Not too long ago I discovered a part of my soul I barricaded against God. A Cave. A piece of my soul I didn’t realize existed as it was cleverly disguised by the sweeping fields of wildflowers and the entrance was tucked between two enormous oak trees, the door covered by the sweeping branches of a willow.
There in the depths of my soul, Jesus led me to the entrance to show me the one area he couldn’t access. I gave him my all, and He showed me the Cave. When I stepped inside, He stayed behind.
As soon as I stepped through the veil of leaves it became apparent that God had never been in this place. It was cold and damp; water dripped from the mud and rock ceiling and walls. I could hear various critters slithering in the crevices, the vacant hole consuming any hope of life and warmth. The faint whisper of despair cried out from the back, which had no end. A frightening black hole went further and further into part of me I knew led to oblivion.
It was my place of protection. The place I ran to when I didn’t trust God to look out for me. The deeper I went into the cave, the farther from Him I ran. The colder I became. The less I felt. The deeper the darkness.
Against the wall I saw a young girl, roughly twelve years old, pacing. Her skin pale from never seeing the sun, scraped and bruised, hair matted and tangled, clothes soiled and the stench profound. She had a wild look in her eyes as she prowled, refusing to make eye contact. I got closer and realized… she was me.
As I looked around, a frightening darkness beginning to creep into my heart and I longed for the warmth of the sun and the comforting arms of Jesus again. I went back to the entrance, hoping to leave the insane girl behind me for good. I didn’t like what I saw. Maybe I could just leave her here. She certainly wasn’t going to leave. When I reached the entrance, I found myself unable to cross the threshold. The gentle, sweeping branches had become bars.
I cried out for Jesus to let me out. He just stood there, his face twisted in pain. "Jesus!" I cried. "Please, let me out!"
“Why don’t you let me in?” He asked.
I looked down at my hands; they looked as though I’d been cursed with leprosy. I whirled around, looking for the girl… but she was gone. She was me. I looked back at Jesus, just on the other side, waiting. Asking me, again, to let Him in. Suddenly, I understood the young girl’s panicked pacing, her incoherent muttering, and her utter terror of the light.
When we give our all to Jesus, especially those of us who have experienced trauma, He often leads us to places deep inside that we don’t realize we created to protect ourselves. It’s one thing to say, “all I am, all I have, is yours.” It’s another thing when He points out something specific and says, “What about this?”
“This” was my cave of protection. Where I went when traumatized. When triggered and needing to fight back to protect myself. I had to hand over my fight and hardness of heart to God. When pain from years past is touched by the careless word of another, a pawn of the enemy to get me to run and hide from God and harden myself against the world, I had to run TO God, not away from Him, with the pain.
I got as far as removing the “bars” on the door and stepping into the light, but getting into the fresh water with Jesus, baptizing the part of myself that refused Him into a new creation was just too much. What if the water was as painful as pouring hydrogen peroxide on an open wound? What if the very act of baptism destroyed me entirely? Little did I know, that was actually the point.
A friend told me, after probably an hour of empathetic listening and compassion, “Some things about being a Christian are really simple, Sam. You just choose. You choose God. You make a decision and walk out that decision and your feelings follow. Don’t over-complicate it.”
The next morning, I sat with God during a sunrise and closed my eyes, picturing myself step into the warm light of the sun again and diving into the water. When I came up for air, my skin was new, clean, and perfect. The Cave remained, and I stayed in that water in my mind for days until I could crush that Cave with my will. Day by day, it became more real.
Jesus waited patiently beside me. When I was fully convinced there was no Cave to go back to, nothing left anymore but Jesus as my strong tower (Psalm 61:3), my refuge (Psalm 62:8), the wings to provide me shelter in the storm (Psalm 61:4), I stepped out of the water.
In my mind, I was clothed in a white linen gown and I’d never looked more perfect. I had been stripped of the old, clothed with the new. Jesus drew me to His side and we walked hand-in-hand together down a path. In the moments since then, I have felt fear and struggled with anger and wanted to run back to the Cave. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. And I picture myself clinging to the shirt on Jesus’ chest as if expecting to be ripped away by my own fear and anger.
I’m still beside Him.
I listened to a recent podcast by Beth Moore when she said something I can attest is 100% true. “There is nothing like going face down (before God) when obedience is so hard, when you can barely stand it, when you don’t think you can bear it, when you think obedience (to God) will kill you. When you go face down, you realize it was supposed to.”
Obedience to God is self-denial. Dying to self and all that we know to be true, clinging to the truth in His Word even when ever fiber of your being is screaming that it will destroy you. There is no greater act of worship than obeying anyway. Than being willing to say, “I don’t care if it kills me because I want Jesus more.”
Stepping out of a cave and into the light may not seem like a big leap, but it was an enormous mental, emotional, and spiritual victory for me. It set aside more than 25 years of hiding to live in the truth, in the light, of Jesus' love. To live vulnerable. Open. It's a habit to form, staying in the light. It's a matter of living moment to moment beside Him, in relationship with Him.
It is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6) and faith without deeds is dead (James 1:17). The fast that God wants from us isn’t in sacrifices or a list of righteous deeds, but to humble ourselves before Him (Isaiah 58). He longs for relationship, not religion. So much of that happens in our heart and mind, but it bleeds into our actions. After we take that step of faith, He reveals an even deeper realm of relationship that leaves us in awe. Meanwhile, after every act of faith, He whispers: