Observations from The Sacred Romance – Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (by Brent Curtis and John Eldridge) among a few friends: Jeanie. Amy Jo, Heather, and Candi. Like many of you, we are all busy and family-involved and serving God wholeheartedly. We, too, though, have found that you can be doing lots of good things and still totally miss the joy-filled life God may have been planning. What on earth gets us off-track? We hope you'll let us know what you are thinking, too…
I told you I'd let you know a bit about each of us as we go along. Today, I'll tell you about myself. Everything you'd ever want to know about me, plus waaaaay more can be found on this very blog. Check out the FYI page for general info about my life as a wife, mom of grown kids (raised 5 and lived to tell about it!) and being a "Nonna." And go here for a collection of the writings I think describe my true thoughts, fears and victories, with titles like "Women of Fury," "The Confessions of a Baby-Book-Challenged Mom," "The Stoning," "After the Loss," and more. That is pretty much me in a nutshell!
Chapter Two: An Unknown Romancing AND Chapter Three: The Message of the Arrows
From Jeanie: In Chapter 2, Brent wrote, "Each of us has a geography where the Romance first spoke to us. It is usually the place we both long to see again and fear returning to for fear our memories will be stolen from us."
Oh, I so totally understand what he is saying. I have long known that I had this incubated existance, this sort of joyful and worry-free patch of sunny-God-interwoven-everywhere-living on York Street in Des Moines, Iowa. I tell Dave, "I need to go back there." It isn't about the city, but I need to go. I need to get out of the car and walk on York Street, inhale it, touch it, look deeply.
I realize that longing is strange, but I left a little girl there in 1970, a girl who was trusting of life and carefree. She was innocent, running barefoot through grassy yards and across the alley to her best friend, Nancy's house. She played outside way past dark on summer nights chasing lightening bugs to the sound of crickets chirping and locusts humming steadily. She had a friendly camraderie with Shorty, the family milkman. She assembled dolls made from neighbor's Holleyhocks and toothpicks. Some days she and her little friends sold sparkly alley rocks to the (so-indulging) elderly neightbors for a quarter and a trip to the corner grocery to buy a sack full of penny candy. She played on a rusty swing set surrounded by the sweet, heavy aroma of lilacs. She went to church every Sunday (twice) happy and confident in her role as the pastor's daughter, and enjoyed the Bible Studies her parents hosted every Thursday night at her house: the screen door swinging open and shut repeatedly, people coming and going, her mom at the piano, song filling the air.
There was a big fan in the window on hot nights where that little girl and her siblings all five slept sideways in one bed to share the cool breeze. An enclosed porch on the less-used side of the big stucco house provided a place for quiet moments – playing with Barbies or planning a backyard circus with playmates. Her dogs had puppies and holidays were with extended family, lots of cousins! Grandma's house was just up the street and cousin Diana so close they walked together to school. Mom was home and dad loved to play the Edwin Hawkins Singers (O, Happy Day) or the Singing Rambos on the Hi-Fi so loud it reverberated around the block. She fussed over three younger brothers and a baby sister. She was already an organizer, planning neighborhood relay events and creating the prizes and ribbons to hand out. She read, Peanuts, and Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and walked to and from a safe and accepting elementary school everyday. She was a little girl who sang her heart out all of the time: at church, at school, in the living room with family, while she was swinging in the backyard, in the basement playing church (interspersed with preaching hell-fire and damnation). She sang upstairs draped in a blanket pretending to be Nancy Harmon leading the Victory Voices and sometimes alone, a reflective song when no one else knew (she even heard the music of heaven once when her mom thought she was napping).
I just didn't know…I didn't know, in those days, there was a world apart from God's Presence and this peaceful safety. I don't know what I thought was going to happen? I don't know why I was so unprepared for the end of innocence? I get that at some point, I knew something, grasped peace and my part in God's heart, and I lost it (through what Beth Moore calls the "captivity of activity").
