Our little home sits on a fairly busy corner, surrounded by fences on all sides. The front yard is enclosed with a short white picket fence, the kind that has that small-town American feel. The side yard has several wooden gates giving it a quaint and somewhat secret English garden feel. And then our backyard has a fence which not only provides safety for the kids, but privacy from the neighbors. The kids’ elementary school sits about 100 yards away from the back of our house, so every morning and afternoon buses and frantic parents whiz by our little corner. It can feel busy and hurried, but our backyard has been a quiet and peaceful place, with a large space for the kids to run free. In addition to its privacy and size we loved that there was a wooded lot directly behind us. This tree-filled lot provided shade in the mornings and privacy from the school traffic.
This privacy also hindered our ability to grow a garden. Each spring we’ve planted a variety of seeds and plants, but every summer our crop has been minimal. There’s just not enough sunlight.
Last week I pulled back the curtain in my bedroom, as I do every morning, and saw a bulldozer already hard at work in the lot behind us clearing the small trees and brush. Within two days they had completely removed every bush, tree, and stump.
Sitting in the backyard felt strange all of a sudden. Do we need to clean up the toys back here? Can people see into our bedroom? That could be awkward. Will everyone know what we do all day now that they have full visibility to the backside of our home?
These were troubling and uncomfortable feelings. I had grown accustomed to the privacy and secrecy that our backyard offered. It felt safe and welcoming. I could correct my children without someone watching me. We could be silly and crazy with no thoughts of what people might think about us.
With nothing to keep our yard hidden, I felt exposed.
Now, if you had asked me two weeks ago if I felt secure because there was a tree-filled lot behind our home, I probably would have looked at you strangely and shook my head. The feelings of comfort and security were there but I didn’t realize it. It wasn’t until the privacy of the trees was gone that I realized what had been shaping my backyard experience. Clearing away the trees brought to light what was there.
This year I’ve been praying, studying and meditating on what it means to abide in Christ. I’m asking questions, evaluating my spiritual life, thinking through why I do, or don’t do, certain things, and trying to figure out how to live a life of moment-by-moment abiding that Jesus talks about. As I dig deeper into this, both biblically and practically, it’s as if the Lord is clearing away the brush in my soul and revealing what has been there all along. I just wasn’t seeing it for what it was.
In many ways it’s relatively easy for me to voice my struggles or areas of weakness. I do this with the Lord when I pray and ask for his help in a particular area saying, “Lord, please help me to use a gentle voice.” Or, I’ll share with friends saying something like, “I’m really struggling with raising my voice at my children. Would you pray for me to speak more gently?” And this is true. It is a struggle and I do feel weak.
But as the Lord pulls back the curtain around my soul, I’m finding that the issues that I’ve named struggle and weakness are sin. And I’m learning that I must name them as sin in order to expose them for what they are and deal with them accordingly.
This feels troubling and uncomfortable. It’s painful and stretching because it reveals who you are. You don’t want to be that person. You don’t want to be angry, jealous, bitter, a gossip, lazy, or gluttonous. You don’t want to admit that your life isn’t reflecting the God you say you love and serve. So instead of acknowledging the sin, you walk through life with a false sense of secrecy and privacy about the reality of your soul. To uncover the sin seems unnatural. And to talk about it with someone else or confess it to the Lord? That’s too personal or surely God doesn’t care that much about this ‘small’ part of my life.
The truth is that God cares very much about the areas of our lives that are not bringing glory to him. And in his gracious loving-kindness, he has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin, revealing what we may be knowingly–or unintentionally–hiding in the secret places of our souls.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Confession is the way in which we expose our sin to the Lord, and it’s the first step to receiving the forgiveness and cleansing that he offers in exchange for our sin. In the act of naming my sin I’m experiencing the cleansing of my soul that he promises, and I’m feeling a greater sense of God’s power that enables me to overcome it.
Our backyard is different now. It’s sunny all day, the school is visible at all times, and we will never have that sense of privacy again. But you know what? With the trees behind us gone, our garden just might have the chance to grow and bear some good fruit. I’m looking forward to fresh tomatoes, slicing cucumbers for summer dinners, and allowing the kids to pick raspberries while they play out back. A garden that produces fruit brings great delight and satisfaction.
This is what I want in my spiritual life. I long for fruitfulness in Christ, and I’m praying specifically to that end. In order to have it, the parts of me that are still entangled in a mess of sinful shrubbery must be pulled away and cut out. The darkened places need to be exposed so that I can experience the freedom from sin that is offered in Christ. And as I live in this freedom, I can experience the abundance of abiding with Jesus moment-by-moment in the ordinary stuff of life. A soul that is fully exposed before the Lord and dependent upon him can abide in Jesus and bear fruit for his glory. This will bring great delight and satisfaction to my soul.
This is part of an on-going series, Made to Pour: Tending to Your Soul