A Wretch Like Me

Would you like to hear a bad metaphor?

My heart is a sun. It’s hard to look at. When I’ve been brave enough to stare at my heart directly, to consider its shape and composition, its deep places and shallow, I have to look away. It’s a sun.

I don’t look away because of the brilliance or brightness. It’s not a blazing light that causes my eyes to sting. I look away because of darkness—darkness too overwhelming to bear, darkness that begs me to divert my gaze. Within it I see my true intentions, my deep insecurities, my fears, my propensity to pick the wrong thing, the ugly thing, the cruel thing, and they swirl about viciously in an ominous, oppressive cloud, and I realize: there is nothing good here at all. There is no light here to guide me.

This is where the metaphor goes bad. My heart is not a sun at all. There's no light in it.

The world tells me “Follow your heart.” The world promises that if I am true to my heart, I will find what I’m searching for. 

I’ve often listened closely to my heart, indulged in its whispers. Yet when I am honest about its voice, I realize it sounds hollow and cold. It sounds like darkness. 

Shall I follow the darkness? Shall I wrap myself in its shadows? It’s a tempting thought—there is rest to be found amongst shadows. But only for a time. For what true rest will I find in the dark heart-whispers about my marriage (It’d be easier to do this without him; he doesn’t really love you), about my parenting (Everyone is watching; you need to hustle more; be perfect and you can stay ahead of judgements), about my passions (You don’t have anything original to say; everyone is tired of listening to your words anyway), about my body (Everything will be better if you’re thin—look how stupid you look when your clothes don’t fit right)?

Sometimes my heart tells me unspeakable things, things of true ugliness. Things that if you saw them, I’d be outed. You’d be on to me. You’d know that I’m a phony.

For what can be said about a girl who does good things, but when she is honest and brave enough to really look, she finds that they are guided by ugliness? What can be said for a girl who talks about God but secretly hopes people give her the praise? What can be said for a girl who silently measures herself up against everyone in the room? What is her heart made of?

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Part of maturity is learning whom you can trust and whom you cannot, and my journey has led me inward. For I now know that in the truest parts of me, I desperately want to follow Jesus, but at the same time, I watch, horrified, at the ugliness that still thrives. Paul’s words ring true in my life: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

I hate harsh words, snap judgments, condescention, self-centeredness, pride, and yet when I dig around in my heart and pay attention to my thoughts and actions, I see these very things. Even as I plan a Bible study or a talk, I catch myself prioritizing not what people think about God but what they think about me—will they think I’m funny? Will they think I’m wise? Sometimes I wonder—do I even trust the Bible to transform, or has pride somehow convinced me that transformation is my job? Do I believe Jesus is the Savior, or do I think it’s me?

And so I find this to be hauntingly true: Even the good things I do are gross. God knew what he was talking about in Isaiah 64:6: “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” These are the words that echo in my brain when I work to redeem clothes that have endured accidents from a potty-training toddler. I hold the filth in my hands and think, “The good things I do are like this.” It’s the wisest thing I’ve ever learned from laundry.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Romans 7:18-25

Wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Jesus is my rescue. He is my rescue when I stare at my heart with burning eyes, quickly looking away because I cannot bear it. He is my rescue when I am overwhelmed to find that there is no light there to guide me, only oppressive darkness.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus was called the Light of the World. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1:5.

I can look at my heart and say this: “The light shines here, in this darkness. This darkness will not win.” He saw it all—the things I try to hide from you, all the ways I’m a phony, the motivations behind my seemingly good acts, all the fears I scribble on top of articles I write (“You have nothing original to say, no one wants to hear you talk”)—he saw all of that and chose to rescue and love me anyway. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it! Thanks be to God!

And so those good things—the disgusting, stained clothing things—I will be faithful to do them anyway, to recognize and call out the ugliness when I see it, to fearlessly pursue good, to continue to string good words together even though darkness discourages me and failure scares me. Because God in his overwhelming goodness is not only my rescuer and the lover of my unlovable heart, he lets me borrow his metaphor: “You are the light of the world,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. What kind of God loans his followers, possessors and purveyors of darkness, his very own metaphor? What a mysterious honor!

He continues: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14). We ought to shine, because our darkness has not overcome his light, and even though our light shines bleakly in comparison to his, it is powerful enough to bring him glory.

And so we shall stay faithful. We shall recognize the darkness in our own hearts by being brave enough to look at them honestly. And when the overwhelming darkness makes our eyes burn, we can divert our gaze to the one who inexplicably loves us, who inexplicably rescues us, who inexplicably lets us be light like him.

“Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:21