It’s an inside job

We recently went on a family car trip to South Carolina. The Suburban was packed full with six kids, our golden retriever, “Teton,” many bags of gold fish, juice boxes, peanut M&M’s, sub sandwiches, crayons and coloring books, jellybeans galore, book bags, pillows and stuffed animals.

When we returned to Nashville the car looked as if a tornado had passed through it. Gooey chocolate, sticky apple juice, crushed goldfish in ever nook and cranny, pacifiers glued to the seat, melted crayons and the very unpleasant scent of a wet dog. Surprisingly, the outside of the car looked brand new. The inside—A masterpiece of mess.

I didn’t even know where to begin. My sister took a look inside and suggested Stephen’s mobile car cleaning company whose slogan is, “I’ve seen everything!” When Stephen arrived he took a quick spin around the car. His look was grave. After some uncomfortable silence, I nervously asked him, “What is it going to take?” He looked up, “I can put a polish on those outside scratches on the bumper and she’ll look better than new.” And then he peered back into the window, “But Ma’am, what you really need is an inside job!”

It got me thinking. How closely does my exterior life reflect what’s happening in my interior life?

So often we present to the world a life that appears polished and gleaming of perfection, when inside we are a hot mess. Instead of finding smeared M&M’s and sticky apple juice inside the suburban, when we take a serious look inside to the dwelling place of our soul we are likely to find surprising insecurity, anxiety and fear. Open the heart compartment and there lies some residual hurt and disappointment. Lift up the thinking floor mat of the mind and our less savory virtues of impatience, envy, pride, resentment and selfishness await.

Face it, we all have places inside that could use some “tidying” in order to operate more honorably. I know I am due an “inside job” when the stresses of life hamstring the desires of my soul. If I am not careful, my heart can be overrun by worry, the pressures of complicated relationships, my pride and life’s mundane but necessary business. I begin to feel this inner resistance that manifests as less creativity, less patience and anxiety. I find I am thinking too much about myself and not enough about others. I am spiritually off-balance. Thomas Merton, one of my favorite spiritual mentors, believed that God entrusted us to work out our own salvation. Although this feels daunting, I think what he meant is that we each hold the dream of God within us. Whether we manifest that dream is completely left up to us.

There are times when the inside of my heart looks much like the inside of my suburban. I struggle with the art of juggling: mother of six, wife, writer, counselor and friend. I fret over whether I am doing what God created me to do. I can feel chaotic and fragile on the inside, even while appearing serenely in charge on the outside. It is in these moments that I need to take a breath and let go of emotions, relationships, expectations and responsibilities that are blocking my soul from doing what it was meant to do. And that is to love.

To live at my best, I must declutter my inner life to make more room for joy, peace, growth and a capacity for love both given and received. This entails lessening my tight grip, confessing my flaws and shortcomings, releasing my fears and insecurities to God and inviting the Divine back into the driver’s seat of my heart. Every now and again, I need an “inside job” to remember who I truly am. Who cares what my outside looks like—What counts is the supernatural shine of my inside.

Live in Hope,



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