This week's 'thought' comes to you from Mike Yaconelli's book, "Messy Spirituality." The book claims to be, "a stong antidote for the spiritual perfectionism in us all..." giving us, "truths that can cut us loose from the tyranny of the ought-to's and open our eyes to the deep spirituality of being loved by the God who meets us and transforms us in the midst of a messy and unpredictable life." It's a book that does live up to its claim.
As I have told others, I love the way he writes and the true stories he tells. There is an honest, humble and gracious undercurrent that runs throughout the book, as well as a repeated emphasis on the need to be liberated from the pressure to "pretend" in our spiritual lives.
The following thought, in fact, comes from the section entitled, "Unpretending." And since I know that churches in particular can often be guilty of pressuring people to "pretend" -- and have even driven people from the church for being too honest -- I pray his words might heal and minister grace to you if that has been your personal experience. You may even want to pick up a copy of the book for yourself and then pass it on to others. His perspective really is refreshing. Enjoy.
"They were good in the worst sense of the word."
"There is no room for pretending in the spiritual life. Unfortunately, in many religious circles, there exists an unwritten rule. Pretend. Act like God is in control when you don't really believe he is. Give the impression everything is okay in your life when it's not. Pretend you believe when you doubt; hide your imperfections; maintain the image of a perfect marriage with healthy and well-adjusted children when your family is like any other normal dysfunctional family. And whatever you do, don't admit that you sin.
Practically, pretending is efficient, uncomplicated, and quick. Answering 'Fine' to the question 'How are you doing?' is much easier and quicker than saying, 'Not very well, thank you; my back is bothering me, my teenage children are disappointing me, I'm unhappy with my body, my husband never speaks to me, and I'm wondering if Christianity is true.' Honesty requires a huge investment of time and energy from the person asking the question (who would then wish they'd never asked).
Pretending is the grease of modern nonrelationships. Pretending perpetuates the illusion of relationships by connecting us on the basis of who we aren't. People who pretend have pretend relationships. But being real is a synonym for messy spirituality, because when we are real, our messiness is there for everyone to see.
Some people consider the use of words like messy spirituality rude and audacious. "How dare you suggest that people are messy? What are you proposing? Are you suggesting that sin is okay, that we should condone less than a 100 percent effort to serve God? You are too negative. It's not helpful to emphasize our flaws." But the truth is we are a mess. None of us is who we appear to be. We all have secrets. We all have issues. We all struggle from time to time. No one is perfect. Not one. (I have just paraphrased Romans 3:10).
The essence of messy spirituality is the refusal to pretend, to lie, or to allow others to believe we are something we are not. Unfortunately, people can handle the most difficult issues more easily than they can handle the lack of pretending. When you and I stop pretending, we expose the pretending of everyone else. The bubble of the perfect Christian life is burst, and we all must face the reality of our brokenness....
For a period of time, we were lucky enough to have a housekeeper. She would come in once a week to dust, vacuum, and clean every little out-of-the-way corner of our house. I dreaded the day she came, because my wife and I would spend all morning cleaning the house for the housekeeper! We didn't want the house to be dirty, or what would the housekeeper think?!
We act the same way with God. We talk our way out of the spiritual life by refusing to come to God as we are. Instead, we decide to wait until we are ready to come as we aren't. We decide that the way we lived yesterday, last week, or last year makes us 'damaged goods' and that until we start living 'right,' we're not 'God material.' Some of us actually believe that until we clean up the mess, Jesus won't have anything to do with us. The opposite is true. Until we admit we are a mess Jesus won't have anything to do with us. Once we admit how unlovely we are, how lost we are, Jesus shows up unexpectedly.
According to the New Testament, Jesus is attracted to the unattractive. He prefers the lost ones over the found ones, the losers over the winners, the broken instead of the whole, the messy instead of the unmessy, the crippled instead of the non-crippled.... I want my crippled soul to escape the cold and sterile spirituality of a religion where only the perfect nondisabled get in. I want to lurch forward to Jesus, where the unwelcome receive a welcome and the unqualified get qualified. I want to hear Jesus tell me I can dance when everyone else says I can't. I want to hear Jesus walk over and whisper to this handicapped, messy Christian, "Do you want to dance?""
Being open, transparent, and honest (that is, refusing to pretend) is frightening. And the reason it's so frigthening is because we are always unsure of how people will react when are (even close friends). It's scary to expose your soul in a place where others will not. Yaconelli is right, the person who "stops pretending exposes the pretending of others," and that can make those "others" every uncomfortable. Uncomfortable to the point where they avoid that person who is not willing to pretend.
That's my subtle way of saying we need to stop pretending, but we also need to choose wisely whom we bear our souls to, since not everyone in any given church can handle it or respond to it with grace.
Sinners (even of the more "notorious" brand) felt comfortable and safe bearing their soul around Jesus (John 4). Yet, as far as we can see, being able to do so actually led to their conversion.
May we who are His followers -- called to imitate Him and His ways -- also make others feel the same around us.
To the greater praise of His grace, Pastor Jeff