She barged into Simon the Pharisee’s house to see Jesus. She was a desperate prostitute looking for relief.
He’d spent every dime of his father’s inheritance being the life of the party. He was so hungry that the slop the pigs were eating looked good.
She was slung onto the dirt at Christ’s feet just after being caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to stone her and make her pay for her sin.
All of them had different stories, but one thing they had in common – their lives were messy. But despite their messes, love met them where they were and transformed their lives.
We read these stories and know that none of us can go so far that we can’t be saved. They give us hope to carry on. They encourage us and inspire us, but often in the church when we meet people like characters in these stories we don’t know what to do. Many times in the church it feels like our lives are just too messy. And this needs to change.
My former pastor used to tell me that people would never understand the feelings he had for me and therefore swore me to secrecy. I can’t help but think if early on in our relationship he’d tried to seek support for the temptations he was battling that it would have made all the difference and spared both of us so much pain.
Maybe he didn’t want help. Maybe he was narcissistic, abusive, and just didn’t care. Or maybe, just maybe he really believed that no one would understand, and if he told the truth he stood to lose too much.
I do not know his heart, but I do know that the circumstances surrounding his leadership were ripe for abuse. He was in charge of everything, and as I look back on the things that occurred, I can see how unhealthy it all was. There were other leaders in the church who appeared to work alongside him in making decisions, but over the years it was clear to me that if my former pastor wanted something he usually got it. He wasn’t really part of a team, but rather the one who called the shots. And being in charge is sometimes a very lonely place to be.
Not long after he began counseling me, my former pastor began talking to me about his own struggles in ministry and in marriage. Our daily conversations sometimes went on for hours. He talked about how I understood him when others didn’t. Some days I wondered if he wasn’t as desperate as I was to talk.
I look back on that time and realize now just how unhealthy it all was.
The church gets all stirred up over the “very act” of adultery. For a pastor struggling in this area he is on dangerous ground. My former pastor seemed to more concerned about the physical aspects of our relationship than anything else. He knew he stood to lose everything if he was caught. He focused so much on the outward appearances that I think he overlooked the severity of what was really going on – which was a very unhealthy relationship that had developed between us which excluded everyone else. I think he also missed the root cause of this damaging relationship, and that was his own loneliness. Crossing emotional boundaries resulted in physical boundaries being crossed as well. Because of his position, it was his job to make sure that boundaries didn’t get crossed. It is clear to me that he needed more emotional support from others.
After all that I have been through, I realize that most of us are not motivated to do the right things out of fear. Fear normally causes us to hide our sins. And sin grows us in the dark.
Fear of being caught by others ruled the abusive relationship with my former pastor, and as a result the sin just grew.
Love is a much better motivator. And thus the reason the scriptures have so much to say about it. With love comes acceptance, forbearance, patience and the ability to support one another through the messes. To love is to be vulnerable, honest and move into the light where our darkness is transformed into light.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:11-14
I believe so much of what I went through could have potentially been avoided if my former pastor had had more support from his fellow leaders and members of the church. I also believe the church being an environment where the messiness of our lives is shared rather than covered up would have prevented me from feeling the need to cover up my own struggles.
One of my husband’s favorite sayings is the church is a hospital for sinners, not a showcase for saints. After working almost 25 years as a teacher in a prison system, he knew what it was like be around people who had nothing to hide. And ironically my husband felt more at home at the prison that he did at the church. Through some of his most difficult struggles with anxiety and depression he describes how many times inmates came alongside of him with encouraging words that held him up and got him through. We expect messiness in a prison, but at church there is often the pressure to cover it up.
I cannot say this enough…sin grows in the dark. Darkness cannot survive in the light. God has called us to “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed (James 5:16).”
We are all sinners in needs of God’s grace. God has called us to love one another, “bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2),” and encourage one another so that we will not be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).”
The world is a hard place and the evil one is always on the move. There isn’t a moment in the day that someone doesn’t become his victim. There isn’t a human being on the planet who isn’t broken. We in the church like to believe that we are above all that. But the reality is – we aren’t. We are just like the inmates in the prison where my husband worked caught, guilty and in need of a Savior. I need constant reminders that I am covered by the righteousness of Christ. I need people to tell me it’s OK to be messy. It’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to need help.
But way too often, I have believed that others will be burdened by the messiness of my life. I have felt needy and afraid that my needs would scare others away. When I have had conversations with other ladies, it is clear that most of us are more comfortable with things that we can apply quick fixes to. Struggles make many of us uncomfortable and messy just seems too out of our control. Over the years sitting in church services and Bible studies, I’ve listened to people talk about those acceptable struggles with spouses and children, yet being so very careful not to let anything unacceptable slip out. It has caused me to feel lonely and like I was the only one with a messy life. I wonder how many others sitting around me felt the same thing.
A lot of Christians are talking about the judgement of God that’s coming because of the recent decision to legalize homosexual marriage. Social media is circulating with jokes surrounding Caitlyn Jenner, and unfortunately a large number of people clicking share are in the Christian community. And I just wish that those people would be quiet unless they have a real alternative lifestyle to offer them that doesn’t involve pointing fingers, sarcastic jokes and judgement.
Because why would anyone want to leave a life of sin when a better alternative isn’t offered? It seems pretty clear to me that those in the homosexual lifestyle are looking for love and acceptance more than anything else.
And so are all the rest of us. Those in the church and out of the church. And after spending ten years trapped in my own messy sin that I didn’t believe I could tell anyone about, I realize how miserable the pain of keeping this secret was. Shame just doesn’t go away until we can get it out into the light and share it with another soul who will love and accept us.
I guess the big question is – are we really willing to open up our hearts to the love of Jesus that causes us to be there for each other in the messiness of our lives? Can we put down our comfort and need for control? Are we willing to kneel down and wash the dirt from each others feet? Can we stop long enough to weep with those who weep? I’m praying that God will give me the grace to do so. Will you do the same?
I love the words from Steve Brown’s most recent blog post The Warrior is a Child. Steve has opened up his heart to all of us as he tells of his pain over Tullian’s recent resignation. Steve is a shining example of what it means to be vulnerable and messy. Tullian has been, too. And I pray that the rest of us can learn to do the same.
The Body of Christ is so connected that we should taste the salt of one another’s tears. When failure marks a brother or sister, that’s our failure. When our Christian friends triumph over sin or stand strong, we should all sing “The Hallelujah Chorus.” Your sin is my sin and your faithfulness is my faithfulness. We’re in this together…all of us. And we all have enough sin and even a bit of success on occasion. It makes for a very strong bond.
Steve’s words, as he likes to say, smell a lot like Jesus:
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”