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In some ways, I think the reality of our Christian faith is broken down by false notions of what it means to be a “perfect Christian.” Sometimes we have this idea that ‘perfection’ is the prerequisite to belonging in the Church, that anything else would make us unworthy. And maybe we know in our minds that this isn’t the case, but we often forget that in the way we live our lives.
Because we all mess up. We’re all sinful, sometimes for extended periods of time. And our hearts can grow so cold, so hardened, so afraid of returning to God, convinced he wants nothing to do with us anymore. In our minds we are hopeless cases, fallen too far from grace, impossible to be saved. And when it happens, we run. We hide in shame. We distract ourselves with other things, unwilling to turn back to God. We feel that no matter how crisp and clean our Sunday mass attire is, we can never hide our true ‘stains.’ That if we continued to serve, we’d be nothing more than hypocrites. And sometimes we’d rather drop out of church altogether than be hypocritical — at least that way we wouldn’t have to ‘pretend’ anymore.
But that’s the thing: Who said we had to pretend? Who gave us this crazy idea that we could only approach God when we were at our absolute best, when everything was right in our lives, when we were ‘spiritually high’? We fool ourselves into believing that we can only approach God when we are pure, clean and presentable, unstained and pleasing, like we can only let him in when all the clutter is swept beneath the rug.
But that is false.
There’s a quote by Abigail Van Buren that carries some partial truth: “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Yes, the church is a hospital for sinners; but the saints were sinners too. They were just sinners who never gave up.
I came across a quote by Paul Hudson that immediately struck me as true and powerful: “Intimacy requires you to expose yourself, to show your true colors. It requires you to be vulnerable and to place all your cards on the table. True intimacy is a complete unraveling of all your defenses. It’s allowing someone else to see us for who we really are, not just for who we let on to be.”
It’s easy to apply this quote to our deepest, most meaningful relationships. But when it comes to our relationship with God, it suddenly gets harder. Yet Jesus doesn’t want a pretentious friendship with us; he wants that. That kind of intimacy that dares to show the ugly, dares to speak of the unspeakable, of the brokenness, of the pain, but also of our joys and aspirations of life. EVERYTHING. He doesn’t want the polished up versions of ourselves; He wants us.
Even when we run away, God says, “Even now, return to me with all your heart …” (Joel 2:12-13). It’s a perpetual message of, “Come back.” To focus only on our brokenness is viewing only one side of the coin. Flip it over and see the other side.
Maybe then we could experience first-hand what Christopher West means when he says:
“The ‘call to perfection’ is… the recognition that I am loved as I am, in all my imperfection–and as I open to it, it’s that love that transforms me, “perfecting” me step-by-step. In this way, “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” is transformed into “I was at peace, because I know God loves me; so I exposed myself.”
It’s Holy Week now, only several days until Easter. Let’s not miss out. Return to God, regardless of where we’ve been or where we are now. We might’ve gotten used to rolling around in the mud, but God can make us clean again. Just trust. He can take it. We just need to make that first decision to get out of the mud.
I’ll leave you with one last quote by blessed Mother Teresa to ponder about:
“Jesus wants me to tell you again … how much love He has for each one of you — beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus — one to one — you and Jesus alone … Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The Devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes — to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more — He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes — He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe — you are precious to Him. Bring all your suffering to His feet — only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest … “I thirst” is something much deeper than Jesus just saying “I love you.” Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you — you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.”