Jesus used to be on the throne of my heart, directing my life--at least in theory. The idea of inviting Jesus to be on the throne of one's heart is that we humans make a mess of our lives when we are in charge, but that when Jesus is in charge, he transforms our lives so that we are deeply fulfilled and are pleasing to God.
Unfortunately, this never worked for me the way it was supposed to. After I invited Jesus to be on the throne of my heart, I simply felt guilty whenever I wasn't doing what Jesus wanted, which was frequent. I wasn't telling others about Jesus enough, and I certainly wasn't as selfless as Jesus wanted me to be. In fact, doing all the selfless things Jesus wanted just didn't appeal to me at all. When I did try to do what I thought Jesus wanted, I often wound up a total grump because I was forcing myself to do things I didn't want to do.
Then I reached a turning point. I did something that I absolutely knew Jesus would not want me to do--and I did it on purpose. I flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to hear a friend sing the role of Susanna in Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. I wanted so much to hear my friend sing in this opera that I love. So I bought a ticket to the performance and a plane ticket from New Orleans to Cedar Rapids and back, and I reserved a hotel room in downtown Cedar Rapids, a block from the theater where the opera would be performed. I flew to Cedar Rapids on Saturday morning, saw the Saturday evening performance, and flew back to New Orleans on Sunday.
I knew absolutely that Jesus did not approve of such frivolous spending. It cost approximately $500 for the opera, the plane ticket, and the hotel room. Jetting around the country to see an opera seemed decadent and selfish. Instead of spending that money to please myself in such an extreme way, I should have given that money to people in need.
But I wanted to see my friend as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro. I wanted to give myself that experience. And I chose my own desires over those of Jesus. And I enjoyed it. Oh, it was so wonderful! I was floating on the joy and beauty of that opera for weeks. My friend was pleased that I came, too.
It wasn't too long after this that I decided to dethrone Jesus. I actually sat down one day for the dethroning. I said something like this: Jesus, I won't pretend any more. I don't want you in charge of my life. I don't enjoy it when you're in charge. In fact I'm way more grumpy when I try to do what you want. So I hereby officially remove you from the throne of my life and enthrone myself. Maybe my life will be a mess, as they say, with myself in charge, but at least I'll enjoy it more and I won't feel so guilty all the time.
I told a few of my friends about this, and I was struck with something my friend Dick said: "It will be interesting to see what kinds of things you do now--whether you do good things or bad things." Yes, it certainly will, I thought.
And you know what? My life did not become a mess. I did not find myself doing bad things. In fact, I noticed something interesting. I found myself actually wanting to do good things. But they were good things that I naturally wanted to do, not all these good things that Jesus wanted me to do that had no relation to the kind of person I am. Jesus wanted me to talk to people about being saved and to do extraverted kinds of helping behaviors. I, on the other hand, wanted to have more honest conversations about what I and others believed. I wanted to read, write, draw, and enjoy music. I wanted to have friends over for meals and parties. And I wanted to be helpful to others in ways that suit who I am.
I also noticed that I do indeed want to do wrong things at times. The kind of wrong things I find myself wanting to do are based on satisfying an emotional impulse or assuaging fear. For example, if someone hurts me, I want to lash out in anger or to hurt that person back in some way. Likewise, if I'm afraid that I won't have what I need, I feel compelled to grasp and hoard. But I'm also aware of a deeper part of myself that doesn't want to give in to anger or fear. What I want most deeply is to be compassionate--to act with deep respect for the other person and for myself. I want to pull back, recognize that I'm feeling angry or fearful, and choose to act from a place of love and respect instead.
Without Jesus on the throne of my heart, I am free to discover my own core of divine compassion and wisdom. This compassion and wisdom is already there. It is an intricate part of who I am as a human being. But I cannot be in touch with this part of myself if I am constantly focused on what Jesus wants rather than on what the deepest part of me wants. With myself on the throne of my heart, directing my life, I can examine my sometimes conflicting desires and choose to be who I most deeply want to be.
I have found that, at my core, there is not a chaos of wrong desires that make a mess of my life. Wrong desires, such as wanting to satisfy an angry impulse or to grasp greedily what I think I need, are very much on the surface. At my core, if I take the time to go there, is a well of compassion, respect, and wisdom. This is not pride speaking. It's simply part of the package--it's part of who we humans are, if we can but recognize our deepest core.