Turning from Vanity: Monster-Psalm Meditation #5

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees,
and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
which is for those who fear you.
Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
for your ordinances are good.
See, I have longed for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life.

I am trying to “turn away from vanities” and hoping to seek instead “life in God’s ways.” I’m trying to figure out how to do this as a person who has always been very achievement-oriented. I want to believe that my ambition and ego can somehow be sanctified and made more useful to God than the sinful vanity that they currently represent in my life.

I grew up in a family of overachievers. My grandfather who had been a promising young surgeon in the mid-1940’s got polio which left him handicapped in 3 out of 4 of his limbs. So he invented the electric wheelchair and wrote the definitive textbook on medical physiology for the last half of the 20th century along with a ton of other books. When older doctors hear my last name, they ask what my relation is to Dr. Guyton. My dad and his 9 brothers and sisters all attended Harvard Medical School on their way to becoming doctors. I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. I don’t think anyone ever told me that I was supposed to do something significant with my life, but I grew up assuming that I would.

It’s very hard for me to “keep my heart focused on God’s decrees” and not “on selfish gain.” It’s honestly hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. I think that God has given me a word that I need to proclaim from the rooftops. But I need too badly to be the messenger. I don’t know how to kill the fame-lust though perhaps the problem is that I’m simply unwilling to put it on the altar. When my articles get rejected, which has happened so many times, I just get hungrier and the pressure builds inside the champagne bottle of my heart. So I ask God to take the fire away if he wants me to stop blogging and sending articles to people, if all of this is just vain narcissism. But something in me keeps on saying that it’s not reducible to that. There’s a divine call somewhere mixed in with the filth of my pride and envy and greed. And I feel commanded to obey it.

There’s a beautiful image in CS Lewis’s Great Divorce that gives me a lot of hope. There’s a man whose slavery to lust is personified as a horrible lizard chewing and clawing on his shoulder. An angel approaches the man and asks if he wants him to kill the lust. The man hesitates and makes excuses for several pages but the angel persists until the man finally acquiesces. The man screams as the death of this parasitic lizard on his shoulder causes him excruciating pain. As he lies collapsed around on the ground, the dead lizard of lust undergoes a metamorphosis into Godly desire, which is represented by a big, beautiful stallion. The man jumps on the horse and he rides off into the mountains towards the dawn of God’s kingdom.

So now I stand before You, God, like that man did, as many have done, saying please kill it, please kill everything that is rotten about my ambition. Kill my lust for fame and recognition and replace it with the pure desire that You would be glorified. “Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good. See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.” I do long for your precepts even amidst my sarcasm, my arrogance, and all of the other abominations of my soul.

As Paul writes in Romans 7, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord.” Let me hunger only for Your truth; let me clamor only for Your glory; let me be a simple earthen vessel in which Your λογός and πνεύμα may dwell eternally.

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