Life is so much messier than I wish it were. I often find myself looking to the heavens and raising my fist, internally shouting something along the lines of "DEAR GOD, COULD YOU JUST GIVE ME A BOX WITH CLEAN LINES AND CLEAR RULES? I DO REALLY WELL IN BOXES, YOU KNOW. RULES MAKE LIFE EASIER, AND SOME WRITING IN THE SKY WOULD BE SUPER HELPFUL RIGHT ABOUT NOW."
And then I'm reminded that He gave us a book and that at least two things in it are very clear: Love God. Love people.
Problem is, people are messy. Relationships and friendships are messy and therefore dangerous, and a box with a bunch of rules is a lot more helpful because it's a lot less risky and therefore keeps the possibility of Hurt at bay.
On a whim, I drove to Waco this weekend. I left Friday after class and made it back Saturday (almost) in time for work. After all these years, Waco is still where I am refreshed, recharged. My best friends in the world are there, and I usually hug them so hard their ribs bruise. Lane Perry is the best hugger of all. They call me JJ let me curl my hair in their bathroom and walk around with a mess of hair clipped on top of my head as I work to get it all done.
They've seen me in my pajamas (like, all the time) and without makeup, and I've talked to them with morning breath. We've slept in cars and on couches; on the road and on floors; and when we're all reunited (for any amount of time), it's like All is Right In The World. When they saw my car parked outside on Friday, they left me a note with window paint...
I was there for Convivium, and more than forty fellow thoughtful Christian college peers showed up at the boys' place and gathered around couches and in chairs for the first ever event. Oliver addressed the crowd:
What is Convivium, you ask? Well, late one night the eight of us boys were sitting around in our huge apartment, and we asked ourselves "what are we going to do with our senior year? What will our Big Thing be?" And so we brainstormed. And this is what we decided. We know 3 things about ourselves:
1) We like to throw great parties and gather people together
2) We collectively have deep relationships and friendships with many great Baylor professors
3) We have a lot of good looking friends
And so we decided the only sufficient solution would be to combine those three elements together under one roof. Tonight, we welcome our dearest Dr. Tran, professor of Theology and Bioethics, who will say a bunch of offensive things and subsequently lead a discussion on the trend of Republicans throwing their vote for Donald Trump and how it is possibly similar to the trend of intellectual Baylor Protestants converting to Roman Catholicism and turning toward Rome.
After the party (and discussion) wound down a bit, an old friend caught my eye and we grabbed a couch and struck up conversation. I'll never forget the first words he said to me:
"So. I've been thinking a lot lately. And here is what I've discovered. Knowing and Following Jesus is a lot of things. It is difficult and exhausting; joyous and peaceful; trying and truthful; it makes you feel loved and accepted and free, but it can also be really hard. The only thing it isn't is boring. Following Jesus Christ is anything but boring."
We talked about a lot else, but those words struck me, and I've been thinking about them ever since. He's right, you know.
I was lamenting to my (dearest, most wonderful) friend Justin on the phone today about how my life so often feels so confusing and messy and I wish the rules and future were more clear. "You know what that sort of life would be like, Jordan?" he said. "DAMN BORING." He's right, too. You know what's boring? A box with a bunch of rules.
Since following Jesus ISN'T a box with a bunch of rules, it should never be boring. As Christians, though, we often draw a bunch of lines for ourselves. "Do this, don't do this; go here, don't go here; talk to this person, don't talk to this person..." and on and on and on and on. The rules and lines make us feel safe and comfortable. We find some rules (or things) that are Right and Good and True and we build a nice fence out of them. Then we gather some friend-sheep who like Our Fence and we start hanging out in Our Pasture, and we stare at our (wonderful) fence and think "man, what a damn good fence that is. She's a beaut!"
And our neighbors. They've got a fence too, built of some other Right, Good, True things. But they're in the adjacent pasture, and they're too busy staring at their own beautiful fence to come hang out with the Sheep Next Door.
