Getting Out of Our Own Way

People who live in Savannah, Georgia—the place I called home for several years—know where to go for a good time. And one of the best (and cheapest) ways entertain yourself is to wander around the historic squares at the end of each school semester looking for students from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) who are filming their final projects

I was always happy to be an on-screen extra and spent many a happy afternoon running in absolute panic, laughing on a park bench, and accepting the same empty box from a food truck vendor a couple hundred times while the actors worked to craft a scene. I was typically in the background, there to make the moment feel organic and real, but a girlfriend and I once got the chance to be front and center.

Our job? To create dramatic tension in a scene by carrying a big bunch of shopping bags and walking down the street between the two protagonists in order to block their view of one another. Over and over again we strolled, breaking their line of sight, muddling their communication and making it impossible for them to truly know what the other was thinking. At least, I think that was the goal. The only thing I knew at the time was that my feet hurt. You can walk on a cobblestone street in flip flops for only so long.

Sometimes, my relationship with God feels like that moment. I’m striving to communicate with Him, to hear His voice and obey His commands, but there’s so much static and disorder in the way. Some of the distractions are actually good things in and of themselves when held in right proportion—a job I love, my family and all their busyness, church commitments, volunteering—but others, the ones I completely manufacture on my own, aren’t so shiny. I think about all the petty jealousies I waste time with and all the slights, real or imagined, that set me to simmering in anger until I just want to give up. Why am I so double-minded (James 4:8)? How do the same sins keep distracting me and blocking my path to the better way God has in mind?

Perhaps that’s why the sixth beatitude—“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”—has always been so alluring (Matt. 5:8). There’s something so blessedly simple and pure about it. For the person who lives this out, all the interferences are removed. The bric-a-brac’s blown away, and all that’s left is a clear view of God.

If I am truly pure in heart, there is no duplicity in me, no divided allegiance. But in my own strength, it’s impossible. I cannot will this state of being into existence (as much as I might want to). I can only cry out as David did in one of his most blindingly honest psalms, one he wrote after Nathan confronted him concerning his sin with Bathsheba: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (51:10). David had allowed beauty and the lust that it inspired to come between him and the Lord. It muddled the king’s vision and numbed his soul, and only God could empower His servant to remove such interference. Left to his own devices, David was utterly lost. So say we all.

Søren Kierkegaard in his work Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing discusses this very conundrum. He writes, “What is all [man’s] striving, could it even encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee…Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion, may Thou early, at the dawn of day, give to the young man the resolution to will one thing. As the day wanes, may Thou give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution, that the first may be like the last, the last like the first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing. Alas, but this has indeed not come to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between. Each day, and day after day something is being placed in between: delay, blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So in this time of repentance may Thou give the courage once again to will one thing.”

The “one thing” Kierkegaard desires is God Himself. Like Peter walking across the sea, safe as long as his eyes were on the Savior (Matt. 14:22-33), he longs for a holy connection unfettered by earthly concerns and paltry desires. And there is no way to gain such glory without the God-given courage to attain that and that alone. May we all be so bold as to ask.