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Chapter 9: Spiritual Warfare: Fighting For Your Heart

A Villain Disguised

"If you are having trouble taking in all of this, let me ask you: Have you had this experience? Something bad happens, and you start telling yourself what a jerk you are. Do you really think the source of that is just you? Or God? Think about it this way: Who would take the most delight in it? Take it all real slow if you need to. Start by simply entertaining the notion that the source might be something besides your "low self-esteem."" - Chapter 9, Waking the Dead

"MAURICE: Please! Please, I need your help! He's got her. He's got her locked in the dungeon.

LEFOU: Who?

MAURICE: Belle. We must go. Not a minute to lose!

GASTON: Whoa! Slow down, Maurice. Who's got Belle locked in a dungeon?

MAURICE: A beast! A horrible, monstrous beast!" - Beauty and the Beast

Why is it that when we speak of spiritual warfare, we think we sound like crazy people?  This occurs to me every time I have stopped to think, or dared to suggest to someone, that there may be more opposing them than just natural forces.  Even my approach is telling.  I don’t directly tell someone that Satan is at war and manufacturing all sorts of injuring chaos in their world.  No, just a hint in this direction makes you look paranoid. 

It reminds me of the scene in Beauty in the Beast when Belle’s father, Maurice, bursts into the town tavern and declares, “He’s got her locked up in a tower!!  Won’t someone please help me?”  Gaston asks with a chuckle, “Who?  Who’s got Belle locked in a tower?”  “A beast!!”  Maurice answers, eyes wide with fear.   “A horrible monstrous BEAST!”  There is for once, silence in the tavern, only to be replaced by roaring laughter.  Once they throw him out, the consensus is, “Crazy old Maurice!  He’s always good for a laugh!” 

Never mind that this was absolute truth.  It could not be seen.  And we are so used to the realm of the physical world, the familiar.  Our culture barely has tolerance for stories of angels and miracles, but stories about Satan and his armies?  It sounds ridiculous.  And again, I must quote one of the final lines of “The Usual Suspects” when Kevin Spacey declares, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”  Because you are more prepared to fight an enemy that faces off in open combat, Braveheart-style.  That is when you are already on your guard, and your face is streaked with blue paint and you’re belting out your war cry in unison. 

But that is not the approach that Satan takes most of the time.  His is guerilla warfare tactics.  Hide over here in this distraction or that controversy.  You may know the allegory about how to boil a live frog.  If you throw him into boiling water right away, he’ll jump out.  But if you place him in tepid, lukewarm water, he’ll stay put in his comfy bath.  He’s not on alert and senses no danger, so you can turn the temperature up slowly, and kill him without even triggering his internal warning system. 

So where might these attacks be hiding?  In a dysfunctional work environment, particularly one at a church or a Christian university.  In political battles that seek to isolate us from one another.  In the ever present need to maintain our brand, lifestyle and appearance.  In what you regard as your own thoughts.  I have a very dear friend who is plagued with disturbing, violent thoughts or images and feelings of being deeply unworthy.  I needed to help him create distance between his view of himself and these lies, so I told him that I too, hear what I refer to as “dark whispers”.  I let him know that not only are these not true, they are not even coming from his own thoughts.  It is as if Satan knelt down close and whispered these awful things in his ear. 

This is only scratching the surface of what we encounter.  It will take us being on high alert to really grasp the weight and frequency of these attacks in our own lives.  And it will take bravery to talk about them with others and call them what they are. 

I can tell you that even in the small space of writing this blog for our church, I have wrestled with computer viruses, program freezes, technical difficulties I can’t explain and more distractions than I can count.  I stopped writing one post early because the keyboard stopped working, and I just hit “send” before the program froze and I lost all content.  Now, does that sound like coincidence?  Do I sound crazy? 

The truth is that these attacks are subtle and we are probably only aware of the tip of the iceberg.  But recognizing them will give us distance, sometimes in our strained relationships with each other, and sometimes just with our own perceptions of ourselves.  And declaring this opposition out should wake us up, put us on guard and speak to our warrior hearts.  

