The Confinement of Jesus
I looked into my heart the other day and was surprised to find Jesus there. He was sitting in a barren one-room cabin, its walls and floors composed of ashy-brown, worn, wooden planks.
It was the sort of house I’ve envisioned situated on the Midwestern Plains when reading a Louis L’Amour novel or Little House on the Prairie. Where I would have expected to find a cowboy or Laura Ingalls Wilder, I found Jesus. The air was a tad stifling and the lighting was dim. He was seated in the center of the room on a ladderback chair with no cushion.
Disconcerted, I asked him what he was doing there. He reminded me that I had invited him. I wanted to roll my eyes. I knew that. My question was more basic. “No, I mean in this room – why are you sitting here? Wouldn’t you rather be romping through that meadow out there?” I pointed toward a small, four-paned window through which grasses and wildflowers could be seen swaying in the breeze. At least he had a view.
I don’t recall his exact response. What he did convey, quite kindly, was that I hadn’t extended my invitation of him to include the field, or the greater expanse of my heart.
“So you’ve been sitting in this cramped little room the whole time?” I demanded. “That’s crazy! Haven’t you gone crazy?” It seemed ridiculous to me that, powerful as he is, Jesus would submit to confinement in this drab, tiny space.
“Let’s at least brighten the place up a bit,” I offered. “I can throw a rug on the floor, put a cushion on that chair, hang a valance over the window, a picture on the wall, and stick a floor lamp over in that corner. If you’re going to hang out in here, we may as well spruce it up.”
It’s not that I wouldn’t love to stretch my legs and amble through that field of wildflowers with you, he suggested softly. I’d love to wander the vast reaches of your heart.
“Well, why don’t you? What’s keeping you? Open the door and walk out!” I was, frankly, indignant at what I took to be feigned helplessness. But, strangely, he did not appear timid or even irritated about his plight.
He looked upon me tenderly. It was an expression difficult for me to explain because the images that pop to mind don’t quite fit. It was not a face of condescension, offering pity with a slight shake of the head and a quiet “Tut, tut, Sweetie.” It wasn’t accompanied by an exasperated “Oh, please!” sigh.
What he did convey had such an absence of judgment and defense that I almost didn’t recognize the thing that was present. This sounds corny, but I think it was love. Real, honest love. Suddenly, I realized that Jesus, of all people, respected my boundaries. He only occupied as much of my heart, as much of my life, as I allowed.
I was shocked to find how little and meager that space actually was – so uncomfortably shocked that I jumped to apologetically explain.
“Oh, well, you see . . .” I started in. “I mean, I know that meadow out there looks kind of pretty right now, and I guess I’d be okay with you stretching your legs in it every now and again, but maybe you should let me know before you do – you know, just so I can make sure it’s safe, because conditions change.”
Onward I blurted, “I mean, even right now, I know there are some gopher holes, tangled barbed wire, and rock piles out there. I’ve even seen a couple of snakes. I’m working on getting that stuff cleared up – though truth be told, I’m not sure there’s much I can do about the snakes. Anyway, I’m working hard on cleaning that field up, I really am, and I think I’m making some good progress, but I’m afraid there’s still some pretty dangerous stuff out there and I wouldn’t want you to go too far. I think it’s best, for now, if you don’t have to get caught up in it.”
“Well, anyway, it’s great, amazing really, that you stuck around, especially in here! I appreciate it – it means a lot to me.” I took a deep breath and tried to smile.
I could sense, when offering my explanations of the need for his restricted perimeter, that he already knew my terrain and it didn’t worry him. Though I feared that his aim in getting out would be to expose me or tear me up, I could discern no such motive. But he did want out. He wanted to inhabit my whole heart. He wanted to participate in my full life. And I left.
I left saying, “At least it looks a little better in here, eh? Can I get you anything more before I go? A glass of water, a book to read? Here, I’ll put a little table by your chair so you can set stuff on it. Okay – good seeing you! Take care!”
I left him there free to pace about that hovel in my heart, almost proud that I was so generous as to not bind and gag him on my way out.
Yet, I haven’t been able to leave the encounter. What do I do with the knowledge that I’m keeping Jesus, the God of the Universe, locked in a room in my heart?
Jesus, who wants to be bounding through fields of wildflowers with me, who wants to be mucking through the messes, tearing down fences, and hanging out in the dark places when I hide in bed with the covers pulled over my head.
It makes me nervous, and rather embarrassed, to realize that he remains – eager and ready – available and giving his love to me, as much love as I will choose to receive. He is waiting, simply waiting, on me to be willing.