Meanwhile, Jesus is meandering through all of the pastures, tending to all of the sheep, and attempting to lead us ALL TOWARD HIM. "Follow the Shepherd," He says. "Your fences are good; your rules aren't WRONG (they're good and right and true), but they're far less important than ME. They also aren't the only right, good, true fences, you know."
Seth Haines said this, a few days ago:
This morning, I'll drive the valley road, the eight miles that crosses the twin bridges, passes the Hunt ranch, shoots past Oxford Bend, and dips below the houses at Barrington. I'll pass A Full Gospel Church, a Nazarene meeting house, a congregation of Baptists, a Church of Christ, another Baptist congregation (Missionary, I think), and a Methodist meeting house. I'll pull into an Anglican church, and we'll practice Christianity the way we do, with scripture and sacrament, worship and after-worship donuts.
And so the truth is: The Church is messy because we are messy. Life is messy because we are messy. Relationships are messy because we are messy. And Jesus looks down at all of us messy sinners and says: "I LOVE YOU SO MUCH I DIED FOR YOU. COME TO ME AND I WILL GIVE YOU LIFE."
And so, I'm learning to be Okay in the mess. I'm learning that Real Life is lived and birthed and exists in the muck and the mire and the grime and the filth. But the thing is that The Mess is never boring. It's a living, breathing, moving mess because it is made up of living, breathing, thinking, feeling, speaking, moving PEOPLE. In this atmosphere, Boring is an absolute impossibility.
So. Take that quick trip to see (and surprise) your best friends. Hold someone's hand, in the midst of an impossibly difficult conversation, to say "I'm not going anywhere. You're a mess, and I'm staying right here. Because I'm a mess, too." Let life and friendships and relationships be complex and intense. Share (communicate!) your experiences and messiness with others, because I look around at everyone else's friendships and relationships and think "WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?! THEY'VE GOT IT ALL FIGURED OUT AND THEY DON'T SEEM TO FIND THINGS COMPLICATED IN THE LEAST!" But the truth is, everyone realizes (knows/feels) that friendships and relationships are messy and complicated and that emotions "get in the way" all the time, every time and that boundaries are healthy and good but then SOMETIMES THEY BREAK. We've all also learned that (as Justin says) "the world doesn't even end when they do."
We can pick ourselves back up again. Hearts break--and they mend. Friendships end--and they begin. We fall--and we rise. Things are buried--and they resurrect.
I don't mean here to discount the pain and hurt and sadness that are Huge Parts of real life. I only mean to say that THEY ARE NORMAL. They aren't something we need to fear or try to avoid or steer clear of. They also remind us that we are Humans and not robots--and that we are really living and not Being Boring.
As you go, be free in Christ. I mean, really free. We must quit making our own rules and then breaking them and feeling terribly guilty and ashamed and subsequently being so filled with fear we become paralyzed. Our rules are okay--they are even good, most of the time--but our breaking of them does not necessitate an existential soul crisis. We can take a few deep breaths, remind ourselves that God is Bigger (but actually) and move forward.
Maybe I'm writing this for myself--maybe I'm the only one who creates boxes with clean lines and then expects my life to follow suit and has a MENTAL CRISIS when life gets messy and I "hadn't planned on it being that way." Maybe I'm the only one who tries so hard to listen to all the well intentioned Christians telling me the Order of Things and the Correct Progression and How Things Are Supposed to Go and then GETS SUPER DISILLUSIONED when things don't go like they tell me they're supposed to.
But on the off chance I'm not, I'll publish this post for all of you. If even one of you breathes a sigh of relief and thinks to yourself, "wait, so you're telling me I'm not alone?" then it was worth editing.
And please, LIVE A LITTLE. Do you know how many things I've done "even though I'm strapped for cash"? Life is far, far too beautiful and brutal to be even a little bit boring. Put a flower on your dashboard and drive somewhere--to see the people you love the most. I hope they love you so much they never want you to leave...
hey, i'm jordan.
wife to one, mama to four, bible-believing christian.