- Bekah Arias

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Chapter 8: Deep Restoration

Meeting Penny and Dana

 “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” – Mark 10: 13 – 16

“It might be a surprise that Christ asks our permission to come in and heal, but you may remember that famous passage from Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (3:20 NKJV).  He doesn’t force his way in, and the principle remains true after we have given Christ the initial access to our hearts that we call salvation.  There are rooms we have kept locked up, places He has not had access to by our own will, and in order to experience his healing, we must also give him permission to come in there.” – Chapter 8, Walking the Dead

Last night we found ourselves in the Apple store to repair a cracked phone screen.  I wandered through to the back with my kids where thankfully, they have some seating and distractions for whichever family member is tagging along.  My son quickly created a tunnel and started darting through it, and my daughter then sat on the tunnel and reprimanded him for building it in the first place.  Sigh.  The youngest and the oldest in full form.  As we waited, there was a sweet girl, twirling around the area, waiting for her parents to finish their conversation with the technician.  She spotted Emma, and walked over.  Her opening line was, “Will you be my best friend?”

My heart literally caught in my throat.  What an innocent display of vulnerability.  Who even does that?  Walks right up to someone and speaks from the heart, exactly what they need?  To my delight, Emma exclaimed “Yes!” and they began playing right away.  I smiled, and was so grateful in that moment, that my kids are still fairly open-hearted themselves, and found this to be a fairly normal invitation. 

It struck me that as an adult, it is so unusual to hear someone speak their desires directly, without all those pesky layers of defensiveness we tend to put up.  It reminded me of the story in Mark 10, where Jesus embraced the little children and told the adults essentially, ‘This is what your heart needs to look like to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (my paraphrase).  It can be so difficult, as adults, to have the strength to keep our hearts that vulnerable. 

Later on that same evening, I was waiting in line for coffee, and after some small talk, the woman behind me commented that my kids looked like twins for a moment, and then she saw the height difference when they stood.  This opened up a conversation about their age difference (20 months).  We laughed a bit about the initial struggles of having children close in age.  And then I figured, ‘what the heck?  I’ll never see this woman again.’ And I offered up a small vulnerability of my own, and let her know that my own fertility issues had influenced their age gap.  Essentially, I hadn’t had the luxury of planning a desired age gap.  I had no control of the situation.  I could not plan; I could only pray.  But I ended up with 2 healthy thriving kids, a boy and a girl – what more could I ask for? 

She smiled and shared in that joy with me.  Her name was Dana.  And then unexpectedly, she shared her incredible story.  She is one of 6 children.  Her mom had 4 boys, and then was done – absolutely done – having children.  When she discovered she was pregnant with Dana, she was angry.  She started asking around to see where she could get an abortion.  Judging by Dana’s age, this was in the 1970’s, and thankfully, getting an abortion was difficult.  When she couldn’t find a doctor to help her, she attempted to perform the abortion herself.  Thank God, she was not successful.  When she finally was in the delivery room, she was still upset and was telling the doctor she could not have one more boy.  Finally, the baby was born and the doctor presented Dana’s mom with her beautiful, healthy daughter. 

What struck me most is that this is deep pain – the rejection of your mother.  But Dana spoke to me about it from a healed heart.  She spoke about it with joy and thankfulness, not with any bitterness.  This was a story she only knew because her mother had shared it with her.  And they walked through that path of healing together.    

So there they were, my two examples in one evening of living with a healed, restored heart.  Penny has an innocent heart, just beginning on the journey of life.  But incredibly, Dana has the heart of a warrior, who has been through life, has touched some terrifying truths about her past, and has emerged joyful, with a story to share.  That is what a restored heart looks like.  I was so privileged to witness and share the joy with her.  

