As I sit early in the morning, I am refreshed from spending time with God. As I relax and watch the warm sun rise, I think about a game I used to play with my sister Debbie. We grew up in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California - and in case you didn't know - it gets HOT there. We lived in Glendora, which is right at the base of the San Gabriel mountain range. Valleys are not as flat as you might picture them - at least not in California. Our community was populated with a variety of foothills all around. In fact, one of the main roads through Glendora is named Foothill Avenue (also known as Route 66, just so you know).
Right down the street from our house was a park called South Hills Park. The park itself was very small, but it was nestled among some rather tall foothills. My sisters and I loved going to the South Hills park and hiking and climbing around and exploring nature in the hills. It would get pretty hot doing all that climbing - and often when Debbie and I were done - we ran the two blocks home to grab glasses of water. That’s where the game came in. We would “torture” ourselves with the water and see who could hold out longest from taking a drink. We would hold the glasses just a few inches away from our lips and wait - no matter how dry our throats were or how parched our tongues. We would sit and torture ourselves.
One day, when we were adults, we were sitting by a poolside watching our kids swim. Debbie said, “Do you remember torturing ourselves with water?” I said, “Yes. Why did we do that?” Debbie said, “I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea.” I think about how often I have done things that seemed like good ideas, but in reality, were not. One time I tried eating grass - I was thinking how awesome it would be to be able to eat grass just wherever I was and not have to go make food. Not a good idea. Another time, I was working on a project at school (I was in fourth grade). I had glue all over my fingers, and didn't want to mess up my project. I licked the glue off my fingers. Expedient, but definitely not a good idea. The brakes in my car felt a little soft once when I took off to head somewhere. I decided to ignore it. That did not work out well for me, either.
Those are some of the smaller examples. But as I reflect over my life - and particularly when I think about torturing myself for no good reason - I realize I have tortured myself on a spiritual level as well. I was a young mom when I fell on the floor one night and gave my life to God, entering into what I realized was the most amazing relationship ever. My life changed. My heart changed. I felt it, and I knew it. I was a different person - and for the first time in my life I started to like myself. But for a good ten years, I tortured my spirit and soul. I was on a spiritual starvation diet. I prayed intensely about two times each week and got my Bible time in on Sunday mornings at church. Sure, I heard people - pastors and others - talk about the importance of reading my Bible and praying every day, but I didn't really consider those activities for me. Those were for missionaries and pastors and really religious people.
My spirit was starving, and my soul craved the fuel I needed from studying God’s Word, but I paid no attention because my life was so busy.
Kind-of like when I would finally give in to my thirst and drink the soothing, cool water as a child - I finally came to the point where I gave in and realized I needed to do something for my soul. That’s the only way I can think of to describe it. God was part of my life on an intellectual level. But physically, emotionally, and personally I excluded Him. I made no time for the things my soul desired. My Bible was always nearby, and my soul longed for me to open it, but I never did until finally my inner pain and emptiness became a burden I could no longer bear.
And I found that to be quite unbelievable to be honest. I was a Christian. I read books written by Christian authors. I went to church every Sunday. How could I possibly be empty? How could I possibly have an unfulfilled yearning? How could I possibly be depressed? Why did I continue making the same mistakes repeatedly? Everything that was inside me was roiled up, confused, and in pain. I was dehydrated and starving, and it was torture.
I realized Bible verses that I had always assumed were figuratively written just to paint a picture were actually literal:
Psalm 42:2, My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
Psalm 63:1, You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
Psalm 143:6, I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.
Matthew 4:4, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
So I made a decision which changed my life yet again. I decided I would read my Bible and pray every day. I would find out for myself what the Bible had to say. I would read it and pray about it and think about it. It was definitely not an easy thing to do. I set a goal for myself to read through the entire Bible - at a rate of one chapter per day. And I did it. At first, to me it was more like a regimented schedule I was on than any real spiritual journey. But in spite of me, I began to change. My relationship with God began to grow. God is supernatural, and this relationship is supernatural; my soul is fed and God is with me. My outward circumstances have nothing to do with my inward relationship. Stand or fall, God is with me. Prosper or fail, He is my friend. Life or death, God is near.
Now, many years later, I look back and wonder why I spent such a long time starving my soul? It was expedient, I suppose, as I do get up early now to read each day. Maybe it was even convenient. It seemed convenient to let the pastor study the Bible and tell me what to think about it. But in reality, spiritual torture takes a toll, and is far more exhausting than rearranging my schedule and feeding and hydrating my hungry and thirsty soul.