This is yet another unplanned post, but as I’ve reflected a lot on my 4 a.m. post (as well as some of the others) I thought I would share. Many responded through comments on the blog, Facebook or through private messages offering words of support and prayer. As a result, in the midst of what our family has been going through I felt deeply strengthened and encouraged because the overall message I received was, “You are not alone.”
Not alone, first, because so many were willing to come alongside my family in a time of struggle. Being transparent can be a scary thing – so it means a lot when afterwards, instead of receiving the condemnation we often manage to convince ourselves we’re going to get, we receive words more along the lines of “I understand” and “I am with you.”
But not alone also because several responded with their own personal stories of struggle, letting me know that I’m not alone in this mess. In fact, after receiving several comments and private messages since starting this blog and, after having been throughout the years a part of so many different men’s groups, home groups, and various other relationships where inevitably others begin to confess the mess in their lives, I’ve become convinced of one thing: we all have our stuff. We all have messes.
Yet strangely, as comforting as it is to hear at times that we are not alone in our mess, we still often try to keep it to ourselves. We still try to maintain that surface level of “perfect” on the outside, because we feel that so many around us are “perfect.” It is also very easy to maintain a certain level of guilt over our messes, whether justified or not – as though the messes would somehow not be there if we hadn’t missed the mark.
Ironically, it is often the very shame we feel as we hide that causes us to go further into our mess because we either fail to get the help we need or we turn to unhealthy means to ease our pain.
A few readers have chosen to use the word “brave” to describe my decision to be vulnerable and transparent. While I am thankful for those words, I confess that description feels a bit odd to me. Sometimes I wonder if my decision to be transparent is really more about me vomiting up all of my ugly stuff for the world to see just to make me feel better. I admit that selfishly there is some truth to that because there is power in confession and, as stated above, it is both encouraging and empowering to hear from your responses that I am not alone.
But then some readers have responded, saying how my transparency has helped them. That is what makes it all the more worth it. “Brave” becomes not so much the word as I see it as simply a responsibility.
Several years ago I was sitting in church while the speaker told a story about a survivor of the Jewish holocaust who had forgiven all her Nazi perpetrators. I started reflecting on not only how I had not had any incidents in my life that would come close to needing that level of forgiveness but also how I had very few incidents that needed significant forgiveness at all. In fact, I remember thinking that, out of times that did require it, forgiveness seemed to come fairly easy to me.
But then God immediately spoke to me and said, “You need to forgive people’s imperfections.” That floored me, because the thing is…it was true.
How absolutely arrogant of me. This woman learned to forgive people who did unimaginable things to her and her family and here I was holding things against people because they were…imperfect? I was a perfectionist of perfectionists, and as I began to reflect on my family, my friends and people at my workplace I learned that the demands I had placed on myself had seeped over into demands I’d unfairly placed on others. Even if those demands remained unspoken, I’d held them deep within my heart and they always ultimately leaked.
That day wrecked my world and eventually led to that time I shared in my first post of sitting on the back porch, followed by the 3 hardest (and some of the messiest) years of my life. In those years I learned not only to live with, but accept, messy – because that is simply how life is.
And so for me it has perhaps become sort of a mission – not only to allow people to see the messiness of my life but to let everyone know they are not alone in the messiness of theirs.
And furthermore to let people know that God in his grace is okay with their messiness, too. He is not okay with the hurt you sometimes go through or the consequences you can often bring upon yourself or others as a result of sin, but he is okay with you. As I shared in my post on grace, God offered grace through Christ since “before time eternal” (2 Tim 1:9). That means God not only accepts your messiness and imperfections, he expected it.
It was never in his plans for us to be perfect, and the only ones that seem to be so hard on our imperfections is us. This was shown after Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and immediately tried to cover up because they looked at themselves and were ashamed of what they saw. From that day forward we humans have continually tried to hide our own messiness. But God pointed out from the beginning that it was not he who was condemning of it. Upon finding Adam and Eve hiding amongst the trees, he asked them an intentional question designed to help them see truth: “Who told you that you were naked? (because it definitely was not him).
