Sunday afternoon, I had come home from church after spending several hours there singing, listening, praying, taking notes, flipping through the pages of my Bible, fellowshipping and attending a lunch meeting. I plopped onto my bed and surveyed my bedspread. Sundays usually find my bed in disarray because I clean primarily on Mondays. A pile of clean laundry perched on one corner, a stack of books where my second pillow should be. I’ve spent too many years sharing a full-sized mattress to ever learn to sleep in the middle, so the other side of my bed always seems to turn into extra storage during the week.
I glanced around at the books that had been left there. The Eleanor Estes book I’m reading aloud to Jubilee, a book on illustrating children’s books, The Christian Writer’s Market Guide from 2011 (which is, as I suspected, quite useless now) and my Bible. I remembered how my class that morning had inspired me to read scripture to myself more often. I’m taking a class on The Creation Issue and our teacher referenced some scriptures I had certainly never considered, much less meditated on. I also remembered how I’d had trouble coming up with a prayer request during our small group time. Was it that there were too many to choose from or that I hadn’t thought much about prayer at all recently?
I should really stop and pray right now. I thought. Not only did I feel that I should, but I knew it would be beneficial to me. I was just about to stop and grab a pen and open my journal to write out a prayer when I remembered something I needed to do on my computer. It was terribly important that I check my Elance account just then. While I was doing that, I remembered that someone had sent me a message on Facebook I had never responded to. I opened up Facebook on another tab and quickly responded to the note. Wow—how did I already get this many notifications? I proceeded to click on each one and “like” or comment accordingly.
I was suddenly feeling very inspired to chime in on an interesting thread I saw going about writing. I put in my two cents with prolific ease. What was it I was going to blog about? I perused my search history to try to remember. Ah yes! My reading challenge. I wanted to pick up the pace now that June was upon me. I reached for the book on illustration.
Wait a second, wasn’t there something I was going to do?
Now, I don’t know a lot about spiritual warfare other than it exists. I don’t have a theological argument for how The Enemy works or what tools he uses. What I do know is that I suddenly come up with lots of “good” things to do right as I’m about to do the only really vital thing I can do: communicate with The Creator.
In C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, a demonic character writes:
Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…
In my experience, Satan does not ever, ever tell me what he’s up to or where I’m headed. When I’m tempted, it comes in the form of half-truths and justifications. I am most often drawn away from God by being distracted with “good.” A good thing to do, a good place to go, a good thought to entertain, a good movie to plop down in front of. It is a very safe road to hell indeed to continually find more and more good things to distract you from the only source of Good we’ve ever known.
At another point in the book, the demon remarks:
It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.
Our hearts are already full of sin and impurity. You don’t have to teach a baby to scream or hit or be possessive or show favoritism. It’s our nature! What is against our nature is to go back to the way we were in The Garden of Eden before the serpent slithered onto the scene. To go back to those thought patterns and actions and culture is to swim upstream. We have to consciously open our spiritual eyes and see God all around us. This sometimes feels like opening one’s eyes underwater, unnatural and highly intimidating. Eyes are so vulnerable, we’d sometimes rather be blind than expose them to the truth.
We have to consciously shut out the impure thoughts and ask God to take them far away. We have to consciously take in the Bible, God’s letter to us, and “hide it” in our hearts. Much of the Bible is unpleasant, confusing, demanding, even gory and erotic. I’m not sure what sort of person, not seeing the living value of it, would choose to read it over and over again as Christians do.
We have to pray in private, knowing that God is always with us, and daily open our eyes under the sea, come sand come salt, and allow God to show us new things. We have to silence our sinful thoughts which want to walk us gently and comfortable into Hell or, in the case of a Christian, into a dormant state of no production or communication, and forcibly open the door for The Holy Spirit. A strange new visitor who does everything backward. Instead of retaliation, submission. Instead of gain, loss. Instead of taking, giving. Instead of hate, love.
Instead of life and then death, death and then life! You have to retrain your mind to see things backwards and upside down, but when you do, you’ll see things clearer than ever. You’ll realize that the first time you were born, you were born upside down and you’ve been walking around upside down ever since. The real life, the real reality, is the other way around and you must allow yourself to be righted before you can walk that life.
When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. –The Screwtape Letters
You know that you should not sin, but do you know that you should not give, should not go to church, should not smile at a passerby, should not evangelize, should not read Christian literature, should not do a good deed until you have realized that all of that is but clanging symbols without a connection to and a relationship with the source of all that is good? Put down your book, blog, conversation. Put down your list, your calling even. Put it all down and pick up your eyes. Look up to Zion and ask yourself, am I trudging uphill toward a glorious peak, or slowly and comfortable sliding down the gentle slope?