In Joel ch. 2, the prophet calls God's people to return to their Lord with all their heart, tearing their hearts and not their clothes. That implies that you can return to the Lord without doing it with all your heart. And I'm not thinking here of conscious hypocrisy, somebody going through the motions of church, all the while counting the mintues until they can get back to their favorite sins without any thought of repentance. It's possible for us, at some conscious level, to turn to the Lord, but without all our hearts.
I think few would disagree that there are hidden depths in all of us. But what's a little more uncomfortable is the idea that these depths are not only hidden from us, but also not under our control: regions both unexplored and unconquerable. Returning to the Lord with all
our heart is maybe not as simple as just being really consciously intense about it.
When theological questions come up in classes, students often refer to "free will." If often seems to me that it's the thing students say when they can't think of anything else, as if free will solves every mystery, when, in my opinion, it solves none. The problem is that most of my students leave undefined what "free" means, or what kind of "freedom" a Christian might want (remember Romans 6: as His Holiness Bob Dylan once said, Everybody gonna serve somebody). It also seems to assume that one's will is a unified, self-consistent, and relatively transparent thing. I agree that I have a will (I am not a puppet), but I find my will internally divided, and not always readily available for conscious inspection. I tend to want things I know won't make me happy, and I tend to want contradictory things. And knowing they're contradictory doesn't make the wanting go away.
I'm not saying this to drive us to despair; and strange as it may sound, I don't think having a divided, unfree will relieves me of moral responsibility. I narrate these reflections to complicate what it means to return to the Lord. It seems to me that doing so involves not summoning my whole self to stand at attention before myself so that I can then present myself to the Lord. It's rather being quiet, knowing that I am an unsolvable knot, but also knowing Jesus knows me and is not overwhelmed by my knottiness. It means being quiet, looking outward, and starting to pray, even if the words seem kind of fake at first. And instead of us summoning ourselves, we find ourselves summoned as we pray, as the Spirit shines his light on those different unconquered regions, and ministers to us. And by the time we say "Amen," we find we've changed in ways we could never work for ourselves.