I have also been reflecting a lot lately on the story of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery (John 8). I have often seen it as a lesson for the would-be-stone-throwers and, consequently a lesson for us on how we should not judge or condemn others. While this is true, I’ve come more recently to believe that it was even more a lesson for the woman herself – after all, he took the time to say more things to her.
Picture this with me for a moment: here she stood before a crowd of “righteous” people – frightened, ashamed…and alone. Her messiness exposed for all to see.
(Note that messiness often has a way of ultimately exposing itself – whether you choose to bring it into the light or it comes out on its own is up to you)
After the scribes and Pharisees ask repeatedly if they should stone her, Jesus says something that, yes, ingeniously avoids a trap and sends a strong message to these arrogant men, but also is for her to hear as well: “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.”
The woman watches as slowly, one by one, the “righteous” and “perfect” ones around her, from the oldest to the youngest, walk away – their messiness exposed for her and the world to see
Jesus, like his father, was very purposeful in everything he did; so he then asks a very intentional question designed to help her see truth: “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord,” she replies. The lesson was clear: she was not alone in her mess.
Then an amazing thing happens – the one perfect person, the only one still standing there who has a right to cast a stone says, “Neither do I condemn you.” Thus, a second lesson: I am with you.
But this was not just a man that stood before her and did not condemn her. It was not just a great teacher or a prophet. This was the one through whom all things had been created. This was the source and sustainer of all that there is – the one from which all of the laws of the universe proceeded. In other words, it was not just a carpenter named Jesus who did not condemn her…the universe itself did not condemn her. The universe accepted her, messiness and all.
Jesus then goes on to tell her, “Now go and sin no more.” For me that statement, while important, has often meant, “OK, yes, all your past imperfections have been forgiven, but now it’s time to go ahead, straighten yourself up and start getting everything right.” Thus, for many of us Christians, what originally started out as freedom from judgment, subtly turns back into condemnation as we find ourselves continuing to live with messiness in our lives. In other words, we went and we “sinned more.”
But for the first time, just in the last week, I saw something different. The key is in that word “now.” The original Greek word is νῦν (“nun”). Interestingly, HELPS Word-studies defines the word the following way: “now, as the logical result of what precedes; now, in light of what has gone before.” In other words, while we don’t know for certain whether the woman ever committed adultery again (though I’m certain she at least sinned in some way), Jesus was showing her she was able to change her life in light of what she just learned.
Now that her messiness had been brought into the light, and now that she knew she was not alone, and now that she knew she was not condemned (by the universe itself), and with God on her side, she was empowered to go a different route. She can now live in freedom and hope and no longer has to hide in shame, which instead of keeping us safe from the world tends to cause us to go deeper into our mess.
How much more empowering to us can it be when we learn we are not alone in our mess (whether self-inflicted or not) and not condemned? I guarantee you in spite of what you may think, whatever your mess is, you are not alone.
Are you or is someone you love struggling with anxiety, depression or other forms of mental illness? You are not alone.
Are you having financial problems, facing mounting debt, worried about your next paycheck, receiving collection calls, behind on your bills? You are not alone.
Are you struggling in your marriage, are you grieving the loss of one in the past, has there been a violation of your vows (even if just in your head)? You are not alone.
Do you feel like a failure as a parent, have you lost your cool one too many times, do your kids have struggles or disabilities you can’t seem to surmount, are they not walking in the ways you had hoped? You are not alone.
Do you feel like you are in bondage to some type of addiction, do you seem to keep making the same mistakes, do you feel like you would be rejected if anyone found you out? You are not alone.
Are you reeling from a lost relationship, do you feel like you can never restore things back, are there loved ones forever gone from your life to whom you can no longer make things up? You are not alone.
Do you feel like you just can’t get your act together, does everything you attempt seem to just falter, are you living with regrets, does your life just feel like one big mess? You are not alone.
You are not alone. And you are not condemned.
*Photo by Unexpected-Surpise