Saturday, February 23, 2013

pinned down and beaten up

Shortly after Quinn was born, I went through a period where Jane Austen films were running in the background continuously.  I finally decided it was the music I loved because I didn't particularly care about the dialogue or even watching the movie since I'd seen them so many times already.  Emmett was traveling quite a lot, and I was working full time, not sleeping, and single parenting.  We had all the movies except the most recent Emma with Gweneth Paltrow, which we had trouble finding at the time.  On one of Emmett's days off, he wandered into a used movie shop in some random small town and happened to run across a copy.  He mailed it to me after watching it at least twice himself.  One of my favorite random facts about Emmett is that he loved romantic comedies way more than I did.

Emma is one of the few Austen novels that I like better as a movie.  I had read the complete works of Austen while nursing Quinn, and I found that particular book rather long and tedious even though I loved the others.  My favorite scene in the movie has always been the scene where Emma gets corrected by Mr. Knightly.  The way he rebukes her is profoundly beautiful, and there is a part right at the end where he says, "badly done, Emma, badly done."  And your heart just breaks because you know how much he loves her and how bad she feels about her behavior.  I've never mastered the art of rebuking someone out of love, but this was an excellent example.

Lately, I feel like God is saying the very same thing to me, "badly done, Wendy, badly done."  And not just because I have an over developed since of guilt, but rather because I truly have been extra sinful and ignorant and awkward and unrepentant.  If my life were princess school, which it kind of is, then I would be failing.  Big time.

Check this out from John Owen.  Of course.  He's talking about how sin manifests itself in the affections as an aversion to God:
It begins in loathness and indisposition; goes on with entangling the mind and affections with other things; and will end, if not prevented, in weariness of God, which he complains of in his people (Isa. 43:22)
And then in another place he says:
And here is the beginning of the apostasy of many professors [i.e. believers], and the source of many foolish sensual opinions.  Finding this aversation [i.e. aversion] in their minds and affections from closeness and constancy in private spiritual duties, not knowing how to conquer and prevail against these difficulties through him who enables us, they have at first been subdued to a neglect of them, first partial, then total, until, having lost all conscience of them, they have had a door opened unto all sin and licentiousness, and so to have a full and utter apostasy.
Wow.  Did you catch that?

What begins with the weariness and indisposition of our spirits to persevere in private spiritual matters of holiness and devotion, leads through small tiny steps of turning away because we are too weary or ignorant of the battle at hand to an ending of complete and total apostasy.  What begins as laziness in the heart ends as full on outward sin.
Even when convictions, sense of duty, dear and real esteem of God and communion with him have carried the soul into the closet, yet if there be not the vigor and power of spiritual life constantly at work, there will be a secret loathness in them unto duty; yea, sometimes there will be a violent inclination to the contrary, so that the soul would rather do anything, embrace any diversion, though it wound itself thereby, than vigorously apply itself unto that which in the inward man it breathes after.  It is weary before it begins. 
It is both freeing and terrifying to realize that the weariness and indisposition following me around like a psychopathic stalker is actually my sinful nature at work in every faculty of my heart and mind to draw me away from God.  It is freeing because if my sinful is working so hard against me, then I must be headed in the right direction, but it is terrifying precisely because the sinful nature is so insidious and powerful to distract me.  Each step towards apostasy is so small and logical and easy and inviting that I am halfway there before I have any sense of what I have done.

Moreover, it is not enough to have a heart that wants to be with God.  We have to be willing to do battle with the fiercest and strongest of enemies, that is ourselves, just to stand our ground.  And yes, I know the Holy Spirit helps me, but the battle is fierce nonetheless.  I love what Owen has to say about people who say they don't battle with sin:
It may be some will pretend they find it not so in themselves, but they have freedom and liberty in and unto all the duties of obedience that they attend to. But I fear this pretended liberty will be found, upon examination, to arise from one or both of these causes: First, ignorance of the true state and condition of their own souls, of the inward man and its actings towards God... Or secondly, it may be [the case that] whatever duties of worship or obedience such persons perform, through want of faith and an interest in Christ, have no communion with them; and if so, sin will make but little opposition unto them.
In other words, if you're not sensible of the battle, then you're not in the fight, either because you don't know the enemy or you only pretend to know God.  I should quickly point out that he is NOT saying that moments of peace and rest mean you aren't walking in the Spirit, but he does say that one should be sensible of the battle even when not overwhelmed by it.

I am just discovering numerous ways that, because of the temptations arising from the physical weariness of sickness in the past couple months, I have succumbed to numerous temptations of spiritual weariness.  Small deviations from personal prayer and devotions, from a constant inward watchfulness over my sinful nature, from a patient cultivating of love for God's beauty; all these were deviations so small I never even thought of them as turning away from God.  Surrendering to sin in these small battles has manifested in private, insignificant ways like the inability to control what I eat or how much I spend and in much more harmful ways like using ungracious words against people I am called to serve in love.

I'm glad I've been memorizing the Armor of God passage from Ephesians 6 lately.  Initially I thought I was wimping out on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.  But after I memorized the Beatitudes, I just felt an overwhelming urge to memorize the last part of Ephesians 6.  I am in love with verse 13:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
I am learning that the day of evil is always dawning in my heart, and it takes a lot of intentionality just to stand.  This morning I am also thankful I memorized Hebrews 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful man so that you will not grow weary and lose heart...
Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about how God disciplines those he loves.  For some reason those words were immensely comforting to me after Emmett passed away.  I'm learning that discipline and rebuke from a heart of genuine love is one of the most beautiful, tender, and intimate interactions you can have.  I think that's why I love that scene from Emma so much.

Quinn woke up this morning and told me about a bad dream he had.  In the dream he went to Bible study and people kept punching him over and over.  When I asked him if he fought back, he said he wasn't able to fight back because people kept holding his arms down and he couldn't get free.  I was blown away.  That is exactly how I feel right now, pinned down and beaten up by sin, unable to break free because, through lack of watchfulness and prayer, I have taken myself out of grace and sold myself back into prostitution, just like Gomer.  And this morning I am so very thankful to have a God that loves me enough to buy me back when I least deserve it, even if it means a slow, humble, pathetic crawling back out the pit of sin and shame.


  1. Wendy, thank you for so accurately and eloquently sharing the battle I know all too well! I'm so thankful for Owen's work, Mortification of Sin, and the admonition it is to my soul to diligently fight the sin in my heart at the first & somtimes small signs of its uprising. May your heart be encouraged by the truth and implications for you of Romans 6. Love, Laurie

  2. My own weariness has caused me to forget that I have neglected our plan to share J.O. together. My small group is working through Temptation (abridged) during the six weeks before Easter. I will use this post in our "coffee talk" for this week. I love you, Wendy Stallings.

  3. Reading this post reminded me of a small painting with lettering that our oldest daughter, Courtney, gave me. It says, "Whether or not you write well, write bravely." That piece of art hangs above my desk as an ongoing challenge when I'm working.

    Wendy, you write bravely and all of us who read what you write benefit. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. I'm not sure how I came across your blog, but-thank you.