A Divided Heart

It is interesting to me how different organs of the body became associated with parts of the human psyche. Really, it is all happening in the brain. If I say that my heart is divided, everyone understands that it is actually my mind that is being pulled in two different directions. God should be the wholehearted pursuit of my mind, but I wanted to find a middle-ground of sometimes pursuing God in my thoughts and other times pursuing fancy. I had to remember that righteousness or sin is a path that is walked; if you behave as though there is a line, you try to get as close as possible to the line without crossing it. This leads to endless temptation and limitless opportunity for sin. We are to flee sin, which means not creating or indulging in opportunities to commit it.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, I have been reading fiction, which is something I don’t often make time for. Of course, this alone is not a sin, but if I allow the fantasy to take over my mind, the Devil uses it as a wedge to keep my thoughts off God. Last week, I quoted C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, in which the Devil is portrayed as wanting to keep humans focused on the future so that they don’t live in the present. Fiction works the same way and has proven to be an effective technique for me. My tendency for introspection, combined with my imagination, make it easy for me to mentally hide in a fictional world. The result is that I get frustrated when reality intrudes upon my thoughts. It pains me to realize that I am more bothered when the world intrudes on my fantasy than when it intrudes upon Bible study or prayer. I have spent too much of my life with my mind in the unreality of daydreams rather than in the present. In my youth, I didn’t even consider fighting this tendency!

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings for death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:13-17

Since I have begun to fight the battle for my mind, I know that I have gained ground. I don’t think I will ever be able to proclaim victory on this side of heaven, but I understand the importance of ‘fighting the good fight.’ Progress in this struggle is presently evidenced by the fact that I have not yet finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, even though I am tempted to trade sleep or blog writing for reading. So much in life is about discipline and self-control; employing restraint in one area helps to build it in another part of life. I am sure that there are many people, like myself, whose actions are trained and controlled to keep them on the right path. But what about our minds? We discipline our bodies, but do we keep control over our thoughts? This is perhaps the most difficult thing for me, and I suspect I am not alone in this.

Sins of the mind are a challenge because we are only subject to accountability from God. Over the years, as I have achieved more discipline in daily Bible reading, it has helped me begin to ‘take every thought captive.’ Limiting my intake of secular music has also helped keep my focus on the things of God instead of the things of my imagination. But I still struggle whenever a book, movie, or television show catches my imagination and brings its characters alive in my mind. The choices of what I read and what I view have an enormous impact on what I think about. Still, even the most innocent story can divide my heart simply because it is not God-centered. One of my favorite books is Pride and Prejudice. I have read the book repeatedly and watched the five-hour movie version of it innumerable times. I know the characters so well that they come alive in my mind. It isn’t inherently sinful, but God does not want me to live in that story.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

Looking back, I can see how learning to live in the present instead of in my mind has helped me to control my depression. I used to think the escape would help me to be happier, but it only feeds discontentment. I can never completely rid myself of reality, and reality can never measure up. Instead, if I keep a tight lid on imagination, I can find joy in living real life. This joy comes from a growing knowledge and understanding of God and how my life fits into His plan. The challenge is how to engage with fiction for entertainment, without my affections being divided. I know I can’t try to walk a line. I have to set my mind on the things above and choose to walk a path of righteousness. No matter what I read or watch, I cannot allow myself to forget the reality of who I am and Who my God is.

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