“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit.” ~~ Psalm 51:10-12
If God can create all there is–the giant universes of spinning galaxies flung far out into distant space beyond the sight of our eyes as well as the tiniest microbes invisible to our naked eye without a microscope–God can also create a clean heart and a new and steadfast spirit in us. Who says that the arm of the LORD is too short to accomplish this? It takes a big God to create such radical change, and our problem is that we limit God by refusing to recognize the extent of his creative powers. We have lost our faith in God, but gained a “faith in science” as we’ve become more educated and quit reading scripture literally. Because we think of a day as 24 hours, we only read Genesis in English, and science teaches us that the earth took many more years to form than a mere seven days, we tend to dismiss the other “truths” about God also, such as his steadfast love, his providing sustenance, and his abiding presence. We forget that the Hebrew word for day also means age, period of time, or “forever,” in the sense that God is still creating the world today!
When we limit God, we can begin to think of our God as not quite big enough to clean out the cesspool of our hearts. Sure, God could send Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world, but not for my sins! No, mine are too big, too important, and too terrible, for I am too broken, too unworthy, and too undeserving of salvation.
I was in the third year of being stalked by my ex-boyfriend, I was dealing with my daughter’s multiple suicide attempts and other forms of acting out because she had been abused by this man from the time she was eight till she was ten. We were in group or private counseling nearly everyday, both of us were medicated up the wazoo, and our lives were lived moment to moment. I was depressed even though I was “receiving enough prescription drugs to make a stone happy.” My pastor knew I had a spiritual need that had to be cleaned up before any medication or counseling would be effective, so he sent me on a three-day retreat where I could meet Christ in person, through the ministry of the priesthood of all believers. I saw a list of people who didn’t know me, but were praying for me and was amazed! Food and drink would appear just when we needed it, our beds would be made, and we were cared for so tenderly. We shared at the table, and I discovered that my beautiful table mates were just as troubled as I was: we were all broken and hurting in some way.
During a communion service, I received the washing I desperately needed and the clean heart every Christian can claim as their own. We were asked to name the thing that was keeping us separate from the cross, and I named “guilt over my daughter’s abuse.” I sat and waited for all the others to come forward and name their separation. We were breaking pieces of bread from the communion loaf and placing them into a basket as we named these pains and sorrows: anger, bitterness, addictions, wounds, abuse, etc. As the troubles of the world filled up the basket, the person holding it faded away and I saw Christ standing there saying to me, “This is my body, broken for you.”
In that moment, I realized that I’d named the wrong sin! I began to cry, for my true sin was arrogance, for I’d put myself on God’s throne and said God could forgive the whole world in Jesus Christ, but he couldn’t forgive me. But I am not God, and now I know this for a certainty. As I began to cry, I felt a new cleansing wash through my body and a new spirit flow into my life. God had restored my joy and my salvation in one moment! I could go home with hope and face the difficult work of facing the painful aspects of my own childhood and the daily stresses of my life. Those didn’t change, but how I dealt with them changed, for I had a helper who was stronger than myself, one who holds the galaxies together can hold my life together!