I once read that every human being should be able to perform basic self-maintenance. The article was referring to physical maintenance (stretching, developing strength, foam rolling to alleviate pain, hygiene, etc.), but I believe the same is true about emotional and soul-level maintenance.
We live in a culture that is so fast-paced that we rarely have time for adequate silence, solitude, and self-reflection. However, it is absolutely essential that we learn the art of discovering and dealing with whatever resides within us. If we don’t, the results could be devastating to our lives.
There is a fascinating passage of scripture in the book of John where Jesus says, “…for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:30, NIV) Jesus says the devil is coming to examine Him and to sift Him to see what is in Him. In another passage, Jesus says to his followers, “The devil has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But, I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail.” (Luke 22:31, NIV)
The word “Satan” literally means, “the tempter.” Jesus is referring to evil, condemnation, and an unsettled soul and mind: the voice in your head that reminds you of the things you have done and the things that have been done to you that you can’t let go of; the things that have lodged themselves within you. The voice comes to you in the night or in the shower or on the way to work. It comes in the quiet moments where you can reflect, which is probably why we avoid those moments. Sometimes it doesn’t speak, it just sits like a weight in your gut. Pain, offense, words, actions, wrong doing or wrongs done. They lodge in the depths of our psyche and heart.
Jesus says the tempter is coming to sift me, but he has no hold over me. Other translations say, he has “no power over me” or “no claim over me” or he has “found nothing in me.” In other words, when that voice of condemnation came, there was literally nothing in Jesus to be found or reminded of- he had a clean heart, mind, and soul. It left him. He was free. He was whole.
We can live this kind of free life as well. Imagine if that nagging, reminding, condemning voice never came back because there was nothing to come for!
It starts with identifying what is already lodged in you and dealing with it. Unresolved pain, offense, and wrongs done can block your internal well and even poison it. They fester, and you ruminate on them- consciously or unconsciously- until it affects your health, outlook, and interactions with people.
It starts with processing your internal life to identify what is there in order to purge, reconcile, offer or ask for forgiveness, and unblock your well so that you can become whole.
What is in you? What do you need to deal with? Jesus speaks of two kinds of things that need to be forgiven: things you have done, and things done to you. In either case, he says you go and initiate a process of conversation, forgiveness and reconciliation.
What I have found is that many of us do not have the capacity or maturity to address things head-on with grace and have the difficult conversations that lead to wholeness, reconciliation, forgiveness, and internal freedom. Rather than moving toward maturity and wholeness, many times we avoid, anesthetize, bury, or even straight-up rage.
However, Jesus also says, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)
This verse is not saying that you have to earn the forgiveness of God, as in, you are only forgiven if you can execute forgiveness. It is not a statement of earning so much as it is a statement of being or embodiment. Forgiveness either is or it isn’t. Forgiveness either exists or it doesn’t. You either live in the forgiveness reality of Jesus or you don’t. There is not an option to take it for yourself and then to NOT offer it to others.
The New Testament theologian, N.T. Wright, says that it is like breathing. You can only breathe in so much and hold your breath so long without exhaling. If you attempt to breathe solely by inhaling you will pass out and potentially die. You must breathe in and then breathe out. This supplies your body with a tremendous amount of oxygen and energy so that you can function properly.
The same is true of forgiveness. You breathe it in and you breathe it out. If you choose not to breathe it out, that probably means you have either choked on it, or you never actually breathed forgiveness into your life in the first place. If you can’t forgive yourself, you will never be able to forgive others. Forgiveness is a way of being. It is an embodiment. It exists or it doesn’t.
It starts with unblocking your well to cleanse yourself and create a clean heart.
What is in you? What do you need to deal with?
Do you need to make a list and begin working down that list to let things go, dislodge them, and release them?
Do you need a counselor or friend or spouse to help you in the process? Do it! It is worth it.
I spent eight weeks last summer with a brilliant therapist helping me to identify and let go of things that had unknowingly lodged in my soul. It’s worth it.
After that initial cleansing, the next step is about learning the ongoing maintenance of living with a clean heart.
That means learning to identify and deal with pain and offense quickly so that it never has the chance to lodge itself in your heart in the first place and poison your internal well. Deal with each thing as it comes and never let it weigh you down. What kinds of rhythms can you create to constantly examine your internal self? What kind of space and relationships do you need in order to live this way?
Perhaps we need to learn the art of slowing down to process our own souls, so that we are able to operate at the full potential that God intended for us!
I have a list I’m working down. What is on yours? Who do you need to call or meet up with? What do you need to deal with?
It’s not easy, but a clean heart, reconciled life, and whole self is worth it.