The Zippered Heart

The Zippered Heart

by Marilyn Meberg

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"Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Where on earth did those mean thoughts and motivations come from? I'm so glad no one can read my mind." We all get whiplashed and sometimes broadsided by the "dark" side of our nature, which produces thoughts and behaviors that cause us to feel ashamed. many of us deny that part of ourselves, and kick it off somewhere in the


"Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Where on earth did those mean thoughts and motivations come from? I'm so glad no one can read my mind." We all get whiplashed and sometimes broadsided by the "dark" side of our nature, which produces thoughts and behaviors that cause us to feel ashamed. many of us deny that part of ourselves, and kick it off somewhere in the shadowy recesses of the heart, where we hope it will stay put, not cause us any more trouble, and hopefully not be noticed.

In The Zippered Heart, Marilyn does a gentle exploration of those secrets and issues which, if denied, can rob us of the abundant life we are promised in Christ. God means for us to be whole. This book is an encouragement in that process.

"This book will change lives, because it requires that we look precisely at both the dark and the light sides of ourselves. Then it brings an overflowing grace and forgiveness. As a psychologist with thirty-five years of clinical experience, I can say that this is one of the best books I have read." —Neil Clark Warren, author of Finding the Love of Your Life

"Step into liberty through the rapscallion brilliance of Marilyn Meberg." —Patsy Clairmont, author of Mending Your Heart in a Broken World

"For thirty years Marilyn's compassionate exploration of the human heart has amazed me. Now, with skill and tenderness she opens that heart for all of us to see how fearfully and wonderfully we are made." —Luci Swindoll, author, speaker, Women of Faith

"The Zippered Heart is a perceptive and sensitive examination of the 'war within' between our two natures." —Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary

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The Zippered Heart

Healing for the Secrets We Hide Inside
By Marilyn Meberg

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2001 W Publishing Group
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-3702-6

Chapter One

Good Girl, Bad Girl


The venerable Mother Goose writes about one troublesome aspect of the human condition in her well-known little ditty:

    There was a little girl
    Who had a little curl
    Right in the middle of her forehead
    And when she was good
    She was very, very good
    But when she was bad, she was horrid.

As a child I heard that verse with a disquieting sense that there was a personal truth in it just for me—no one else. I had excessively curly hair and worried that if one misplaced curl in the middle of the forehead could bring on behavioral disaster for the poem's child, what in the world would happen as a result of the wild, myriad curls flung around my entire head? Was I doomed to a life of moral turpitude?

With the passing of time, my slightly neurotic child mind realized there was no link whatsoever between bad behavior and curly hair. Actually, it was Darlene Blington who verified that truth for me.

Darlene came from a very troubled home with a violently alcoholic father and a depressed, ineffectual mother. Although I was not allowed to go to her house to play (my parents were concerned for my safety), I watched her with the other kids at school. Not only did she use obscene language, but she was also aggressive, meanspirited, and unable to engage in even an hour of play without erupting in angry outbursts of hitting people.

Of greatest interest to me in my observations of Darlene was not her behavior, but her hair. I was delighted to note that it was straight as a flagpole. That settled for me the issue of straight hair versus curly hair as a moral predictor.

In spite of the comfort of settling the hair question, I was further relieved to learn at the age of five that the disquieting instincts I sometimes felt prompting me to do the wrong thing instead of the right thing were what the Bible calls sin and that there was a cure for sin, named Jesus. Also of comfort to me was my mother's assurance that I was not the only one troubled with a "sin nature"; every human being in the world is afflicted with that malady. I liked that I wasn't alone! (However, I was quite certain at that stage in my life that neither of my parents fell into the sin category. I simply could not imagine either of them deriving the pleasure I did from an occasional convincingly creative lie.)

What troubles me now as an adult, having come to terms with the shortcomings of idealized parents, is not the many failings to which most of us succumb, but the convincingly creative masks we put on those failings. Because it is too threatening to face our shortcomings, we outfit them with false fronts and tuck the truth away in an obscure corner of our souls, hoping it won't be noticed by others, including ourselves. If we can keep our "bad stuff" in the dark, we think that perhaps we'll be viewed as victoriously spiritual persons worthy of serving communion on Sunday or leading the deacon board in prayer on Wednesday night.

There is a problem, however, with disowning or denying the less than admirable parts of our being. If we don't learn how to deal with those parts, we resort to various defenses that shield us from the truth that needs to be addressed. As a result, we live our lives with guilt and a nagging fear of being "found out."

In my book I'd Rather Be Laughing, I talked about a construct I use to help me deal more effectively with those disowned parts of the self. I envision my heart as having a zipper down the middle. On the left side is all my humanness—those parts of me I'd like to pretend don't exist, such as my selfish thoughts or, at times, even murderous thoughts. (Incidentally, my murderous thoughts seem reserved almost exclusively for motorists who cut me off, slow me down, or simply get in my way. On more charitable days I exchange these murderous thoughts for my fantasy of the personally designed dashboard dart gun, which no one on earth has except, of course, for me. With a simple flick of a switch I could fire little darts into the tires of my offenders. This would necessitate the moving of their cars to the right shoulder of the road, where their tires would hiss themselves into total flatness. Smiling happily, I would speed on by.)

