Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there is any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
-David, Psalm 139:23-24
When I was a kid on trips to the beach, there was always one big goal while playing in the sand just out of reach of the waves. The mission, and we always chose to accept it, was this: create a fabulous ocean view hot tub to soak in. Now granted, the tub would not be hot. It would be quite cold, full of murky, foamy water with lots of little floaties in it. And rather than a tub, the sand walls would constantly cave in and mix with the water. The result was tiny little sand particles jammed in every crevice of the human body, with no real hope of a pearl ever emerging as a result. Honestly, it was pretty gross, but we didn’t care.
The real key to this project was the digging down. We started in the dry sand and we dug as deep as we possibly could until we hit water and couldn’t dig any more. If we didn’t dig deep enough, the hot tub would just keep draining out. The deeper we dug, the more likely we could actually keep water in it and even fill it up. And that was hard work.
The hard work always lies with digging deep.
American author Ann Dillard writes about the necessity of “riding the monsters of our violence and terror” deep into the depths of our souls. When we do, we eventually break through them and find something good. Essentially, we find water and we can start to fill up. I think she’s pointing to the deep internal longing for God’s grace, whether or not she has that language for it.
If we do not go inward and downward, then the darkness within us will always be projected onto those around us. It's fascinating that in Psalm 139, David is proclaiming God’s love and constancy, but he gets distracted by those who cause him stress, and his prayer becomes full of hatred and revenge. He cries out to God to kill the wicked, and states his absolute hatred for them.
But then he pauses, as it seems the Spirit nudges him. And he immediately turns inward, because he senses that his righteous anger is quickly overtaking him... Search my heart, God. See what’s deep within. Where there is ugliness, lead me out toward the way you’ve designed.
What an amazing prayer.
The inward journey is uncomfortable and scary. Inviting God to dig deeply into our lives means that some walls will start to cave in. We will come face to face with our weakness and insecurities. It’s easier to remain on the surface.
The insightful Christian leader Parker Palmer, in Let Your Life Speak, writes about the challenge of inviting God to dig deep within.
“Why would anybody want to take a journey of that sort, with its multiple difficulties and dangers? Everything in us cries out against it— which is why we externalize everything. It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls. We like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a cakewalk compared to our inner lives!”
Preach it, Parker.
There is truly no way to hide from the inward life. It will eventually catch up with us, so it’s better if we get into it and move through it. Jesus says that unless we die we won’t find life. It’s only in facing our shadows of false identity, fear, self-reliance, and competition that we can move through them to the other side of value, love, trust, and humility that Jesus provides. That’s the sort of place I want to sit and soak in.
We’ve moved away from the contemplative life. Let's move back toward it. Sit in silence with Jesus a bit this week. Invite a holy inspection of your shadows, but delight in the reality that you are dearly loved through all of it. Be unafraid to invite a friend or family member to walk with you in the inward journey. And in it all, ask Jesus to lead you in the everlasting way. It’s worth the effort.
Jesus, draw me deeper.