The Scripture informs us of the spiritual battle between good and evil. Each of us encounters this struggle in different times and ways. Dialectic School teacher Deborah Childers P '18, '20 was reminded of the battle for our hearts on a recent vacation. She writes how Christ, the Ultimate Victor, gives strength, protection, and hope to His children in the fight.
I am on vacation at the beach. The sun seems to rise early here, illuminating clouds and reflecting on the water. There is a beauty that transcends my ability to describe. I’ll start my day alone with God (and coffee), eventually joined by people I love: my husband, my sisters, and brothers, my kids, and my nieces and nephews. The day starts slowly and we engage unhurried. For years, these family beach gatherings have been sweet days of grace.
But this morning, I am aware that despite the beautiful setting, I am on a battlefield. Every person I love is engaged in a personal battle that overlaps and interacts with others' battles. And even though our circumstances may vary, we are all ultimately involved in the same battle, the battle for our hearts.
Several years ago, my family enjoyed a television series called Once Upon A Time, which depicted a cast of classic storybook characters transported to a modern-day town in Maine. The chief antagonist was the Evil Queen whose intent was to remove every character’s heart so that he or she lost all ability to love. Quite literally, the Evil Queen could reach into the chest cavity, pull out the victim’s heart, put it in a box, and lock it away. The queen’s victims appeared normal and functioning, but without a heart, they engaged in all sorts of hurtful and harmful behavior.
In our real world, Satan is the enemy of our souls, and like the Evil Queen, he wants to render us heartless. His weapons include cynicism, self-pity, anger, resentment, and bitterness. He feeds addictions to comfort, aversion to pain, and indulgence of self. He even warps Christian conviction, creating self-righteousness, pride, and legalism. Our enemy is wily and, just like the queen, his goal is to neuter our hearts. He follows us daily, even when we’re on vacation.
How is the battle for your heart fought? How is the enemy penetrating your heart with lies? How is he capturing your faith and subverting it to his false narrative?
We all have our own particular battle. Some of us have suffered great loss or pain. We may numb our pain with food, shopping, alcohol, or work to create a sense of control. Some of us have been profoundly disappointed and perhaps betrayed. We have withdrawn or lashed out, or perhaps fed a sense of superiority through judgment and gossip. Some of us haven’t reached our goals. Some of us have settled for a half-life of technology and screens. Difficult circumstances always tempt us to default on our faith. It’s just easier to seek comfort, justification, or numbness.
The greatest danger we face is confusing our enemy and not seeing the real battle. We instinctively blame people and circumstances. It’s far harder to recognize there is a target on the back of every son and daughter of God. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic (although I have been so accused), but God’s enemy is our enemy, and that enemy fights to capture our hearts and hollow our faith. What we don’t see, we won’t oppose. Consequently, many of us confuse our enemy, swinging at the people and circumstances around us, mistakenly believing that if we can just do “this” or change “that,” our lives will be better. Every day we are lulled into fighting the wrong battle against the wrong enemy.
I fight many battles, but when it comes to battling for loved ones, I can easily settle for trying to inspire their right choices and diminish their suffering. My weapons are advice, confrontation, and pressure. I hope they learn from my mistakes and my wisdom. This battle feels good and right and even noble. But if I’m not careful, I can help others fight their battles while neglecting my own. When I take too much responsibility for others’ battles, I am vulnerable to stealth attacks of disillusionment, resentment, and fury. My core battle is learning to stand in the faith God supplies. Every day I fight to believe God is trustworthy when people and circumstances suggest otherwise. My battle is to preserve truth and love in my mind and heart.
Paul’s words to the believers in the ancient city of Ephesus ring true today:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces in evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:12-13)
If our battle is invisible it makes sense that God's chosen weapons are invisible. Later Ephesians 6 we learn of the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the sword of the Spirit, and the gospel of peace. The real battle is about keeping the faith of our minds alive in our hearts. Our best weapons put us in a position of radical reliance on Jesus. We remember what He has done for us. We daily confess our sins and claim His ongoing forgiveness and grace. We learn and apply His truth. We stand alert and ready to put our faith into words and action.
All of this requires humility, which is quite different from my preferred mode of fighting. I want to be well-spoken, persuasive, and logical. Jesus asks me to depend on His Holy Spirit and speak only as He leads.
God alone knows the roles each of us has in life's battles. I am prone to stand on Mt. Vigilante, yelling out directives and giving advice, doubting anyone can fight their battles without my involvement. But some days, I can just as easily recline on Mt. Comfort, watching from a distance, offering vague encouragement, and telling myself everything will be okay. Others may lounge on Mt. Denial, allowing pleasures and diversions to keep them from even seeing the battle. We all have our preferred strategies.
Today I’m abandoning my preferred battle positions and letting God put me in a different place, the Valley of Holy Longing. Here I face the enormous gap between God’s promises and my present reality. It takes courage to be still and let this pain disrupt my heart. It leads me to receive one of the best God-given weapons, prayer. I confess my tendency to criticize, advise, and correct. I ask for more faith for me and for those I love. I meditate on this truth of God, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever, and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20)
I throw my heart into this battle, listening to my Wise Warrior and Suffering Savior who did the same for me. The Valley of Holy Longing is a lonely and painful place, but it is also where my best fighting happens. It is where Jesus is big and my efforts are small. It is where hope is sustained.
Jesus, open our eyes to the real battle for our hearts. Let us resist puny weapons like gossip and criticism. Let us stop pretending and avoiding. Replace our fear with courage and help us feel the pain of our longings. In that vulnerable place, may we claim Your promises and ultimate victory, both in our lives and in our loved ones. Stir in us a fiery faith and an audacious hope that You are on the move, championing truth, and unconditional love. Amen.
This article is copied with permission from Deborah Childers' blog, "Disrupted... navigating the unexpected." Deborah is a former Caldwell parent and presently teaches composition in our middle school. Read more from her blog at www.deborahchilders.org.