Not only do my selfish instincts nestle on that side of my heart, so too do anger, guilt, shame, and dishonesty (just for starters). Because these evils are so incriminating, I don't want to admit their presence. I'd far rather admit to the dashboard dart gun fantasy, which, when compared to my darker instincts, seems benign and much less threatening.

On the other side of the zipper, the right side, are my spiritual inclinations. From this side of my heart I draw my determination to behave in ways that are kind, unselfish, gracious—even able to discard the dashboard dart gun fantasy altogether. In other words, the right side reflects the fruit of the Spirit, which is mine because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

The value of this construct for me is that when I fearlessly look into the dark corners of the left side of my heart, identify the sin, and claim that which does not make me proud, I am then able to submit it to the influence and power of the Spirit's healing power. My job is to be willing to cull from the reject pile all that I've denied and disowned.

Now, I realize that by dividing the "good girl, bad girl" sides of my being I may be accused of being a divided self. Matthew 12:25 states, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand." James 4:1 calls the divided will "war in your members." Even mental health professionals speak persuasively about our need to integrate the "good" and the "bad" in ourselves. To fail to do so, they say, creates a split in the personality.

Of course the ultimate goal for spiritual and emotional well-being is that we can integrate the two sides of the heart and ideally eliminate the "war" in our members. Quite frankly, I don't think that integration is ever fully achieved. To fully resolve all war in our members would be to achieve a perfect state of being, which is, of course, impossible this side of eternity.

However, I believe with all my shaky heart that it is possible to lead lives with far greater peace and security than most of us ever experience. That peace comes from taking an honest look at everything on the left side of the zipper and refusing to deny the existence of the troublesome stuff in the lonely corridors of our heart's left side that inspires us to lie, cheat, lose our tempers, form and feed various addictions, and then wonder if God does or ever could truly love us.

The peace-producing, mind-boggling truth about God is that He does not live only on the right side of the zipper, where our better inclinations inspire good behavior. He lives also on the left side: sitting, standing, and moving amid all the stuff that embarrasses us, makes us feel ashamed, and causes us to believe we're spiritual failures. He invites us to join Him there that He might offer Himself as a power source for evicting those unwanted tenants from the property of our heart's left-of-the-zipper side.

My desire for you as you read this book is that you will be inspired to identify and examine the stuff that keeps you in a state of bondage. The liberating truth is that whatever we've disowned or been afraid to look at is not beyond the reach of God's healing touch. Perhaps even more amazing, there's nothing, absolutely nothing, that He is unwilling to touch or heal. How do we know that? Let me remind you of the apostle Paul's words in Romans 8:31–32: "With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?" (MSG).

God is for us! He's on our side, even when it's the left-hearted side. If, by faith, we will believe that soothing and exhilarating truth, we can begin the life-changing journey of seeing and knowing ourselves as we truly are with the sure knowledge that God is not only there, but He also embraces us—no matter what our spiritual condition—and promises us divine enablement.

I want the pace for this introspective journey to be relaxed, nonthreatening, and even fun. Though we'll deal with some heavy topics, I can write or talk myself into a coma unless I have a few giggles along the way. I'll do my best, however, to keep that personal penchant from being annoying. If I go over the top a few times, perhaps you will bear with me.

The next chapter will deal more specifically with that "everybody'sgot-it" duality of human nature. Each of us has a dark side that can surprise us and even horrify us, as well as a light side that assures us we're pretty fine persons—and we hope to goodness someone's noticing!

Chat Room Possibilities

1. When you consider your own light/dark nature, what are your most obvious light side characteristics?

2. What are your most obvious dark side characteristics?

3. What is your method of dealing with the dark side characteristics, such as denial, lying, false fronts, etc.?

4. How can the zipper image help you sort out your behavior choices?

5. Do you think some people have more dark inclinations than light?

Chapter Two

Everybody's Got It


The divided heart or the duality of human nature is one of those universal themes that has captured the interest and imagination of writers, philosophers, and theologians for centuries. Plato's Symposium suggested that each human being has a double to whom he or she was once physically attached and that because of this one-time attachment, humankind is never quite free from that duality. (Do you suppose that may have been what plagued the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead?)

More compelling perhaps is Shakespeare's Hamlet. The character of Hamlet has prompted more discussion than any other character in literature. When I taught college-level English, I loved assigning my students to read this play because once they got over their mind-set of "What does Shakespeare have to say to me in this century?" we had energetic and even heated discussions about our own tendencies to be first of one mind and then another.

I remember one particularly notable class discussion about the fact that the play had been described as a "grand poetic puzzle" because there appeared to be two Hamlets: one a gentleman who expressed himself in tender, unforgettable poetry; the other a barbarian who treated Ophelia with incredible cruelty, murdered Polonius, and then graphically described how he'd pile up his guts into another room.

