It was a day like most. I feverishly thrashed about to get out the door, trying to ignore the laundry piles and dirty dishes and windows I can never seem to find time to wash. At the same time, I pushed away the feelings of inadequacy that those undone things bring (why can’t I ever seem to catch up?). I threw on some shoes I hadn’t worn in a while simply because I could find both of them. I ran out the door and arrived at church just in time to start music practice. I don’t often join the music team, but I was singing that day…right up in front.
We practiced, and it was fine, till I looked down and saw some strange black crumbles on the floor right beneath me. I had no idea what they were, but I picked them up and threw them in the trash. This was the stage at the front of the church, after all. I sure didn’t want it to look messy.
We finished practicing, and I walked out to grab some water. When I came back to the sanctuary the way I’d come, I found little piles of the very same black crumbles I’d found on the stage every couple feet, leading all the way up to the stage.
It was me. My shoes…the heels, to be exact… were falling apart.
I cleaned up the little piles as best I could; but as I did so, I created even more piles. I took the shoes off and finished cleaning up the piles (as nonchalantly as I could, given that I didn’t want the music team to notice). Clearly, though, I was bound to leave a mess everywhere I walked during the worship service, unless I went barefoot. I realized then that I am so prideful that both standing barefoot on the stage and leaving black piles of plastic behind me seemed equally unacceptable.
No matter what, people were going to notice my mess. That is what was unacceptable.
I knew there had to be a metaphor in there somewhere.
And there was.
A couple weeks later, I came to church in much the same way; except this time, I wasn’t getting up on stage. However, I’d done the same thing: I’d inadvertently brought a mess in with me.
I took my seat confidently and settled in to worship. And then, as the music started, something weird happened. All of those piles of laundry? The unanswered emails? The things of life that I toss to the back of my mind? The things that look like:
“You have no idea what you’re doing”
“You’re a failure”
“You can’t finish anything.”
“There’s so much to do and you’re not enough”
“Always running, but never really getting anywhere”
Yeah—they started to create little piles around me.
“Not now”, I thought, “Let’s address this when I’m alone. Not with all of these people around”.
But I couldn’t help it. It was as if I’d stuffed a bunch of junk into a closet and forced the door shut…and Someone was holding it wide open. As all of these people sang praises and thanks to the God who loved them enough to take away all the wrong and hurt and sadness, I realized it was Him who was holding that door open.
And though I had been very consistent in my prayer life and spent time diving into His very word every day, I realized then that I had not spent time with Jesus in a long time. I had not given Him access to my heart and the mess within.
Do you know what it’s like to look at a closet full of junk and consider what it would take to clean it all out? Sometimes, it just feels easier to slam the door shut and walk away.
The tears were inevitable. My Father was holding that door open as I fought to close it.
“I can’t”, I thought.
“I CAN”, He said.
I had chosen a seat that was 2 rows from the front of the church. Once again, I felt that my mess was happening right in front of everyone. I hoped no one would notice the tears. They were embarrassing to a prideful heart like mine…one that craves approval and admiration.
But soon, I felt arms around me. I grabbed them in response and turned to see my dear friend hugging me. I squeezed her back, and then turned away. I sort of hoped that she had just felt like coming to give me a hug during worship…not that she’d noticed my mess.
When we’d all finished communion, though, I picked up my phone and I saw a text from her. It read:
“I see your tears. I care and am praying. Love you.”
Do you know…Her arms, her words…they were JESUS’.
She scheduled coffee with me for the very next day. She was not afraid of whatever it was that was bringing me to tears that day. She was not content to sit there and watch me weep. She entered into my mess without fear of what it would mean for her…how messy she might get.
This is what Jesus does. And because it’s what Jesus does, it’s what the church does.
The idea that we should show up to church without a mess is backwards. It is the very place we should bring our mess. We should bring it with the expectation that there will be people willing to hold us, willing to love us, willing to lift us…not despite the mess, but because they’re in it with us.
Friend, we don’t know what you’ve been through, and we can’t perfectly walk in your shoes. But our shoes are crumbling just like yours. We struggle like you do, we cry like you do, we fear like you do. We will love you imperfectly, but we will be the tangible arms of Jesus when you have nothing left.
This is the church.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28