- Bekah Arias

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Chapter 7: Receiving God's Intimate Counsel

The Fingerprint of your Story

Reflection on: Receiving God’s Intimate Counsel – Chapter 7

“Consider how precious a heart must be, if both God and the devil are after it.” Charles Spurgeon

“Our life is a story.  A rather long and complicated story that has unfolded over time.  There are many scenes, large and small, and many “firsts.”  Your first step; your first word; your first day of school.  There was your first best friend….your first kiss, your first heartbreak.  If you stop and think of it, your heart has lived through quite a story thus far.  And over the course of that story your heart has learned many things.  Some of what you learned is true; much of it is not.” 

Our story begins with a young girl.  The scene is set in a perfectly cookie-cutter Christian household.  Two brothers, and a family dog.  Loving parents with stable jobs, and enough resources to be considered “affluent” even by Southern California standards.  She attends Sunday school, VBS, and all of the camps.  Her mom attends BSF and virtually, all the right boxes are checked. 

And then, the bottom drops out.  Her parents turn to drugs, the money runs out, and the once-happy family begins to unravel.  Violence and distance alternate, becoming the norm.  School is her safe place.  But it is the 1990’s and no one really notices the signs of abuse.

It is upon this most unexpected background, that God has painted the beautiful life of my friend.  She is resilient, loving, gracious, wise and still has her sense of humor intact.  I am blessed to call her my friend.  And it was her wisdom that I was after on this particular day.  You see, I had seen God doing some incredible things with her life.  Reaching other people for Christ with her story.  Lending an authenticity to the rescuing work of the gospel that was so vivid and real to them.  I should have just been ecstatic for the kingdom work that was being accomplished.  But I was…..jealous. 

I didn’t have a story like that to tell.  Maybe that meant I was ill-equipped.  Insecurities started to swarm in.  Maybe God couldn’t use me because I didn’t have a radical enough story.  Our stories started the same….but luckily for me, stability continued.  But maybe that meant there was no reason to believe that God had really changed me, and that He could really use me. 

I am glad that at least I recognized the jealousy for what it was and decided to attack it head on.  I have been trying to use the counter-intuitive approach of running directly at, instead of away from, the battles I’ve chosen to fight.  So here I am, pouring my heart out to her.  Knowing very well she could accuse me of having it so much easier than her, or not understanding, or any endless list of truthful (but unhelpful) facts. 

But she was wise and gracious.  And she reminded me that we ALL have our own unique story that God is writing with our lives. 

God never lacks for creativity.  Whenever I hear someone starting down the path of saying that God has called them to this particular cause and that is what all Christians should do, or “this is how God worked in my life, so it’s how He’ll show up in yours,” I want to say, TIME OUT!  How ridiculous would it be if Noah assumed God wanted everyone to build an ark?  If Daniel assumed everyone would be thrown in a lion’s den?  If Rebekah told all women they should marry men they’d never met?  It would be crazy.  And for good reason.  God’s plan for your life is UNIQUELY yours.  Like a fingerprint.  You have a part of God’s glory to reveal, and like Eldredge in this chapter, sometimes we’ve found it safer to hold back. 

But He will find a way – usually many ways – to get through to you.  At this point in my life, I am very grateful for my friends that can lovingly challenge me.  It might not be easy to handle in the moment, but God has used them to erase insecurities and encourage me and with His help, I pray I do the same for them. 

So don’t be ashamed of your story – it is one the world needs.  It may be radical right from the beginning, or it may be a story of God quietly working on your heart through the years.  But it is a story that someone is waiting to hear.   

- Bekah Arias

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Chapter 6: Walking With God

“Many things are trying to play upon the beautiful instrument of the heart.  Advertisers are constantly trying to pull on your heartstrings.  So is your boss.  The Devil is a master at manipulating the heart.  So are many people – though they would never admit that is what they are doing.” 

I made what felt like a fairly radical decision at the beginning of July.  I stopped social media.  At one point, I attributed the stress I felt after scrolling through a series of posts to unrelenting political battles.  So I hid a few profiles to avoid those.  My stress still persisted.  So I thought, maybe this is part of our human inclination to constantly compare ourselves?  I hid a few more profiles.  Eventually, the majority of what filled my feed was very neutral – recipes, ads, funny memes…but I was still on edge.  It was still just too much noise. 