Which naturally takes us straight to Chapter 3: the Message of the Arrows. And here is how I know the Arrows that have hit my heart over the years, (sometimes one or two at a time, seemingly powerless and unaffecting, and at other times in the way the author explained as, "a hail of projectiles that blocked out the sun,") have left their message. I know because a new loss or pain or arrow causes an uprorious reaction, a reaching into the past to assauge the sudden sharp dart brings recognition: I have been hit in this exact spot before – again and again. Yes, they have left their messages which "intimidate us into self-reliance," which is only self-defeat. After an arrow-blackened sky a couple of weeks ago, my husband shared with me a scene from "The 300" when the Spartans were threatened by their enemies, "We will cover the sky with arrows." Their reply was, "Then we'll fight in the [dark]." And that is my plan!
I am realizing more and more that we live a life of "particular" and peculiar convictions, thinking we just have weird personalities, when in fact, it has been survival, a result of believing the errant messages: I have to try harder. I have to put in more hours than anyone else. I have to prove my worth. I have to take care of myself.
After becoming totally stuck on the question on page 33, "How many losses can one heart take?", I was glad to see the chapter end with this hopefulness: "…the arrows aren't the final word." Like the Psalmist, I too, would have long ago despaired unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Amy Jo says: On Chapter 2, First of all, I'd like to say that this chapter got my attention from the get-go, simply because Anne Dillard's name appeared on the same page as Frederick Buechner's…nice. I respect them both, and coming from a critic's point of view, these boost my confidence in the authors of our book.
"Something wonderful woos us…something fearful stalks us" (page 14). Ah, yes, the ever-present, back-and-forth struggle of temporal life on this earth! I love Brent's colorful description of his earliest memories of the calling of Romance, and as I read, I couldn't help but be drawn back into my own childhood: the long days of no responsibility, freedom to play, unfiltered and unapologetic philosophical ideas of and inquiries into my little world. I would say in response to his lament of its passing on page 18, that even though my life has grown in complexity and responsibility since then, I have thankfully never outgrown my relationship with the calling of Romance. I still encounter it frequently and do my best to never take it for granted: a sliver-gold moon on a foggy night, a sunset that tints my whole neighborhood in a surreal golden glow, fully putting myself into treasure-hunting-secret-tunnel-exploring mode while watching the movie, "National Treasure," snuggling my pug in the patch of sunlight from the skylight in my ceiling, etc. I am having trouble, however, understanding the distinction the authors are trying to draw between Romance and idealism – if they are trying to draw one at all. Idealism holds such a negative connotation, and I find myself struggling to differentiate between the romance of the call of Romance and what my world has labeled "childishness." Hmmm…
Page 19 states that in the journey of our hearts, Romance has most often come to us in two forms: the longing for adventure, which requires something of us, and the desire for intimacy, to be truly known by some one. I believe that life here on earth is all about both, and I agree with the authors that God has "left us all with the haunting of this Sacred Romance to draw us home" (page 21).
As for The Message of the Arrows in Chapter Three, I cannot help but read this chapter with the image of the "whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6.10-20) in the forefront of my mind. I have always pictured "the fiery darts of the wicked one" as arrows, so the idea of arrows is not unfamiliar to me. It was a new concept, however, to consider that I could make sure that the arrows that were meant to hit their mark and missed, would find their way to my vitals! How many times could I have shaken off a harsh word, criticism, or unkind deed and submitted it to the truth of Christ, but instead chose to pick up the arrow and insert it directly into my heart? How many times have I chosen to be wounded?
Page 28 states that "Our deepest convictions are formed without conscious effort, but the effect is a shift deep in our soul. Commitments form never to be in that position again, never to know that sort of pain again." Now THIS I can relate to…and I must concede that after significant pain, trust in God's ability to heal my pierced heart dwindles, so I invent my own barricades from the world. I put up a wall and post imaginary watchmen there. And if those don't seem to be enough, I'll also surround my wall with a moat, assuring myself that these will surely keep me from having to be healed by God again. How tragic is it that I would hold off God's grace in such an unteachable fashion?
