“How do you feel when you think about God choosing to have his one and only Son born not in a palace, but in a lowly, humble place?”
Mara, a character in the book Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown, feels convicted when her spiritual director Katherine asks her the above question. She responds: “Jesus deserves better. A lot better.”
“But God freely chose that place,” Katherine points out.
A moment earlier, Mara had been confessing that her life felt too messy for Jesus to enter it. She had a colourful past and her marriage was so rocky that she was feeling real hatred toward her husband. She didn’t know where to start cleaning up her heart to make room for Jesus. Katherine challenged her to consider whether that was her job. Was she trying to make her heart look like a luxury resort before she let Jesus in? That’s when she reminded Mara that Jesus, who could have been born in a palace, chose instead a simple stable.
I am so much like Mara at times. I look at my life and think, “Okay, let me get rid of this pile of junk and then do some dusting there and, oh, that cabinet is a mess and… and… and…” Meanwhile, Jesus is waiting for me to ask Him in so that we can spend time together, so that He can help me with the clean-up. But I’m too proud, or I’m too ashamed, and then I feel stuck.
Have you ever felt this way? Like your mess is too messy, your pain too painful, your darkness too dark? How could God want to be part of any of that? Why would He waste His time there when He could be somewhere brighter and cleaner?
The Bible tells us that Jesus “came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) When someone is so lost that a search-and-rescue party is organized or the Coast Guard is called in, they’re generally not in a wide-open well-lit space. They may be in the middle of a dense forest, somewhere on a mountain, or lost at sea. If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He anticipated entering dark and messy places. He was willing to do that. He is still willing to do that. Why?
He loves us. He loves us with a love we cannot image because we are simply incapable of loving that way. It makes no sense to us. But it’s true:
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
I wrote the reflection above for my church newsletter a few weeks ago but I feel like I need to say a bit more. Here are some additional, more personal thoughts…
For a major chunk of this past year, my heart was a very messy place. As I tried to make sense of things I’d struggled with for years, I dug deep into my past (or things I read and heard turned over some of the dirt), unearthing things that I then I had to decide what to do with. Like someone decluttering a house, I ended up with KEEP, TOSS, GIVE AWAY, and DECIDE LATER piles. So, yeah, it was messy. It made me nervous because I thought there was no space left for God. I found myself trying to talk to Him through the closed door of my heart while I shuffled the piles around (making the junk look different instead of actually getting rid of it), but it was hard to hear how He was answering.
Somehow, God still reached me through the chaos. (I think it was when I could no longer breathe in there and I had to nudge the door open a bit.) He showed me that I didn’t need to deal with my mess to gain His approval, to ensure that He was pleased with me, to earn His love. I already had all that. What I needed to do was trust Him enough to let Him in, to let Him see the mess, to let Him clean it out. I needed to admit that I couldn’t manage my failures, my sin, my brokenness and that I needed Him to do that. I needed to become vulnerable. I needed to risk intimacy with Him.
And you know what? That’s what I did.
And you know what? He stepped in, not with contempt or condemnation, but with love and compassion. He didn’t reject me. He didn’t berate me. He didn’t belittle me. He began sweeping and tidying and helping me toss things that don’t belong in my heart to make room for the things He wants to give me.
January 1 will mark 40 years since I asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Saviour (I just figured out that milestone — wow!) but it’s taken me this long to really begin to grasp how much He loves me and how much I can trust Him.
And you know what? That’s okay. Some plants shoot up out of the ground and grow quickly. Others take their time and mature more slowly. I can’t afford to get tangled up with regrets about what I did or didn’t do in the past, what I could have done better. Today, I’m forgiven. If God does not condemn me for my past, why should I?
If your life feels messy and chaotic or dark and cloudy or whatever kind of challenge you’re going through, don’t let the enemy convince you that you’re somehow beyond the reach of God’s grace. Jesus would love nothing more than to step into your mess and sweep it with His love, the most powerful cleansing force you’ll ever know.
Can I pray for you? If you’re struggling and need some encouragement, please write to me. And please remember that God loves you more than you can imagine.