Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli

In Messy Spirituality, Michael Yaconelli starts out by saying “I am a mess.”  With that confession setting the tone, we soon find out that this is not a book for the “together” person who needs another pat on the back or validation that they are doing everything right.  This book is for the broken, depressed, discouraged person, who stumbles and fails and never quite measures up, at least in their own mind, to the norm.  The message of this book is that God’s grace covers everyone, especially the messy people.  And not only are we covered by God’s grace, but he made us, and can use us, just the way we are.

Consider some of the heroes of both the Old and New Testament.  These people were mentally unbalanced, made poor decisions and didn’t play nicely with others.  David had a man killed so he could steal his wife.  Samson was impulsive, reckless and routinely picked fights.  Rahab was a harlot, Jacob tricked his brother out of a birthright, Noah got drunk with disastrous consequences, Saul in the Old Testament was seriously depressed and Saul in the New Testament hunted down Christians, persecuted them and saw them stoned to death.  On and on goes the list of scandalous people who were taken and profoundly used by God.

Messy Spirituality is chock full of stories, and one of my favorites involves Charlie Brown and Lucy, the Peanuts characters.  Charlie Brown has stopped for advice at Lucy’s psychology booth.

“Life is like a deck chair, Charlie,” says  Lucy. “On the cruise ship of life, some people place their deck chair at the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been.  Others place their deck chair at the front of the ship so they can see where they’re going.  Which way is your deck chair facing?”

Without hesitating, Charlie replies glumly, “I can’t even get my deck chair unfolded.”

Charlie Brown’s dilemma pretty well sums up the way many people feel – inadequate, unworthy, unable to measure up, not just unable to participate at the great meeting, but unable to even get there.

Sadly the very groups that could be helping desperate people are shutting them out.  To attend MOST churches, you need to get yourself together first.  Get yourself cleaned up, dressed up, and calmed down to the point where you can sit for an hour in silent listening.  What about the people who can’t clean up – don’t they need God even more?  If I sit through the service week after week with tears running down my cheeks, that just makes me and everyone else uncomfortable, and we will all try to find a way to stop it.

Even Facebook, the microcosm of society, rejects a really messy person crying out for help.  Telling stories about what a great parent you are, the sacrifices you are making for others, and what wonderful things you have done for God lately are strongly encouraged on Facebook.  Talking about your brokenness, and how you became broken, will send your “friends” scattering away, or at least turn them into silent spectators.

Thankfully this is not God’s way.  He does not require that we clean ourselves up and get our lives together before we come to him, and he can use us right in our imperfect and messy state.  His grace covers the thief on the cross just as readily as it does the man who spent 30 years on the mission field and told the gospel to hundreds of people.  They will both be paid the same amount at the end of the day.

In a chapter called Resisting the Resisters:  Overcoming the Saboteurs of Spirituality, Mr. Yaconelli talks about how it is the nature of human beings, and especially in Christian organizations, to try to silence those who interrupt the comfort of the status quo.  Those of us who are trying to make churches and missions aware of abuse know this only too well.  The people in these organizations act in different ways to shut people up.  They might ask you to leave the organization if you make people uncomfortable enough.  They might resort to name-calling.  You may find you are a poor example, uncommitted or  “unspiritual”, you may even be labeled as crazy, delusional or mentally unstable.   You might run up against the “Kingdom Monitors” whose self-appointed job is to keep the riffraff out of the Christian organization.

Mr. Yaconelli talks about how the idea of spiritual growth has become an industry, and an unforgiving measuring stick to live up to.  The reality is that spiritual growth is not a formulaic process which increases at a steady rate day by day.  Sure there are good days and high spots, but there are also days when the graph plunges down, moments of despair, times when we become stuck and can’t get anywhere.  I love the way Mr. Yaconelli puts a positive slant on these times in our life when we are not “growing” spiritually.  He calls these the times when we are resting, listening, returning, or waiting.  How many times does the Bible tell us to be still and wait?  We wait in hope for the Lord. (Psalm 33:20)  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. (Psalm 37:7)  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:25)

Are you a moral misfit, burned-out believer, religious incompetent or spiritual perfectionist?  Messy Spirituality is a refreshing reminder of the truth that God loves you just as you are.


4 thoughts on “Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli

  1. lost ‘n lonely, I can’t exactly relate to your pain but I can feel for you. My heart was heavy as I read your comment, I do wish you to have peace.

