“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”Gal 5:1
Montmarte is an artsy and colorful district in Paris that was once home to painters such as Renoir, Picasso and Van Gogh. This place remains a favorite of locals and tourists for what it offers as far as street cafes, shops and sights. It was a beautiful morning when my friend and I rode the funicular going up the butte with Sacre Coeur Basilica at its pinnacle. This is the place to savor and photograph some of the best panoramic views of Paris. After a series of selfies, we climbed down the 270 steps, pausing at times to take in the lovely scenery a little bit more. As soon as we reached street level, our shopping expedition officially began.
Aside from well-known boutique brands that can be found elsewhere in Paris and Europe, Montmarte is home to local small businesses that sell unique items. We were there on a Sunday, so in addition to the usual stores and establishments, the Marche aux Puces was in full swing. Although I’m not a flea market expert, I still found it amusing to simply look around.
After scoring a bargain at Fragonard Parfumeur and purchasing some clothing items, we happily concluded our productive Montmarte morning. We decided to take the Metro back to our hotel to drop off our “souvenirs” before heading out for lunch. At this point I was carrying a big brown shopping bag on my shoulder. After inserting my ticket at the station, and physically pushing the turnstile to get to other side, my shopping bag got stuck behind me against one of the horizontal bars. Now we all know that the purpose of a turnstile is to ensure a unidirectional flow of people. In other words, a fully functioning turnstile (like this was) could not rotate backwards in the opposite direction. It was practically immobile with my shopping bag wedged in.
The situation became even more horrific when I realized that building up behind me was a line of people who didn’t look particularly excited about getting delayed or having to switch to the other queue. (There were only two turnstiles on that particular platform and thank God the other one didn’t have an American tourist stuck in it.) I essentially caused a 50% obstruction in the flow of pedestrian traffic in a popular subway stop, on a pretty busy Sunday. I’m certain that the total duration of my entrapment was not even a minute, but it felt like five long embarrassing minutes to me. My quick-thinking friend inserted another ticket, enabling the turnstile to rotate again in the forward direction, which then set me and my bag free and unharmed.
I blog about being temporarily trapped in a turnstile not just because I find it hilarious (in retrospect); but perhaps that one brief moment could serve as a tiny metaphor for many of the bigger struggles we find ourselves in. The lesson for me has nothing to do with shopping in and of itself, but it has everything to do with the condition of my heart and choices that I make.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life.”Prov 4:23
First of all, I was amazed by how easy it was to get stuck. Sometimes we have no idea how vulnerable we are. I view this as a gentle reminder to never presume that “I have arrived” in character, faith or spiritual maturity. The truth is I can always be ensnared by sin with one squeaky turn of my self-centered will. Secondly, the root cause of my physical entrapment was a load that I placed upon myself. I was not a victim of other people’s choices. I picked each and every item that filled the bag I was carrying. These reflections prompted a series of questions:
- What objects of affection have I yet to surrender to the sovereign will of Him who first loved me?
- What is my heart attached to that hinders me from knowing His grace in every aspect of my life?
- What do I need to be emptied of in order to live in the fullness of His joy?
Whatever must go, whatever must be abandoned to have Jesus – he’s worth it. He’s worth it now, and he will be worth it into eternity.God Does His Best Work With Empty, by Nancy Guthrie
The synoptic gospels tell the story of a rich young man who came to Jesus, with a desire to know how he could earn salvation. “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” was his question (Matt 19:16). Based on his self-evaluation, this human being believed that he had already obeyed ALL the commandments of God. He thought he could secure his place in eternity by doing more. He was not at all prepared to hear that what Jesus wanted was for him to give up ALL.
At this, the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.Mark 10:22
Jesus knew that this man’s heart was enslaved by his love of wealth. The problem is not the wealth, but his worship of it. Out of compassion, Jesus shed light into his blind spots by asking him to let go of ALL earthly possessions. Our Lord was not being harsh. He was being kind in that he longed for this person to realize that his heart, which he thought was in full obedience to God, was actually in awe of something other than God. This means that contrary to his self-assessment, he really hasn’t loved the Lord with ALL his heart, soul and mind.
As we begin this new year, perhaps our prayers ought to focus on asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what we need to be emptied of. Let us pray for the grace to let go and lay everything at His feet, so that our hearts can delight in fullness of joy in Christ alone.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.Psalm 16:11