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.