  2. lost ‘n lonely, I struggle all the time too with wanting to put a lid on feelings, and ignore that ‘tug’ of emotions. It’s our legacy of life being MK, growing up in boarding school and/or being abused as children that we became masters at burying our emotions. I was dead inside for many years – it wasn’t until my kids were young that everything started bubbling up out of me, and it wasn’t good emotions either, but rage, resentment and anxiety. I find it very painful to hear other people talk about what a terrific experience it was raising their kids. I have to believe there are a lot more MKs beside me who do not have a close relationship with their own parents, and have struggled raising their kids.

    So I can be a stoic, and not care about anything, or I can let myself care, which opens up a flood of emotions. I am likely to start crying at any moment, which can be a problem. It is a staggering thing to open yourself up to emotions that have been buried for decades, staggering, and the more you were hurt as a child the more painful those emotions will be. I think it is a necessary part of the healing process, and I am hanging onto hope for you, lost ‘n lonely, that you are going to get through it. Just please don’t think that you are alone. There are lots of us here trying to get our deck chairs open.

    I can’t talk about hope though, without saying that Jesus is my ONLY hope. I am not trying to preach or convince you of anything, I am just telling you my experience. No offense to my family and friends who are reading this, but no matter how good your intentions, and most people don’t even have that, there is no single human being who can be there for me whenever I need them. And I no longer believe that I am strong enough to muddle through it on my own. But the One who created all of this, who is Omnipresent, who is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and also the Good Shepherd? He is the only one that is always there for me to grab a-hold of.

  3. @ lost ‘n lonely………….I would like to respond to your post but am currently at work. Just wanted you to know that I can relate to what you are saying and want to have the time to respond without rushing AND I will NOT be spouting scripture. I am sorry for your pain!!!!!!!!!!


  4. I cried ALL the way through reading this book summary – still crying. So need to just go to bed and plead with my brain to let me get some sleep – but then I will just have to wake up again tomorrow morning… and interact with yet one more day…

    So am sharing some thoughts on my reactions to this blog Article

    I sure “can’t get my deck chair unfolded” when it comes to figuring out life: social interactions of any kind / career / finances / goals / family / friends – (more like what friends?)!!! I have given up trying – quite a HOPELESS task – which I have concluded does not warrant more of my intentional energy or effort. Quite exhausted of the large word FAILURE being attached to literally any and all efforts on my part to figure LIFE out in some kind of sensible (normal?) way! Yep! Certainly “unable to get there and participate” – where ever “there” is and what ever “participate” is supposed to be. You can not “participate” when NO ONE WANTS YOU! You can not “participate” when LIFE is such a maze that you can not figure out in what direction to travel

    Do not even get me started on my identification with the above church paragraph! I hope to never walk near a church door again for the rest of my life – dastardly PAINFUL places!

    Still – this Michael touched my heart – mainly because I felt extremely sad that there is someone else out there in this unforgiving/unaccepting world that has trudged through experiences that at least ring familiar to some depth or level. But then, he has pulled it together enough to process it all out and even write a book. Way to go Michael! Maybe his words tried to spark some hope somewhere deep in my soul – but it typically turns out devastating to hope… I NEED to choose to refuse to hope – Crazy to allow a few thoughts that I identify with and that tug on the depths of my emotional pain to attempt to re-ignite hope into my life. Why hope yet one more time? I do not desire further disappointment and emotional pain heaped my way because I hoped yet again in a weak moment …

    Nope! I am not resting / listening / returning / or waiting. It is a bummer to wake up each morning and figure out that I am still alive – and I now have to “sort my way through” yet one more day!

    I am SAD and HURT that this is my life – year after year
    I am ANGRY that I CAN NOT figure out how to channel my life onto a productive and positive pathway

    I KNOW I should hit “delete” and not send this – Crazy to be lonely to such depths, that one desires to connect somehow – “just to connect”. So one sets oneself up to receive comments from “well-meaning” readers that have NO comprehension and will likely inflict even further hurt and pain and anger into my “mess” of a life by their “well-intended from their perspective” comments and responses

    Just sayin’ – It would be KINDER for there to be NO RESPONSES to my ramblings then for readers out there to write back a bunch of scripture and spiritual sayings and platitudes!!! PLEASE do not do that to me!! Be KIND!! Saying ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is more generous

    By all means – Respond with YOUR thoughts regarding how YOU connected to this blog sharing related to YOUR personal life …

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