Pursuing an Inner Life

The two pictures below show Mt. St. Helens. One was taken on May 17, 1980, and the other was taken several days later.

Beneath the calm exterior of a majestic mountain boiled an inner life that would erupt with 20,000 times more power than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Each of us has an inner and an outer life. We sense this intuitively. We say of others, “They don’t know me, the true me.” A popular book on the Myers Briggs personality test is entitled, Please Understand Me.

While we vaguely sense an inner self, we primarily invest in our outer life. We dedicate hours in running on treadmills; we devour the latest tabloid diet; we pour out our hearts on career advancement; we spend hours in shopping for shoes or for shotguns.

These external activities are like mowing the lawn of Mt. St. Helens, on May 17, 1980.

Our truest self is our inner self. We are the same person the day before we are fired as the day after. A friend recently lost most of her right arm in a freak accident, but she lost not a single strand of hair of who she truly is.

The person we are inside is our truest person. But we’ve barely begun to know that person because we fail to know our inner life. And we certainly don’t invest in it.

What is an inner life?

It’s not just emotions. When we say someone “wears his heart on his sleeve” we mean he easily cries, or gets angry, or gets hurt. We know his emotions while not knowing him.

Our inner life is a mixture of our deep desires, hopes, and beliefs. Our emotions are responses to them. They react to the fulfillment, opposition, or longing of our desires, hopes, and beliefs.


I say deep because our surface desires, hopes, and beliefs aren’t the essential us. When I was a boy, I wanted to be a fireman. My dad was a chaplain for the fire department, and I fought fires all over the house in his helmet. I desired to be a fireman.

But stamping out fires wasn’t my deepest desire. I realized that my firefighting dream was fueled by the fire of wanting to help. I began defending kids who were picked on by bullies.

Later a deeper desire arose: to help these victims stand up for themselves. They needed more than a protector. They needed an inner strength.

We can be like miners (not minors! although some of us…). We discover a desire and dig deeper to discover the underlying desire; and then we dig further. Soon that mountain—that is us—becomes honeycombed by dozens of cave explorations.

Instead, though, we squander time in the pursuit of our external lives, leaving our inner lives to starve. Or erupt. Busyness is a narcotic by which we numb our hearts from self-exploration.

A Guide

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a human’s heart are deep waters, but a person of understanding draws them out.”

Okay, alright. I switched metaphors from mountains to waters. But bear with me.

Last January my family went to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to scuba dive, but the seas were rough. The scuba shop suggested we try inland diving in underwater caverns.

My family discussed diving forty feet under water beneath a rock ceiling which was underneath dozens of feet of rock. Let me tell you, it took some convincing. But they eventually persuaded me and we dove.

It was spectacular.

Diving underground caverns requires a guide. The guide led us, protected us, and pointed out beautiful formations that we would never have noticed by ourselves.

Our hearts are deep waters (which are often buried under dozens of feet of rock) and we need a guide. Conservatives are accused of stuffing their feelings, and liberals are accused of venting their feelings. God calls us to pray our feelings.

Jesus wants to guide us into knowing who we really, the true us, the person who is the same whether we get the promotion or get fired or lose a limb. There is someone inside we need to get to know.

So we go to our guide. We explore who we are when we ask God, “Why did I get angry there?” and “Why did that story move me?” and “Who am I really?”

As we pray these questions, we begin to explore our inner life, a spectacular adventure.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I think there are two reasons we don’t investigate the underwater caverns of our hearts: we’re either too busy or too scared.

For twenty-five years I worked in business, and much of my work was busyness. I had morning meetings, client meetings, lunch meetings, and staff meetings, and dozens of emails and phone calls. I simply didn’t think of an inner life. I was too busy.

Then I left work to pursue ministry, and my wife and friends would ask why I was withdrawn (or upset, or moved…). And suddenly I found I was scared. I didn’t want to excavate that cavern. It was an adventure I was too scared to pursue.

Exploring underwater caverns is scary and fun; exploring the hidden motivations of my heart is scary, and … threatening.

I found I feared a lack of significance—which I longed for—and I believed other things might keep it from me; and my hope was sucked dry. Notice my desires, beliefs, and hopes.

In prayer, personal reflection, and talking with friends, I begin to discover who I am, but only after battling busyness and fear.

My mountain is filled with mines, and my caverns are being explored; and it is rich.

I’m no longer doing as much as I am being, and being discovered with the help of a Guide.

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved.


16 Responses to Pursuing an Inner Life

  1. peter williamson says:

    Thanks,Sam, great post! Rather eloquent as well!

  2. Jeff Yelton says:


    So true. I’m reminded of the ‘barrenness of busyness’! And isn’t it amazing how the “false-self” requires fear to prop itself up against our “true North” (true self).

    As always, thanks for your observational insights!


  3. Joseph says:

    Thanks Sam. I struggled with fear as well. But since I have stopped doing and started being, much life has been so much richer.

    • Isn’t that amazing? We stop “doing” for meaning and start “being,” … and soon we are “doing” what we are meant to do!

      So, here is my question for you: What have you had to stop doing? And, where do you think God is asking you to START doing?

      Thanks, man

  4. Gerry says:


    I love the imagery! And the challenge … to tend to our inner life, our truest selves. Your words are timely!!

  5. Jim McFarland says:


    It’s mysterious and scary to delve into the inner life
    As I look back the past 15 years I see ways God has engineered my circumstances to rely on Him alone.

    Being is akin to listening.

    We would rather do things with our lives or surround them with busyness than listen for the dull roar inside that God implanted.

    I am learning to journal not the thoughts of those wiser than me as much as journal what it means to my own soul and look to see what chord it strikes that I previously never heard.

    Thanks for reminding us to explore what God designed within us.

    • Hi Jim,

      I agree, it is mysterious and scary to delve into our inner lives.

      Why do you think that is? Are most of us really afraid of what we’ll find there?

      I’d say that most of the people I “don’t want to go there,” and I’m not sure why.

      I have ideas though!

      Why is it, do you think, that we are so afraid to search out our inner lives?


  6. David Williamson says:

    Great post Dad, you tied a lot of things together to make some of the daily experiences we face, fit into the much bigger picture of reality. I love the example of desires, and discovering the deeper desire behind the surface desire.

    • Hi David,

      I think that age has mellowed me. It certainly has aged me!

      As I look back on my life, I realize that God has been working deeply in the man I am inside … and I’m learning more about how to discover that.


  7. Bary says:


    Great line “Busyness is a narcotic by which we numb our hearts from self-exploration.” Busyness starves our soul.

    My journey this year is about living with simplicity and purity while seeking more intimacy (with Christ, with relationships). In order to do that I have to be intentional about carving time out of my day and week for quiet and solititude. I really have to fight against the busyness. Hmm, I just realized how close business is to busyness! Something to ponder there, I think.


    • Hi Bary,

      I love your heart in desiring to carve out time for quiet and solitude. Distractions can be so … distracting!

      Thanks for commenting.

      So here is a question (for you and for me): Since neither of us is called to be a monk in the desert, how can we learn to have an inner life in the midst of busyness and business?


  8. Bubba Howell says:


    Patrick Morley calls busyness a rat trap, implying it is like a maze we get lost in and can’t find our way out of. The statement about busyness being a narcotic resignated with me. I think it is a culturally acceptable tool used by Satan to prevent us from finding the life we were meant to live and the person we really are – a very acceptable distraction.

    Hope you are doing well,

    Bubba Howell

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