Part of the focus of this chapter, ‘Walking with God,’ is learning to tune into your own heart.  Once Eldredge has set the stage that our hearts are GOOD, and that there is GLORY WITHIN THEM, it naturally follows that we should listen to them as we walk with God.  So how hard can that be?  To tune into myself and my unique calling?  Turns out, that can be pretty tough. 

Within a lot of different, unbalanced societies, there tends to be a part of the self that is overused, overworked.  If you are living in a war-torn county, your sense of self protection will be heightened.  Along with that, your discernment may be quite sharp.  But living in that imbalance for a long time can make you paranoid, jaded, stuck. 

For most of us, we live in an unbalanced society that constantly speaks to our consumer self.  And yes, that may lead to financial awareness and negotiating.  But are most of the decisions we make in a day purchasing decisions?  Perhaps so.  It tends to have a numbing effect.  It can become a safe place to escape, be entertained, anticipate… 

To tune into our hearts requires our attention.  Fully present and aware.  And attention can be a scarce commodity because frankly, if our dollars go where our attention goes, then it behooves advertisers to scream at us from every device and channel that they can.  It is hard to mobilize a distracted heart. 

(And believe me, I can only write about what I deeply know).  But the beautiful things is, when you choose to disconnect, in the quieter moments, there is peace.  Of all the fruits of the spirit, peace is the one that has seemed the most elusive to me.  So when I experience it, I know I’m going in the right direction. 

- Bekah Arias

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Chapter 5: The Glory Hidden In Your Heart

The Zebra Paradox: Inspired by, Waking the Dead, Chapter 5

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10 NIV

"You remember faintly that you were once more than what you have become. Your story didn't start with sin, and thank God, it does not end with sin. It ends with glory restored." - Waking the Dead, Chapter 5

“The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.”  Audrey Hepburn

“Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character.  When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home.  When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation.  When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.”  A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Is the zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes? It seems like a mundane, childish question. Or even the beginning of a joke. But yet we kinda want to know the answer because…it matters. We want to know which one is the true nature. A healthy person who likes junk food, or a junk food addict that occasionally eats vegetables? A good mom with bad moments, or a bad mom with good moments? The yin or the yang? Jekyll or Hyde? Which one was the original essence, and which one came along later and clouded the picture? It's important to know, because it is to that original nature that we are trying to return.

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “51% Calm and 49% Crazy – Don’t Push It!”  It made me laugh, and we usually laugh at what’s relatable.  It is easy to admit that we can have a dual nature.  But for far too long, as Christians, we have settled into the idea that we are born evil, always bear a sin nature, and remain corrupt sinners saved by grace, but always held back by our primitive, selfish tendencies.  It’s an idea I accepted very easily.  It was widely taught throughout the American church in the 80s and 90s.  And yet, it has held all of us back. 

I first had this notion challenged by a friend of mine.  She told me she doesn’t believe we still have a sin nature once we are saved.  This was several years ago.  And it struck me as somewhere between blasphemy and ridiculous.  I thought, “Of course we still have a sin nature!  Would you like me to read off a list of mistakes to prove it??”  But I was both bewildered and intrigued.  The idea that we have a good heart – well, it was downright freeing.  It was motivating like nothing else.  Could it also be true?

Chapters 4 and 5 explore this concept in detail and re-examine our understanding of certain scriptures.  It is important to occasionally revisit your favorite verses in the light of a new revelation.  Although the scriptures don’t change, a new interpretation can reveal things you didn’t see before.  For example, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13, could easily be understood as, ‘I can do nothing alone.  Once God shows up, he can use me as his vessel to do anything.’  But with new perspective, I understand this to mean ‘Once I am saved, everything I do is “through Christ” as He has given a part of His glory for me alone to reveal.  I don’t have to wait for Him to show up.  He’s already given me His glory and his Holy Spirit – He’s already here!’ 