Vincent, a virile, barrel-chested young man who had been the most vocal of my students in not seeing the relevance of studying Shakespeare, burst into our class ponderings with, "Hey, this guy is no poetic puzzle; he's a mixed-up dude just like me. I go all over the map sometimes, and I can tell you it isn't always a pretty sight!"

That candor brought a moment of quiet to the classroom until the young woman seated next to Vincent (who had confided to me her desire to date him although she couldn't seem to get his attention) purred softly, "Well then, we'll simply call you 'Sweet Prince.'" Grinning, Vincent replied, "Okay—as long as you treat me gently because, after all, I'm a poetic puzzle." (Incidentally, he never did ask her out in spite of my deliberately assigning a research project for the two of them. Apparently poetic puzzles don't yield to manipulations.)

An Inner War

Like Vincent, most readers feel extremely sympathetic toward Hamlet, even to the point of identifying with him. This shows Shakespeare's brilliance and his ability to tap into every person's awareness that our thoughts and actions not only vacillate, but "go all over the map sometimes, and ... it isn't always a pretty sight."

C. S. Lewis once said, "There is nothing in literature which does not, in some degree percolate into life." In so doing, literature holds up a mirror to our true selves: our motives, behaviors, failings, triumphs, and heartbreaks. Interestingly, that literary mirror is rarely at variance with Scripture. Not only does Scripture discuss the divided heart, it tells us that God says, "Every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood" (Gen. 8:21 NIV). Jeremiah 17:9 states with equal definitiveness, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (NIV).

If ever secular literature underscored the biblical truth of the depravity to which the human heart is capable, it is in Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Most people are familiar with this novel, whether they have read it or not. The horror of Dr. Jekyll's double consciousness, which plays itself out in the person of Mr. Hyde's despicable deeds, seems to have been absorbed in our cultural consciousness.

Briefly, the plot of the book is that Dr. Jekyll is a benevolent physician who finds his ordinary life stifling, so he concocts a potion that he injects into himself. After that injection, he becomes an evil person with a brutal animal nature, known as Mr. Hyde. For a short time Jekyll is able to take a reversal potion and resume his good-person existence, but gradually his better nature weakens. When at last he is on the verge of being found out, he poisons himself and dies.

What is so chilling about this novel is that as Hyde gains increasing control of Jekyll's life, we recognize that Stevenson has given voice to our own fears of letting loose the monster within us—that part of us that is drawn to violence and evil. This novel describes with biblical accuracy the personality's inner war and the consequences of conceding victory to evil.

Jekyll's first experiences into the depravity of Hyde produces in Jekyll a welcome and delicious suspending of all behavioral restraints. With enormous elation he wallows in his other self. Like most people who rationalize, "I can quit anytime," Jekyll felt he could keep himself in balance with the knowledge that all he had to do was take the potion that reversed his duality and restored his good behavior in the person of Dr. Jekyll. However, Jekyll lost control after Hyde committed a senseless and brutal murder. From that point on, Jekyll was no longer able to escape the evil that engulfed him.

Paradoxically, we are uncomfortable with the consideration of the depths of evil to which we can sink, but at the same time, we listen to the little internal voice that claims, That level of wrongdoing doesn't describe me. Yeah, I have my little hang-ups and temptations, but they aren't really all that bad. Quite frankly, I think Scripture is a bit harsh about the human heart.

In spite of my early childhood recognition of at times preferring naughtiness to goodness, I never had a full sense of the biblical truth that "every inclination of the heart is evil" until I was in my late twenties. I was raised in a Christian home, went to a Christian college, married a Christian man, had two darling children, and taught a weekly Bible study in my home. I was, quite honestly, pleased with myself and figured God probably was too. It was into this emotional and spiritual environment on a sunny California morning that God injected a shocking revelation regarding my evil propensities.

It happened as I made a quick right turn from a busy street into a strip mall to pick up our dry cleaning. The entrance to this mall was one-way and the width of a single car. I screeched to an unexpected halt to avoid rear-ending a stopped bread truck blocking the entrance. As a result, the rear of my car remained partially in the busy street.

The driver of the truck sauntered around to the back of his vehicle, flung open the panel doors, and began counting the loaves of bread scrunched together on the bottom pallet. I couldn't believe it! Why didn't he move ahead, free the entrance, and then count his stupid loaves in front of the Italian restaurant where I assumed the bread was going to be delivered? Didn't he know that he was not only blocking me, but that he had also put me in danger of being rear-ended?

Granting him the benefit of the doubt before declaring him a moron, I gave a short honk. He ignored me. I honked again. Still he ignored me. I was dumbfounded. What was this jerk thinking, and why was he ignoring the precarious situation he had put me in? This time I honked aggressively. Slowly he turned around and, to my utter astonishment, lifted his right hand and waved his middle finger at me. He then turned and started counting packages of English muffins.


Excerpted from The Zippered Heart by Marilyn Meberg Copyright © 2001 by W Publishing Group. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marilyn Meberg is a captivating speaker, a coauthor of various Women of Faith devotionals, and the author of "I’d Rather Be Laughing and Choosing the Amusing." She lives in Frisco, TX.

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