“We want flawed. We want imperfect. We want real. And this kind of corduroy rather than polyester faith is a growing and refreshing influence in the world today.” Josh Riebeck, Fighting for Authenticity
If there is one prevailing topic I read about over and over recently, it is that of living “authentically”. It is the badge of honor of an up and coming generation to shake the dust off of the conventional traditions they grew up with for newer “more authentic” experiences. The churches of their parents and grandparents have been a little too polished, the doctrine too narrowly defined, and their leaders too phony. Authenticity is at the top of the list for many church goers and seekers. The bar is high for relationships and personal experiences. People desire community and fellowship, both of which mean nothing if people are not able to be their true selves.
Enter a whole new kind of thinking in our little life circles: being authentic means showcasing our jagged edges and messes, so much so that brokenness is in fact paraded around as a kind of medal of honor. It’s a mantra so often repeated in the books we read and messages we hear I can’t help but wonder if we have gone off the path just a bit. Here’s just a taste of some recent book titles:
Messy: God Likes It That Way; Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life; Life is Messy, Embrace the Mud; Dirty, Rotten, Messy Christians;
Ann Voskamp’s latest book The Broken Way asks “what if brokenness is the path to abundant life?”
Jen Hatmaker went viral after she wrote a hilarious piece on why she was the worst end of year school mom ever, and mothers all raised their praise hands and chuckled in agreement.
To read something humorously and passionately written about the battles we all face is encouraging, it resonates and makes us feel like we aren’t alone. Life is indeed messy. We are broken people.
Look closely though, at what these messages are telling us: your authenticity is defined by your brokenness. In order to be relevant, you need to have a ‘hot mess’ thing happening somewhere or else you just aren’t relatable.
After awhile, brokenness is not only normalized, it’s embraced. Whether it’s in holy or humorous ways, we read the stories that end with “bless this mess, Lord” and breathe a collective sigh in knowing we aren’t alone in our shortcomings.
To be clear, brokenness is not having a sink full of dirty dishes, piles of laundry or unsigned reading logs. True brokenness is sin separating us from a loving God who offers healing and redemption. Grace, in much of the same way doesn’t just come to fill in the gaps where we fall short or have decided to loosen up our convictions. If we cheapen the meaning of these things, it all becomes dangerously relative. If everything is broken, nothing really is. We don’t see sin for the danger it is, we make light of it. Or ignore it entirely.
“If we are constantly looking for someone else who is broken in all the same places, we overlook the comfort we can have in the perfect God-man. Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God. But if we stop there, we are only telling half of the story… Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ’s help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience.” Megan Hill
What if… what if the most authentic, real, and relevant thing we can do as believers is to actually pursue wholeness instead of wallowing in the muck of our sin and mess just waiting for Jesus to return? What if we viewed ourselves as new creations who are called to live a life of abundance and not brokenness? (2 Corinthians 5:17, John 10:10)
This isn’t pie in the sky wishful thinking that discounts the effects sin and a broken world have on our lives. This isn’t ignoring genuine tragedies that at times leave us busted-up, messed-up, hollowed-out people. Jesus knows. That’s the whole point. We have a Savior who completely feels the depths of our every sorrow (Hebrews 4:15, Isaiah 53:3). The fantastic news is that He came and redeemed us from having to dwell in that brokenness and sorrow. And that’s where I see the disconnect. We are promoting brokenness over wholeness. Darkness over light. Struggle over victory. We understand there’s no foolproof method to glue all the pieces back together, so we abandon the process entirely and embrace things we were never intended to hold on to.
If I believe brokenness is my permanent condition, how do I view sin and grace? Do I ease up on Biblical doctrine because it’s too harsh for today’s culture to embrace? Do I receive grace for my sin and keep on sinning? C.S. Lewis has a warning for us on this:
“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. You find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.” Mere Christianity
See where this leads? If we only take our spiritual cues from people who struggle with the same sin as we do, we all remain stuck. It’s like being shipwrecked on a desert island and wanting to stay with fellow passengers instead of searching out a boat with a competent captain. There are too many prominent Christians giving in and lying down because they mistakenly believe that’s what will save everyone. In the end, we all starve to death. Our role as believers isn’t to wallow in brokenness together. The Bible tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) because that is the rhythm of life in a fallen world. In the in-between times, are we called to “encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11), and to “pursue holiness” (Hebrews 12:14). Walk it out, work through it, process it… with Jesus, with fellow believers and friends, whatever it takes because Christian, you are no longer a slave, but God’s child (Galatians 4:7). God’s children do not sit and bask in brokenness.
Desiring wholeness (not perfection) is fantastically, amazingly and entirely AUTHENTIC. God loves and honors the broken spirit, He acknowledges it and would never despise or turn His back on our condition (Psalm 51:17). Nobody wants a phony polyester kind of faith, and God Himself does not desire that for His children. He calls us UP and OUT of the dust, the mess, the sin and INTO a beautiful life. We don’t have to muddle through, we can indeed be restored. God uses the broken things, sometimes extremely powerfully to make us who we are. Lets not, however, fall into the trap of believing that this is the only true path to anything good or authentic.