Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Messy Spirituality

I have just finished reading a book called Messy Spirituality. The title was enough to draw me in, and the content was enough to hook me in the very first few paragraphs.

The very first sentence in the book is this: "My life is a mess." Not many people are more honest than that. The author, Michael Yaconelli, goes on: "For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure... I want to be a good person. I don't want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into the arms of my own clutteredness."

A couple of pages later, I read this: "Messy Spirituality unveils the myth of flawlessness and calls Christians everywhere to come out of hiding and stop pretending. Messy Spirituality has the audacity to suggest that messiness is the workshop of authentic spirituality, the greenhouse of faith, the place where the real Jesus meets the real us."

Let me stop here and say this: I don't think that this messiness idea is relegated only to Christians. Everyone I know, everyone, is struggling with messiness in life. The big job isn't paying off in relationships that work out well. Focusing more intently on one's relationships hasn't improved them in any noticeable way. Political activism leaves its activists feeling pretty still and alone. Art, authorship, and public recognition don't fill every hole in the soul. We are all struggling to make sense of the messiness of our lives.

What I love about this book is the author's notion that we aren't ever going to get out of the messiness. Life is a mess. Friendships fail and disappoint us. Marriages either never get off the ground or end up in horrific crash landings. Jobs move us, shake us, then spit us out. This is what life is; there's no hope of cleaning up the mess. The goal is to learn to live in it, with it, and grow in spite of the messiness of life.

If we look at the Bible (or any other religious text for that matter), we are confronted with countless people who failed. Liars, murderers, thieves, adulterers, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, blind, lame, and deaf people - they all had a role in the story of divine love, grace, restoration, and redemption. Rahab the prostitute was the great-great-grandmother of King David. Moses, the murderer, led the Israelites out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land. Peter denied knowing Christ three times, but then ended up being one of the great early preachers of the Good News. These people were a disaster. They messed up. They lived messy lives.

As I do. With my lies, my lusts, my fears, my doubts, questions, concerns, dreams, and deep disappointments in so many people including myself. I adore my husband and children one moment, and want to pack my suitcases, change my name, and go live in Spain for an indefinite period of time the next. I love homeschooling and teaching classes at church one day, but I am ready to bag it all and go live in Brooklyn and teach at my high school alma mater the next. Most days I love our little Yorkie, Maya, but sometimes I want to squeeze her little rib cage in my fist and scream at her for peeing in the house again. I'm a mess. Full of contradictions, loathe to confess my foibles, but longing to be perfect. I try so hard, but still I fail.

Here are a few truths I have gleaned from this Yaconelli book and which I hope to remember in the future, when I am bound to fail again.

* I am hopelessly flawed, but hopelessly forgiven.
* Spirituality is anything but a straight line; it is a mixed up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down, toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes.
* When I peruse the titles in a Christian bookstore, I feel like I am the only klutz in the kingdom of God, a spiritual nincompoop lost in a shipful of brilliant biblical thinkers, an ungodly midget in a world of spiritual giants.
* The essence of messy spirituality is the refusal to pretend, to lie, or to allow others to believe we are something we are not.

So when I read about one friend who is a combination of tears, laughter, ups, and downs, and another who is in a very vulnerable place at the moment, when I read the blog of one woman whose life was humming along swimmingly a year ago, but is now in the midst of an unexpected divorce and is starting all over again - when I read those stories, I am reminded that we are all on this unpredictable, uncomfortable, inexplicable, undeniable, and unavoidably messy journey called life.

None of us knows how to do life right all the time, how to make the right choices all the time, live out our principles and morals perfectly. None of us has the perfect marriage, or relationships with our children, parents, or friends that are the stuff of legend. But we have what we have. We are who we are. We are --> I am a mess.

But I take heart in the following statement found on page 88 of Messy Spirituality: "Spritual growth is a wild search for God in the tangled jungle of our souls, a search which involves a volatile mix of messy reality, wild freedom, frustrating stuckness, increasing slowness, and a healthy dose of gratitude."

My life is a mess. But I love it nonetheless. I thank God for every frustrating, pulsating, heart-melting, heart-wrenching moment of it. I pray to live it well, every messy moment of it.

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