Once you have received Christ, you have a good heart!  This is part of the gospel – the good news.  If He resides within us, and our hearts are the new tabernacle, then our hearts have become His, and have become Holy.  Finally, a message that is consistent with the truth of being completely forgiven.  I hope this message brings a wave of peace over you, as it did with me. 

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Chapter 4: Ransomed and Restored

“The early Christian church symbolized the Resurrection, healings, and miracles because the church thought those things were central.  The reason the first and closest friends of Jesus focused on miracles, healings, and hopeful aspects of the faith such as the Ascension and the Resurrection was simply that those are what God himself wants us to focus on.  Those are the point.  Those make Christianity such very good news.  A dead man is not a great deal of help to us; a dead God is even worse.  But life, real life, the power of God to restore you…now that’s a whole other matter.  We say Christ died for us, and that is true.  But Christ was also raised for us.  His resurrection was as much for us as His death was.”  - Waking the Dead, Chapter 4

I grew up in the church and I am well-acquainted with guilt.  Very well-acquainted.  It is probably more accurate to say I eat, sleep and breathe guilt.  In fact, I have what psychologists would call, “free-floating guilt,” meaning that it is rootless and ever present.  It lurks, never too far from the forefront of my mind, looking for a situation to attach itself to.  And if none are available, it has some good stand-bys ready for replay. 

Now, my situation may be an extreme (although naming it provides a healthier distance), but I have many other friends who grew up in the church like me, that walk through life with a vague cloud of guilt hanging over their heads.  It was an easy message to buy into – that we have an evil heart.  After all, if we have a sin nature, and we need no additional evidence of that, it clearly follows that we are desperately corrupt.  So we buy into that, hook, line and sinker.

And yet, I’ve had friends in my life ask me, “Why do you worry so much?  Why do you feel so guilty?  Why don’t you act more….forgiven?”  It is a fair question.  If I want others to know about this wonderful freedom that comes with giving your heart to Christ, why am I still shackled with chains of guilt and regret?

In fact, how is it that we call ourselves holy and set apart, but with an unfixable treacherous heart at the same time.  Well…..are we transformed or not?  Did Christ pay the ransom for all sins or not?    Does it even make sense that God would continually convict us of previously confessed sins?  Does our guilt win hearts for the gospel?  Or does it keep us cowering and silent?  Afraid to speak because we’re not a good enough representation of Christianity yet?  Well, if it wouldn’t serve God to distract us and hold us back in that way, who would it serve?  Again, Satan is not going to jump out and announce his presence.  It behooves him for us to blame ourselves.  But if it’s a war we are fighting, we need to recognize and call out the opposition for what it is. 

The ongoing guilt for me is part of my battle.  It may not be Satan’s stand-by to trip you up.  But give some thought to what it might be.  Pride?  Fear?  Naming these issues may provide us with some healthy distance psychologically, but renouncing the (often repeated) work of Satan helps us truly fight back, and clears up our cloudy vision. 

It may be that the cross has become the most widely recognized symbol of Christianity.  But if the sight of it stirs up guilt for you, know that that is not what God wants.  God wants your thankful heart.  It may take a long time to mentally replace all of the guilt that the cross conjures up.  But for now, let’s remember that when we see it, to be filled instead with awe and gratitude.  

- Bekah Arias

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Chapter 3: The Heart of All Things

“The heart is central.  That we would even need to be reminded of this only shows how far we have fallen from the life we were meant to live – or how powerful the spell has been.  The subject of the heart is addressed in the Bible more than any other topic – more than works or service, more than belief or obedience, more than money, and even more than worship.”  - Chapter 3, Waking the Dead

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 I have a confession to make and it probably won’t make much logical sense.  Here goes:  I don’t want to win the lottery.  I know that if I tell most people that (and I have) they will either laugh or look very confused.  So I’ve learned to stop saying it.  But while I did, I was always asked, “Well, WHY NOT??”  And I usually responded that I believed in the lottery curse, and would send them to google that if they hadn’t heard of it.  Superstition actually seemed more rational than the truth. 

