I’m a list maker. I love having things written out clearly so that I can follow guidelines and get things done. It makes me happy to check things off. Lists are lifesavers sometimes when there’s a lot to do and remember.
Too bad life isn’t like that.
I’d love to have the checklist for a good marriage, happy and successful children who are following Jesus, a personal ministry that encourages people to walk with God in truth and grace.
Fact of the matter is, life is messy and grace is a big, borderless blob that ebbs and flows and doesn’t look the same for any two people.
One married couple might find the key to a happy marriage is weekly date nights and nightly prayer. Another might work split shifts and barely get to see each other, but love and support and cheer each other on in a rocky season. Is one marriage more successful or godly than the other?
One family may put their children in the best private schools money can buy, serve only organic, non-gmo, whole foods and have weekly family game nights to build a happy, healthy family. A single parent might struggle to get the kids out the door to public school every morning with a couple of bucks for cafeteria food. Game nights? That’s a joke. Unless sleeping on the couch while the kids play video games counts. Are the first family’s kids guaranteed to be following Jesus and the other’s guaranteed to fail?
It’s not that easy. A popular evangelistic booklet has illustrations of what life looks like with Jesus on the outside of a person’s life and then with Jesus inside a person’s life.
I can understand the concept, I really can. But the reality is that, even with Jesus directing our life, even when we are completely submitted to Him, all our little circles aren’t going to be neatly lined up and orderly.
Life will still be messy.
The difference is that we don’t have to figure it out for ourselves. We have a Savior who knows our suffering and invites us to lean into Him and let Him carry our burdens. Our sight isn’t short, looking only at the problems that confront us. We keep our gaze fixed on the face of Jesus. We see the love and compassion in His eyes. We know we’re not alone.
There’s much talk these days about being authentic and real and transparent. That scares me a little bit, thinking that people will spill details of family troubles that rightly should be shared with only a few safe people they know will pray for them and support and encourage them in the process. That doesn’t mean you paste on a smile and say everything is hunky dory, but a simple, “It is well with my soul,” can speak to waves crashing over us and leaving us broken, but hopeful.
In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, NIV).
We don’t do any good for anybody if we put on a mask and tell everyone that we’re doing great if we’re not doing great. Our trials aren’t just for us. Chances are, something we’re going through will be experienced by someone else down the road, and they will be encouraged to know that they are not alone, and that someone actually survived the trial and found themselves closer to Jesus because of it.
And another thing. This may come as a surprise to some people. Ready?
Everyone sins. That’s right. Everybody. Jesus was the only person who never sinned. We are all in need of that wonderful, gooey grace that has no borders and no rules. So why pretend like we don’t suffer or have hard times or messy lives?
The next person who says to me, “I’m doing great!” in response to my question, “How are you?” I’m going to look them in the eye and say, “Really? Nothing you need prayer for? Nothing that’s worrying you or stressing you out or causing you to lose sleep?”
I don’t expect strangers to reveal all their deep dark secrets, but darn it, my friends better be honest with me when I ask them.
Because I know better. I know they’re human.