Life is messy, anyone who says differently has been living in a cave, under a rock, or in a bubble somewhere. Following after Jesus doesn’t change the messiness of life, it’s just that there’s a new approach towards handling the messiness of it all.
Nowhere can this be seen clearer than in the local church. If churches really seek to be genuine and authentic, they will begin to experience the brokenness of this world on display for all to see. If we truly seek to allow for God’s restoration to reach us, we are going to experience the messiness and rawness of life. We will begin to see the brokenness in ourselves as well as those around us.
I took a pastoral care class in seminary in which we used a book called “Facing Messy Stuff in the Church.” Over the past few weeks, I have seen that messiness come to the forefront. Church members who are bipolar and struggling with alcoholism. Church members who find themselves caught in inappropriate circumstances and are guilty by association. Church members struggling with the abuse that they endured years before at the hands of a father or brother. Church members whose lives have been disrupted by cancer. And these are only a few of the stories.
When some people come to church, they don’t want to experience these kinds of things. They want to find solace from the world, to escape from reality for a while and get lost in a mountaintop experience. They want to find comfort and encouragement from what God says in His word and sometimes they prefer to get it from only select places in the Bible. They want to live in a place that seems more like an episode of “Leave It To Beaver” than “Arrested Development.” Living on the mountaintop can be fun and peaceful, but the problem with mountaintop experiences is that at some point, you’ve got to come down from the mountain.
I’ve spent too much time in the church to think that there is anyone there who is perfect, certainly not me. Those who understand their own brokenness are one step towards understanding their need for a savior. When we struggle with that brokenness and that need, it gets messy, ugly, dirty, and raw. While we might want to show up and experience a nice and comfortable time, church should imitate life….kind of like art, right? We’ve got to keep it real.
When we come to that place of rawness and honesty, we also begin to see our own circumstances through a different lens, the things that we struggle with seem to come into perspective as we realize that things might not be as bad as we once thought they were. At the same time, when we see the rawness and struggles of others, we find that we’re not alone, that the struggles in which we found we were alone are now struggles that are shared by others.
Of course, there will always be those who still don’t get it, who just haven’t really experienced significant difficulties in life and still want a nice pretty package with a bow on it. At some point, the brokenness of this world will be on full display for them and I want to be around for that, not so that I can gloat, but so that I can encourage them in the midst of the storm.
I told someone the other day that ministry isn’t for the squeamish or the faint of heart. In my the past decade of full-time vocational ministry, I have ministered to a registered sex offender, visited him in prison, and eventually performed his funeral when he succumbed to the disease which had taken his mother. I’ve stood in the hospital rooms with the bodies of loved ones who had passed away, struggling with the family to know what kind of relationship that person had with God. I’ve sat with friends who had lost infants and cried with them. I’ve sat with friends who were being treated for cancer in hopes that we would see another day where we could visit together. I’ve watched the families of those same friends try to come to terms with the loss of a husband and father, a brother and friend.
Ministry is not for the squeamish, but neither is life, but we do not grieve as those with no hope. We do not experience difficulties the same as those who have no hope, we find our hope in Christ, our rock, our salvation. It’s not a guarantee of candy canes and rainbows, in fact, it’s probably an invitation to the contrary, but it’s a journey that is not entered into alone. My hope is build on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness. If I put my hope anywhere else, I’ll be disappointed. If my hope were anywhere else, I’m not sure what I would do. After all, it’s gonna get messy, and how will I respond when it does?