It’s 4:00 in the morning right now. Well, 4:39, to be exact. I’m eating my Mexican leftovers because I can’t sleep.
I’ve been incredibly restless the past couple of nights, now that I think about it. The season that just ended in my life was tumultuous and unsettled; I left a job, started a new job, sold a house, bought a house, started a new grad program—you know, the usual summer activities. I’ve only very recently slowed down enough to take inventory of how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and -- you know -- rest.
Plus, back in July, I went to a Christian writing conference and walked away feeling very dirty and dejected because an editor told me that my message was too messy and edgy for her publishing house to take on.
“What’s the boldest thing in your manuscript?”
“Probably the chapter where I was, you know, raped.”
“Oh. Bummer. How many Instagram followers do you have?”
I needed so much affirmation from my tribe, and from God, after that.
Am I too messy? Are you guys sure? Am I too much? How do you know?
Once I rebounded from that, I had a conversation with my Bible study leader in Panera one morning that resulted in me no longer being a part of said Bible study because the leader felt unequipped to take on the issues that I was currently going through. You know, how I went off the deep end after the rape and my family issues and my mom’s sickness and the existential crisis I was going through after that writing conference and how I was choosing to deal with it. She'd asked how our summers had been -- and I was honest.
Now, this was a controversial conversation that had me up on my soapbox. If I am going back to listening for the love in that conversation, it would be that perhaps I should find mentors who could better relate to my struggles in order to speak more applicable truths to me. But the truth is that I was on my soapbox for a reason, and that is because the integrity of my faith was directly called into question. And I have problems with this. I have problems with the church shooting its wounded.
There is some misconstrued thinking within the paradigms of Christianity and faith and believing in Jesus that if you pray, and if you pray the right words, and if you do the right things, and don’t break the rules, and stay inside the lines, your life will work out well and God will bless you. I know this, because it’s the first faith paradigm I ascribed to in my adolescence. If I was good enough, God would bless me. So, imagine my distress when I prayed those right words and did those right things and followed every single rule, and was still diagnosed with a mental illness and found out through Facebook that my best friend on the planet had been murdered and then ended up in an abusive relationship and was sexually assaulted after a party while I was wearing my favorite earrings. Imagine my confusion when I had done everything right and still found myself knee-deep in such suffering and difficulty. What was I supposed to do with that? What was I supposed to believe about God?
This is not the first time this has happened to me, believe it or not. It is almost laughable at this point. Because of judgment calls people have made about the messes in my life, whether we’re talking about my illness or the medicine I take for my illness, or the bad things that have happened to me and the not so great ways I have chosen to cope with those bad things, I have been asked to leave graduate school, friendships, other Bible studies, various ministry channels…you name it. So I walked out of that Panera thinking, “Man, is there even a place for me in the church anymore?” – which is a damn shame, you guys. Because when you have enough people who are in leadership positions within your faith speak a certain message to you, it's pretty hard to not eventually believe that you are deserving of being left outside the city gates.
"Am I too messy? Are you guys sure? Am I too much? How do you know?"
And I don’t thing these are bad questions to ask. Because, if I’m being honest, some of the most moving conversations I’ve ever had about God have been recently, and they’ve been with my friends who are atheists. They have been with people who think they are too messy, or the world is too messy, or that God could not possibly be real, or there, or good because of what has happened in their lives. And, as it turns out, the most beautiful life we could ever live is sifting through messes with our people, whether or not they believe that God is real, there, good—whatever.
And so here is everything I wish someone had said to me when I walked out of that Panera.
Jesus will never wish that he had chosen someone less messy, and He will always be willing to trust you with the entirety of His kingdom. He was never afraid to love people radically, and He knows everything you have done and will do and signed up for you anyway.
There is a place for you in the body of Christ. There is a place for you. There is enough room for all of us at this table, and we get to come sit down as we are, and we can bring all of our people and all of our messes. There is no requirement to have your life together first. We have made mistakes. We continue to make them. He is not shocked by anything. Nothing will make his love waver for you. He knows all the ways the world would hurt you and cause you to send shocked and angry glares and advances His way, and he said, "Yep, this is the story I have for you."
When I was back at that writing conference, I walked out of that meeting with that editor feeling like absolute crap. I felt dirty and marked and used up and dried out, and most of all, I felt ashamed of my story. I skipped my next conference session and a new friend I had made stopped me and asked about my meeting, so I told her what happened. And she said to me, “Amanda, what if the audience for your book isn’t the crowd who already believes that God is good and worth believing? What if it’s the people who also feel dirty and marked and used up and dried out?”
My friend Emily had something framed in her house in college that has always stuck with me. It was her grandmother speaking from God’s point of view, and it said, “Love me as you can; that will change as you change.” Certain seasons are going to be messier than other seasons, okay? It doesn’t mean you haven’t loved well or prayed hard enough or really done anything at all to deserve it – and I can’t explain what it does mean, other than to say that it’s just how seasons go. The best thing we can do is love each other where we are. I believe in God – I believe that He is magnificent and kind and loving and that He is redeeming every horrible thing that has happened to me, and the rest of us. But some people don’t believe that He is kind or loving, or that He can redeem anything at all. God is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he is absolutely 100-emoji my cup of tea.
And so I scrapped my original book proposal. I worked hard on that sucker, but it was a story about my life that was neat and tidy, and well, that’s not the truth. The truth is that I am mess. And if you report that to God, He will say, "Are you trying to tell Me something I don't know?" And He will throw you some side eye, maybe, and tell you that I am his daughter, who He loves, and the rest of it is just the weather. And He'll get a lost look in His eye, and go on: "I love her so much; I made her to be exactly how she is."
He's so for real on all of that. And guys, I didn’t know how much I needed God to be real until my best friend was murdered. I guess I knew He was there, even though my depression and mood disorder sat like a dense fog between the two of us. But after Maggie died, and then I ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship, and then was sexually assaulted by a stranger while I was wearing my favorite earrings, well, that’s when I really had to look at myself in the mirror and decide what I really believed about God. And what I came up with is this: Yes, He’s good. He’s so, so good. He loves us, He’s real, He’s everything He says He is. He sees the mess, the injustice, all of it—and He is down here in the thick of it with us. I know that this is true. It is a mountain I am willing to die on.
I know we all have questions about Him. When the hard things come, as they do, we really have to decide if we’re going to believe the things He’s promised us. We have to decide if we’re going to walk on the water or not. So I want to tell a story of how I fought my way back up from rock bottom and started over—how I learned to believe like my life depended on it – because it does.
I want to tell the story of how I have sifted through so much (forgive me) shit, and still believe that God is real and good and there, loving and kind, patient and probably hilarious. A lot of people will try to speak on His behalf, and hand you shame as if He had given it. That is not a thing. God is far too wise to use shame in His shaping of you, so you can take the shame those people try to hand you and release it to the wind.
My life is not neat and tidy. I can’t really seem to keep it in the lines. And Jesus still loves me, God is still shaping me, and neither one of them ever told me that I was too much of a mess for what they have handed me.