But the truth of it is, I worry that an influx of income on that scale would crowd out the natural order and authenticity of my world.  Sure, there are the practical issues of how you will spend your time if you’re not working.  And yes, I could fill the time, but what would that teach my children about the value of education and hard work?  We tend to only truly enjoy what we’ve rightfully earned. 

It would definitely increase the speed on my pace of life, which already feels maxed out.  The busyness would increase, the decision-making, the second-guessing…

What would happen to my friendships?  If people asked for financial help, I would want to help them….but I would always wonder if they were really my friend to begin with.  Would I be reduced to a mere dollar sign; a strategic alignment? 

What I fear most is that this fortune would require a trade:  money instead of heart.  It is easy, in our modern age, to monetize and mass-produce anything we want.  We can even get it delivered to our house, often with free shipping!  We can start watching any movie we want with only a few clicks.  But are any of your favorite memories about your fastest download speed?  The greatest deal you ever got?  Of course not!  They are all about the people and the activities that you love.  This chapter focuses on the centrality of the heart, and challenges the reader to actually stop reading and make a list of everything you love (without priority, second-guessing or editing).  I encourage you to actually do this.  If nothing else, you can’t help but smile. 

But more importantly, it focuses your attention on what matters most to you, and in that list, you’ll see parts of God’s purpose for your life.  If we are to “love God and love others,” then loving those people on your list is part of your purpose.  If you wrote how much you love to care for children, or play music or help people with their problems – there is your ministry.  And the amazing thing about working from your heart is that no one has to follow up with you and remind you to do it.  When it is a labor of love, you just do it, from the pure joy you get from being fully alive in that moment.  

- Bekah Arias

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Chapter 2: The Eyes of the Heart

“The story of your life is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it.” – John Eldredge

A colleague of mine has an annual fight with her husband.  Same time every year.  It’s not scheduled of course, but it always seems to happen. Her husband goes on their church retreat, hears Scripture all weekend, bonds with his friends, and feels spiritually renewed.  And then something goes wrong, and the argument starts.  She is fighting her beloved, at the conclusion of this spiritual retreat. Every. Single. Year. After knowing her for a few years, and listening sympathetically each time, I started to notice the pattern and asked, “Did you ever wonder if there’s something deeper going on?” 

For a lot of us, it’s hard to really see our own story.  Our perspective gets clouded by the drudgery of each day.  When we are under attack, we get battle fatigue and we look around for someone to blame, but we don’t see any options.  Blaming some mystical spiritual presence seems laughable.  Sounds like #fakenews.  It’s not something we see other people taking seriously, so we don’t take it seriously ourselves.  So we keep fighting, essentially blind-folded, not knowing where our enemy will strike next. 

The part of this chapter I found most heartening (and simultaneously disheartening) was the reminder of the story of Daniel, when he prays for an answer and God sends an angel right away….and it takes 3 weeks of entanglement in spiritual warfare to get to him.  Doesn’t that sound so familiar?  You pray for an answer – for something good, something you know God would want to bless you with – and you’re met with massive delay that rivals the DMV. 

So you’re sitting there, waiting for your number to be called, wondering if God’s forgotten.  If He’s not in the mood and you should just come back and try another day.  I know people in our church who’ve waited a lot longer than 3 weeks for an answer.  I know people who’ve waited a year, 5 years, 10 years.  I know people who are still waiting.  There is more going on here.  More than we can see.  But not more than we can spiritually sense, if we can be awakened to it. 

I don’t know about you, but when I first watched the Matrix, I thought.  “I would have taken the blue pill….”  It seemed like a pathetic thing to think as I was watching, until I heard one of the characters in the movie, bemoan this same sentiment aloud. “Why, oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?”  Because there was no turning back. 

