Remember Shallow Hal (2001), with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow? Tacky as it was, the idea of the movie is actually sheer genius. Hal, a total womanizer (this is not the genius part), disregards any woman outside of the “knockout” category. That is, until a spell is cast upon him. Within the spell, women’s inner beauty–or lack thereof–manifests as outer beauty. Hal falls hard for a woman who, to him, looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. To the rest of the world, she’s woefully obese. Hal can’t figure out why she’s treated with such disdain; why no one can see how he’s won the jackpot. She’s unspeakably kind and physically dazzling.
What I like about an otherwise dumb movie: What if the portion others see of us misleads and distracts from our actual selves?
To be more straightforward–I can tend to think of my spiritual life a little like Peter Pan’s shadow. It traipses along with me, occasionally off-roading. But this thought pattern is distinctly different from the pattern God lays out. What if my outer life is actually the dimmer reality? The shadow?
Jesus talks about those who have eyes that can’t see, and ears that can’t hear. Translation: You think you can see and hear, but your heart is the real you. And it can’t see or hear what matters. Paul, too, asks that “the eyes of your heart may be opened.” Jesus speaks of being the “Bread of Life” not for our bodies, but for the “stomach” of our soul. Over and over, Hebrews talks about what we see being a copy–a shadow–of what’s to come (8:5, 9:23, 10:1). What if the body you see…is the shadow?
I look at how Jesus spent so much of His time when He could have been more “useful” by instead praying–alone. Seventeenth-century English theologian John Owen penned a quote that shakes my people-pleasin’ heart:
A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more. (emphasis added)
As a musician who leads others in worship, I feel this. I feel it as a blogger. I’d love to tell you I’m always on, always ready to deliver something meaningful twice a week with the regularity of a smartphone reminder: You have wisdom! (And yes, there’s an element of blogging that’s like waiting for manna. Generously, He’s given me something to post twice a week for over three years now.)
But what if my ability to gain a following or kudos even in spiritual matters is no marker of the actual value of my spiritual life? (See this series on “How would Jesus tweet?”) What if all the things I use to define my spirituality are actually very little indication of my heart at all?
I mean, Paul rattles off a hefty spiritual resume in Philippians 3. But then he actually chucks the whole thing: “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…” Hear it? The outer stuff ain’t nothin’ if it doesn’t come from an inner life of knowing God.
The Inner Life: The Hypocrite Antidote
Tim Keller affirms,
Most contemporary people base their inner life on their outward circumstances. Their inner peace is based on other people’s valuation of them, and on their social status, prosperity, and performance. Christians do this as much as anyone….
If we give priority to the outer life, our inner life will be dark and scary…We won’t know how to go into the inner rooms of the heart, see clearly what is there, and deal with it. In short, unless we put a priority on the inner life, we turn ourselves into hypocrites.*
As I’ve wrangled new writing deadlines and a new pace, my husband had some wise words I keep tucked in my pocket. He reminded me to take plenty of time with God amidst all the edits and turns of phrase. Because, he reasons, it’s a rich inner life that makes any writing worth reading–really, any job worth doing. I see this reiterated in Luke 10: Martha’s the one running around, Mary’s sitting at Jesus’ feet. But Mary has chosen what’s important.
Honestly, sometimes I don’t know whether God sees a Gwyneth Paltrow when He looks at me. Or maybe at times my inner life looks more like Jack Black. (Yikes.)
If I can say this–today, may your heart look at little more like a 5’9″ blonde.
In order to pray, I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; more attention to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self.
Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor”
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*Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Dutton (2014).