She’s cute, sitting across the table from me in her pink “I LOVE TO DANCE” tee with curls poking out from under that faux-raccoon hat. But then again, being cute has never been her problem. It’s what’s behind that smile with those eight-year-old Chiclet-sized teeth that’s been giving me a run for my money.
What I’ve been praying about her lately might sound cryptic: Lord, help me understand her holes. And I’m not talking about the gap between those teeth.
That sweet grin might as well be plastered on the Hulk in all of its transformative, angry immensity. When life, namely her life as issued by her brothers, doesn’t suit her—we all know it. Heck, the neighbors probably know it. The grin flattens into a hard line; those brown eyes arrow downward; that little size-one foot stamps. And she lets her victim have it.
Now, I get she’s a girl with brothers. I get that the people we live with drive us straight on down to the Funny Farm. What I don’t get: What makes that little heart tick? What are her motivators? What is precious to her to the point that she chucks all self-control in favor of what she wants?
Something I heard from Tim Keller several years ago, in his excellent Gospel in Life series, branded itself in my mind. He outlines four general categories in which the “holes” in our hearts fall—not little divots, mind you, but sucking black holes. It’s what we crave; it’s that bottom line that persistently drives us, sucking in everything around, like the pregnant, starving mother who eats dirt from the garden to slake her nutrient deficiency. Keller’s core categories:
:: Approval (affirmation, love, relationships)
:: Comfort (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)
:: Control (self-discipline, certainty, standards)
:: Power (success, winning, influence)
These holes are essentially bottomless—save one particularly-shaped antidote.
Our holes’ other alias: Idols. They wedge themselves between us and God, diverting the worship we’re ceaselessly emitting to something created. David Powlison’s X-Ray Questions have really helped me hone in on some of my own holes/idols, with stark, eerie questions like, What do you fear? Where do you bank your hopes?
And these are easily translatable to my kids and the “treasure” of their hearts: like Gollum’s “Precious”, that essentially eats him alive in his sinister transfixation. It’s Pascal’s God-shaped vacuum, only designed to be filled by One. It’s C.S. Lewis’ famous description of our stunted cravings:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Truth: My own holes—like my clawing for others’ approval, my insatiable appetite to be significant and to achieve—have been some of the most destructive forces to myself. I wish it stopped there. But they, or more appropriately I, leave so many people in my churning, famished wake.
Those holes are behind some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life as I’ve veered from God’s rich filling to avidly hunt them…often in His name, sadly. They have led me into a near-eating disorder. They have found me both a self-loving coward and a finger-jabbing hypocrite. They’re behind the fights I pick with my husband, the words I hurl at my children, and the disdain I cherish in my heart.
Our holes determine a lot of our lives.
As Paul David Tripp writes,
I am more persuaded every day, as I examine my own relationships and as I observe others in theirs, that relationships are first fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally.…
If God is not in his rightful place, guess who I insert in that place? The answer is easy: myself.
For many reasons, I suspect that under that mass of chocolate-brown curls (and the Davy Crockett hat) my daughter’s mind is wrapped around an eight-year-old’s idea of power. Practically, I can direct her away from the spiritual equivalent of Cheese Puffs (control your brothers! Dominate the competition! Be the family star!) and instead, to God’s way of looking at all she longs for—and her only hope of finally resting, finally sating that abysmal inner famine.
I hope to open those little brown eyes to these base needs that fuel her, and gently unfold the difference between the dry wells she keeps hoeing out for herself… or the Living Water for every true thirst.
Truth: God is enough for our deepest, most starving holes.