It can be frightening, overwhelming, even panic-inducing.  If this is where you are, I truly, truly understand.  Maybe the first step is asking God for the courage to really step into your own story.  There is a role to play that is yours alone. 

- Bekah Arias


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Chapter 1: Arm Yourselves

“I daresay we’ve heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature.  We were crowned with glory and honor.  Why does a woman long to be beautiful?  Why does a man hope to be found brave?  Because we remember, if only faintly, that we were once more than we are now.  The reason you doubt there could be a glory to your life is because that glory has been the object of a long and brutal war.” John Eldridge, Waking the Dead, Chapter 1, Arm Yourselves

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”  The Usual Suspects 

I had a friend recently confide in me that her life is no longer making sense.  Up until now, her education had led to a stable career path with plenty of room for growth.  Her company was in good financial standing; all was well.  She put in the hard work, and productive results followed.  But then, the financial foundation began to crumble.  Blame started, leadership became corrupt and layoffs were happening all around.  There was no longer a path toward promotion, rather, you were lucky to just be on the road at all.  The hard work stayed the same, even increased.  But the results no longer followed. 

As I listened, I knew the feeling all too well.  The sense that your life’s work needs to take a new direction, but there are none available.  And for those that were less lucky, the full on disorientation that job loss has on your identity. 

Usually I’ve categorized these experiences as a realization that we are not in control.  They tend to hit whenever the familiar formula stops working.  “I am the best qualified – why didn’t I get the job?”  “I am in perfect health – why this diagnosis?”  “I’m doing everything right – why can’t I meet someone?” “I’m still praying, but nothing’s changing.”  The problem is that once we reach this conclusion – this cynical loss of control, and the only guarantee in life being that there are no guarantees – there is nowhere to go from there.  Just a massive metaphorical throwing your hands up in the air.  Yup, that’s life – nothing we can do about it. 

So we continue to walk through life, but with our guard up, or we work twice as hard.  Or we find a new hobby to throw ourselves into.  Sometimes, we are blessed with answers to prayer, even miracles.  But sometimes, life’s just rough.   So we lose hope.  And life feels blurry and unpredictable.  Our days are clouded with anxiety, loneliness, unspeakable joy, addictions, unexpected blessings, depression, distractions, self-centered living.  But it’s just a big, gray mess and you never know what each day will hold. 

What John Eldridge offers in this first chapter is a wake up call to recognize the war that is going on around us.  To no longer see it just as a gray blur, but as two opposing forces, warring for your soul.  And not your eternal soul, no, that is secure.  The war is for our time and attention in this life.  For our opportunity to be fully alive right now.  It is so easy to dismiss that there are two active forces that oppose each other.  We know and love God.  But we would rather forget about the other side.  It reminds me of the brilliant quote from the Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”  Odd as it sounds, it's rooted in truth. Being unaware of the opposition means not actively fighting it.  It displaces the blame onto God, ourselves or other people.  And it keeps us busy fixing, or fighting, but not really living.  

Another area where we can get tripped up is forgetting our value.  We may hear that God loves us all the time.  But if we are constantly having to reconcile that against the tragedies that happen to us, some part of us starts to discredit that love.  We start to think, Well, God gives me some blessings, so He loves me only this much...  But when you see yourself as standing in the middle of a great battlefield, with a war going on for your heart and your freedom, the situation changes.  We feel we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.  And what do we go to war over?  Trivial matters?  No.  We only go to war for the people that we love and can't live without, for freedom, for something of immeasurable inherent value.  We are that treasure.    

And for us to wake up, and start really living, is not only an act of bravery, but of downright rebellion against the comfortable distracted living the enemy would prefer we continue.  What happens each time we see ourselves in a mirror?  We are probably thinking it's time to schedule a hair color appointment.  We don't really see ourselves.  Both sides of this war see us as we truly are: Image bearers of God.  And we have to know that - really know who we are in the deepest sense - to be both a brave warrior and a rebel, and to join in the fight.   

- Bekah Arias

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