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The Story Under Our Skin

The Story Under Our Skin

John Calvin said, “Our wisdom... consists almost entirely of two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves.”1

We can have the same conversation with God, much like we have the same argument with our spouses, over and over and over again. Rewind, repeat. And often we name this “stuck,” as if God isn’t responsive or we’re not creative enough to capture His attention. But what if there is a third way?

Paying attention. I take time to notice myself. I notice the fog, rather than pushing through it. I pause to observe — without evaluation and strategy, but simply to understand what might be happening below the surface so that I can bring that understanding into my conversation with God. Paul says in Ephesians 4:22–24,

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and... be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and... put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. — ESV

At fifteen, I thought following God and putting off my old self meant drinking soda at parties, not alcohol, and “staying pure.” I stopped cussing and felt guilty when I tried cigarettes to look cool. Behavioral changes. Clearly I missed the full perspective of this verse, but I wonder whether you, like me, sometimes ask yourself what you’re putting off or putting on. Perhaps these verses are an invitation to pause, consider, notice: What is old in me, God, and what is the new You want me to wear?

I often find myself frustrated with the dated parts of my home and my unkempt closets, imagining my friend’s updated floor plan and organizing system. Without a minute or five to consider what’s leading to my grumpiness after we gather in her home and I catch a glimpse of that closet, I’m spending my Saturday cleaning closets and tearing pictures out of the Restoration Hardware catalog for a dream board.

But with those three or five minutes and a quiet space and some practice at looking a little bit deeper, I see that I feel overwhelmed with our chaos and wishful that I could return to days when decorating could be a priority.

I have something to put off.
And I have something to put on.

But it’s not about setting aside a beer can for sparkling water (or even the Restoration Hardware catalog for my Bible). It’s about what’s on the inside.

Recently I heard a woman described as “impressive.” She could lead a room. She had a quick wit and sharp intelligence. In her young life, she had accomplished much and seemed to continue accomplishing much. She worked late into the night and won the attention of clients and prospective clients because of her willingness to go the extra mile, no matter the cost. More than that, she loved God and prayed with power.

But I’d seen behind the scenes. I’d seen the dark circles under her eyes and her nervous habits. I knew she felt frayed as a mom, not enough as a wife, a failure as a friend. She wasn’t pleased with the work that wowed others.

She had a remarkable exterior life, but her inner life appeared to be headed for burnout. Christians around her applauded her diligence and her fervency in prayer, but they failed to notice the tightness in her gait.

We are often weak observers, of both ourselves and others, measuring the external and not looking beneath the surface. But the more I strengthen the skill of observing myself, the more I can see my neighbor. There are stories underneath our skin.

Most of us are not merely ignorant of them, we’re scared to see them. We’re afraid to look.

Seeing the stories beneath our skin can start as small as building moments into the day when we notice ourselves and our reactions to the world around us. Simple questions draw our attention to our interior lives, which crave God but often don’t know how to access Him. They draw our attention to the stuck parts of ourselves.

How did I feel after that conversation?

What made my heart race today? And what did that heart-racing tell me about myself?

When did the fog set in and I was merely reacting and not present? What happened just before this fog that might have made my brain go offline?

Underneath my mad, was there sad?
At what point did I start to feel bad about myself?
What couldn’t I erase from my mind?
What happened in my body and my thoughts after that conversation?

The pages of the Word tell us that God delights in truth in the inward being and teaches wisdom in the secret heart (Psalm 51:6). God cares about these deeper parts of ourselves that the questions uncover. He made space inside us to implant wisdom in, but when we’re mostly reacting, that secret heart from Psalm 51:6 is buried. Paying attention to what He cares about — the inner workings of our hearts — is a gentle process of excavating.

  • We can’t know the anxieties and the fears to bring to God unless we first notice them. Our response to our limits is worth our attention.

The Word is full of God’s care for the intricacies of the human heart, that heart we often ignore and shame with phrases like “Why can’t I just get over this? I don’t know why it feels so hard.” He understands the intricacies of our hearts, but we have to first notice them before we can ask Him for that understanding. The psalmist said,

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. — Psalm 73:16–17 ESV

God gives discernment to those who ask for it, but we must pay attention to know how to ask.

  1. John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008), 4.

Excerpted with permission from The Gift of Limitations by Sara Hagerty, copyright Sara Hagerty.

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Your Turn

Are you paying attention? Have you asked God what to put off and what to put on? Maybe He’s saying something to you today about the stuckness you feel. Maybe He’s drawing you back to the deeper truths in your heart and how you need Him. Ask Him to show you and He will! ~ Devotionals Daily