*Side note from Amy Jo: Regarding my question about the authors' understanding of my heart's "deceitful wickedness" (Jeremiah 17.9), "The Romance whispers that we are some one special, that our heart is good because it is made for someone good; the Arrows tell us we are a dime a dozen, worthless, even dark and twisted, dirty" (page 32). Still wondering if/how they will address the effect the fall of man has had on the longings of my heart…
Candi's thoughts: First I'd like to say that I get this book…I really get this book. These chapters did such an incredible job of putting into words what I've been feeling. Second, I'm a pretty happy person. I was recently described as "well adjusted," which I liked! However, when you're well-adjusted and usually in a good mood, others assume you haven't had issues to deal with. If only I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, "You have a perfect life." Well, on page 31 it says, "It is as if we have all been 'set up' for a loss of heart." And my heart has been no exception.
It has been very challenging to pinpoint the Romance for me…I've had quite a few Arrows. My childhood felt fairly serious. I grew up as the youngest of 3 and by the time I was born (my siblings are 8 and 10 years older than me) our family was filled with stress and no one got along. Many disagreements stemmed from the fact that my mom was a Christian and my dad was not. My family members always argued very loudly and things would be broken…there was always an underlying tension waiting to explode. I was traumatized by this, living in fear. I became the peacemaker between all members of the family since I tend to get along with everyone. I would feel the Romance when there was unity in our family. It's as if we belonged together in spite of our struggles and differences.
In my childhood I definitely played with friends and experienced carefree times of imagination and pretend play. These times, however, don't spark strong feelings of "romance" for me. I feel as if they weren't enough to cover the turmoil that existed in my family. Also, I was taught that you can imagine that you can be anything your heart desires, but don't get your hopes up too high. So I didn't and now I wonder if I even had dreams…I was taught to focus on the "ought to's."
I did feel the Romance when I went away to college. I was on my own and didn't have to live in the turmoil of my family. There were new opportunities that awaited me. There are times I've felt the Romance in my marriage when my husband and I have connected spiritually and emotionally and I absolutely love sharing the role of parent with him.
Lately, though, I've really been focused on finding the Romance in my Christian walk, although I didn't know that's what it was that I was trying to find until reading this book. Page 20 says, "It is the core of our spiritual journey. Any religion that ignores it survives only as guilt-induced legalism, a set of propositions to be memorized and rules to be obeyed." Page 18 says, "Contemporary Christianity has often taught us to mistrust it, for fear it will lead us into some New Age heresy, unwittingly giving away what deeply belongs to Christian faith. We are certainly rarely told to listen to it, look for it, follow it to its source." Having come from a very legalistic Christian upbringing I know I was told this, though it seems to me that finding this Romance is the only way to fully embrace my spiritual walk and make it last a lifetime. However, I must deal with the Arrows and their messages…
The last few years I've really been trying to search for and deal with the Arrows. It all started when I gave my testimony about 3 years ago and strong emotions resurfaced from my past. It was as if I was in the moments, re-living them. This was difficult for me as I don't wear my emotions on my sleeve much. I'm well-adjusted, logical, collected. Prior to this, I, too, had placed an Arrow in my heart to kill the tears of mourning inside. And we all have tears, the Arrows, the messages – OUCH!
On page 33 it says, "Instead of dealing with the Arrows, we silence the longing…we lose heart." Well, today I've decided that I don't want my longings silenced anymore. I want to figure out exactly what my heart desires and refuses to be silent about! Where it says, on page 33, "Somehow our head and heart are on separate journeys and neither feels like life," well, I'm ready to place my head and heart on the same journey. I'm ready for the Romance and the Arrows to be reconciled. I want the life that's full and complete that God intended for me so that His Name will be glorified through my life!
Here's Heather's response: Ugh. I felt like such a mess while reading this chapter. It's overwhelming to me. Why did I feel hopeless reading this chapter?? I did not like Annie Dillard's quote at the beginning, "We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery." I may not fully understand what she meant by this, but to me she sounded hopeless! My heart is not fully awake, it is guarded and obviously there are Arrows that have been stuck there since childhood. So, if I do wake up, then what do I have to look forward to? More mystery!? I realized in this chapter that for all the Arrows still stuck in my heart, I've been breaking off the ends and leaving the tips inside so as not to "appear wounded." Great.
