and frayed edges of life’s broken realities. But daily, he comes home spent, and yet buoyed by another story of encountering God in a sacred and unexpected way.
Lately my life has felt a bit like a rollercoaster. Surprise pregnancy, the long wait for potential book contract, calls from two different churches, all meaning that our future has one guarantee, uncertainty. Rather than finding peace and security in knowing where I’ll live or what I’ll be doing in six months, I’m forced to reach boldly to God in the face of an unknown future. I can’t reach for answers, although I’ve tried. I can’t reach for certainty, for security, for clarity, but I can be fully present with God, reaching to him for more faith, more hope, and peace, for today, for just this moment, as I’m swept up in awe of all that he is doing in my life that feels like beautiful chaos, but I’m certain that it is his divine plan.
Six weeks ago, the two pink lines showed up with undeniable certainty, as shock and fear flooded my heart. It was too much. I cried, and analyzed, my brain ticking through all the new realities ahead. I crawled into bed, spent and exhausted. But I felt the Spirit nudge me to pray. I said to God, “Father I’m too overwhelmed to know what to pray. Can I just rest here in you now?” Peace swept over me.
In every circumstance of life, in each event and passing second, I’m learning that God ultimately desires my heart. It means that in the pain, and uncertainty, fear, and loss, in the mundane and in the excitement and shock, I can hide myself in Him—in His peace, security, certainty—in his devoted love and adoration for me. Sometimes my life will be what I hope for on the outside, sometimes God brings about greater blessing as he surprises me with his own plans. But I’m learning that God doesn’t see success in the way I see it. God is pleased with us when we have poured out everything, when others question us, when our lives seem like a beautiful waste, as we look to Him alone and become wise through devotion—our hearts becoming a beautiful, fragrant sacrifice—living for an audience of one.