Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Tale of a Prodigal Heart

I thought I'd share a story of a very good friend of mine. This event occurred, and was written last year, and speaks of the deceptive allure of desire in contrast to what truly counts.

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This story is of a girl—one of the more reasonable people I knew. She sought God and loved him, just as he first sought and loved her. She trusted in his will and wanted to please him above all else. But despite her fervor, she was undeniably human, and inevitably prone to failure. She rushed into something she shouldn't have—something that was designed to be treasured, savored, undertaken with caution, and most importantly, prayed through. Silly girl tried doing things her own way, and learned a valuable lesson from it.

During a time in her life where everything appeared as mere dust, she caught a glimpse of something that glistened with radiance like nothing she'd ever beheld. Immediately, she believed that this was what she had been searching for all along, and was absolutely positive it was meant for her—how could it possibly not be? She had been captivated from the moment she laid eyes on it, and it was now a mere stone's throw away. Little did she know, not all that glitters is gold.

Forgive me, that (extremely overused) cliché wasn't necessarily applicable in this situation. What she had stumbled upon was most definitely gold—pure, genuine gold—but maybe not quite what she needed at the moment. Or maybe it was treasure intended for another's hands. But in the meanwhile, with the gold she had managed to snatch, she was able to purchase some objects she had needed. Like the precise emotion she had to replicate for work, or the encouragement she didn't realize she so desperately needed to hear, or the boost of strength to finish something she had almost given up on, or some new writings, or the motivation to delve into a new language.

Although contented with her new acquisitions, she gradually began to recognize her ignorance in taking what she thought was hers without consulting its owner. At this, she began to pray.
"God, this is all getting so confusing. If this is distracting me from you, as much as I'm enjoying it, please take it away from me. Please."
This became her prayer night after night. In a sense, she was quite proud of herself for requesting something so noble. But when push came to shove, she realized that this prayer was much easier to ask for than to actually desire. After all, things are always easier said than done.

The first word came, plain and simple:
"Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts." (1 John 5:21, NLT)

Then it hit her.
"Lord, if he's taking your place in my heart, please take him away."
Great! Great, prayer. Finally, she saw where her ignorance was taking her… And then came the next bit.
"But if not (which I don't think he is anyway, because nobody could ever replace you in my heart!) then you can let these feelings stay. No problem. By the way, thank you for letting me meet him! He's so sweet! And absolutely everything I could ever ask for in a guy on top of that. And oh, his heart reminds me of yours…"

But God saw her heart's true motives even before she could see them herself—He saw what she had tried so hard to mask over and deny. She had received fair warning, yet still asked if it was possible that she have her way. Just a little bit more. He saw her stubbornness and yearning to fulfill her own desires under her guise of obedience. Now, although she needed a lesson (quite badly at that), God in his infinite wisdom knew that it was terrible timing for one. His kind, merciful nature will never permit him to give you more than you can take, and at that moment, there was only so much more her young faith was prepared to carry. Her heart belonged to the One who gave her life, but before she knew it, she was slowly letting something in that had the potential to dethrone him, given the circumstances and her frailty. And that's when the rubber hit the road.

She grew distracted. She let this man in a bit more every day, and thought about him just a little more with each passing hour. This continued on to the point where his presence caused her to lose her grip on everything, including her own self; his face caused her to forego focusing on what should have been of first importance—including God himself. She had to take physical measures to keep her spirit in step. But her feelings increased, as did the need for her precautions, until she needed another word. She begged for one in her state of seemingly irreparable perplexity. Stubborn little girl and all her self-inflicted confusion.

Well, God in his invariable faithfulness sent another one:
"Treat younger men as brothers ... with absolute purity." (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

At this, she finally opened her naïve eyes to the possibility that she might just really, really like him, and resolved to pray for grace every time she spoke to him, that she may treat him in absolute purity, without subtly disclosing the feelings that overwhelmed her. But because she insisted on treading as close to the boundary line as she could without falling off, rather than taking heed and fleeing immediately, Somebody had to step in. Apparently, she was just about to receive an advanced warning.

Lo and behold, her feelings grew even stronger than they already had been before, and the man seemed to be reciprocating. Although she knew she should have stayed far away, especially in light of the prior warnings, like the infant that thought the socket too interesting to avoid, with dripping wet hands, she thrust her fingers where she knew she shouldn't have. Although Daddy warned her not to, she really, really wanted to! She liked the idea too much—the socket was too appealing.

And on the last day, she received this:
"Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are upon her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is none to comfort her…
This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit." (Lamentations 1:2, 16)

Just as the director called "Cut," so did he.

She wanted to see how much fire she could play with before she got burned, how much she could get away with unscathed. Little girl ignored wise counsel, and burned did she emerge indeed; she sought comfort in something that didn't have the capacity to satisfy like the Lover of her soul could. Because she did not utilize the wisdom he had so blatantly presented her with, and foolishly decided to "follow her heart," she was caught red-handed, blindsided, and oblivious all at once. She fell into the pit she had dug for herself, and no existing words were capable of conveying the extremity of the pain her heart succumbed to.

But now she knows better. She knows better than to follow her heart at the expense of sound advice and slight discomfort. She knows better than to neglect the one she loves the most, who's always loved her the most. She knows better than to desire anything apart from what He wants for her life—He who created her, redeemed her, is her constant guide, loves her despite all her wrongs, comforts her, counsels her, gives her peace, joy, strength, grace, sustenance, satisfaction, and purpose. He gave her his all, she must give him her all.

She learned that trusting him is so important, as he alone knows her inside and out; he knows the beginning from the end. His vantage point is so much higher than hers. She can only see as far as her limitations permit; he sees the entire panorama. His ways are highest. What he tells one to do (or not to do), one must do. She learned to trust his better judgement, that he has the best in mind for her, and to obey when he commands; to give up everything and do it; to give up her own desires and trust his, because he would never desire anything that would cause her harm. Trust. Simply trust.

Ultimately, of all the things she acquired from her gold, the most important was the stepping stone that led to an entirely new level of faith. God used her stupid decisions and greediness for "gold" as a means of strengthening her faith and teaching her a valuable lesson.

God > everything. Everything.