I laid in bed trying to look back over my life to circumstances or situations where I felt the romancing. I couldn't remember any. I asked God to show me the romancing of my childhood, and I just didn't see it. I saw, as I've shared before, these moments where a window opened up to me and I could see God. I would say it would be then He was wooing or romancing me, as if to say, there is something better for you. Thankfully, He didn't give up on me…
In speaking about our inner story, "It is a story whose plot contains both mystery and magic as well as foreboading and anxiety – what philosophers call 'angst.' When we listen most attentively to the inner story our hearts tell us about, most of us are aware that the plot revolves around two very different messages, or revelations" (page 14), one being the romancing. I am having a hard time with this. I am sure it is because of the mangled mess of my heart. But I am really struggling to find this romancing as a kid, "Life's first revelation – that great romance." I just cannot find it looking back on my childhood. I wanted it. I remember wanting it. I remember lonliness as a kid. I remember fear, not being safe and being alone. Yes, I played, but those aren't strong memories in my mind. I felt soooo much of the anxious atmosphere I lived in.
…Wait, a memory has been recovered!!! I remember lying on the floor of my grandma's apartment and the light from the sun was shining down on me through the window. I was listening to Dolly Parton's "Island in the Stream." I remember thinking to myself that everything was perfect in that moment. I felt warm, secure, and I remember wishing it would stay like that forever. That's my moment.
On pages 20-21, they quote C.S. Lewis talking about the pursuit and breakthrough of finding the "something I was made for," and the "secret signature of the soul." I just loved these descriptions. He says, "…The incommunicable and unapppeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all." This I resonated with. This is my purpose, my pursuit and fulfillment and my completion. I have no idea what it is, though!! That actually makes me laugh – probably because I now know it's in there, somewhere, and I only have to ask God to come in to help me find it.
I guess this chapter helped me to see that I never fully experienced the romancing as a child (or I simply cannot recall it), and I never had an understanding of the "secret signature of the soul" growing up. I really had it very backwards. I can at least begin the journey now. Thankfully, in writing these words, what began as a feeling of hopelessness is now, at least, replaced with hope.
Regarding the Message of the Arrows (Chapter 3), Ahhhh yes, the Arrows. No doubt we are all familiar with this concept, no matter our backgrounds or beliefs. I must say Psalm 91 holds a special place in my heart. I run to that scripture when I need protection, and it always lifts me up and breathes God's courage into me. However, to know that the messages from the Arrows are the lies I have believed, and in many ways even lived my life by, is tragic. I have heard this before, but it's now that I feel like God is wanting to uproot these lies in my life. Remember from Chapter 2, the tips of the Arrows are still stuck in my heart. These are the lies, I'm sure, the poison that has caused my heart such sickness.
On page 27, this question is presented to us: "Think of how you've handled the affliction that has pierced your own heart. How did the arrows come to you? Where did they land? Are they still there? What have you done as a result?" And referring to when the Arrows strike, "It feels more like an ambush and our response is at a gut level. We may never put words to it. Our deepest convictions are formed without conscious effort, but the effect is a shift deep in our soul." This is so true. I've hardened my heart, I've held people at arm's length and made the deep, intimate parts of my heart (where my dreams, desires, hopes and passions truly lie), off limits. So much so, that as I have stated before, I don't even know what I feel in the deep places anymore. I've become a stranger, even to myself. I have believed the messages that many of the Arrows have communicated to me and thus, these have become my truths.
On page 30 that author states, "…there was a part of me that refused to be healed, or filled or freed, or whatever it was that my heart refused to be silent about." I understand that. Why open yourself up to healing or freedom when you first must open up the vault of all the lies and wounds? That's where I've been for so long. I confessed in Chapter 1 that God has been pursuing me, only now, I am willing to risk it all to let Him in to have freedom and healing.
NOTE TO THESE WOMEN: I am so honored you are exposing your hearts and thoughts and gracing my blog site with your words and discoveries!
Thank-you again, Amy Jo, Heather and Candi. Your honesty blesses me!…Jeanie
NOTE TO READERS: We already know what the next God-directed-book will be. Wanna do this??? e-mail me…
NOTE TO SELF: "The arrows aren't the final word."
See our written thought on chapter one here