“Sometimes I feel like I’m playing a part I’ve been cast into, but it’s not who I truly am.” I fidgeted nervously in my seat as I shared this confession with a Christian counselor several years ago. My voice trailed off at the end and I quickly discounted the statement. “I’m sure it’s just a phase I’m going through.”
But he wouldn’t let me evade the thought. “Let’s stay there for a minute. Tell me more about what makes you feel that way.”
I’d spent my entire life doing whatever it took not to “stay there.” It had taken all the courage I could muster to walk into his office, much less make the confession. Now I wanted to retract my statement and go back to talking about things that were in my safe zone. Silence ensued. Say something. Anything. I attempted to deflect his statement with another excuse in a long line of excuses: “It’s probably because my last child is about to leave the nest and I’m experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. No big deal.” He nodded his head. More silence followed. Dad-gummit, this guy is good.
I glanced at the clock, desperate to make a getaway from the unfamiliar realm of “stay there.” Thirty-five minutes left in the session. He smiled. “Go on.”
I could either spill my guts or play an expensive round of the quiet game. I took a deep breath and continued, “Sometimes I feel like a fraud in ministry. It’s not that I don’t believe everything I teach and write about. I do. It’s just that I’m reminded on a daily basis of how rarely I myself measure up to the truths I talk about.”
More silence followed. He knew I needed to say more and he patiently waited.
“I mean . . . I talk a lot about Jesus Christ being our ‘everything,’ but I spend my days trying to find satisfaction in a thousand different false gods. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone buys my books. If they knew the real me and saw my long list of mess-ups, they’d ask for a refund. Especially if they followed my children around for long enough and realized they’re far from perfect too.”
With every word I spoke, I felt a tiny surge of courage.
“And I’m so tired. I’ve been burned out for nearly a decade, but I can’t seem to slow down. I don’t know how to be still. It seems like the more I do for the Kingdom, the more distant I feel in my relationship with the Lord.” My eyes filled with tears as I followed with a burden I’d never spoken aloud before. “No matter how much I do, I never feel like I measure up. Not as a mother, a wife, a Christian. Behind the curtain of my life, I’m a mess.”
When I left the counselor’s office that day, I felt like a burden had been lifted. Breaking the silence felt good. Incredibly good. I had taken a necessary first step: admitting to the mess. My healing journey began when I finally granted myself permission not to be okay. Not to stay there forever, of course, but rather acknowledge that not being okay is a perfectly normal part of the Christian journey. I walked into the counselor’s office suffering from a spiritual midlife crisis. I was worn out, confused, and just plain exhausted from years of trying to keep up the appearance of being a devoted follower. Add to that the pressure to manage the appearances of my children. My façade was beginning to crumble. And that was a very, very good thing. Stepping into that counselor’s office for the first appointment marked the beginning of the end of the pretender game in my life.
As I began to plumb the depths of my soul in the months that followed that initial counseling session, I realized that somewhere along the way, grace had shifted from being the solid foundation of my faith to becoming a mere footnote in my belief system. The transition was not a sudden event, but rather a process that snowballed slowly over many years. The love and compassion I once granted to unbelievers (or, for that matter, stumbling Christians) was gradually replaced with finger pointing and judgment. Time spent reading God’s Word began to feel like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do. My heart-to-heart conversations with God became less frequent and more distant. Sharing the Good News with others became a chore on my spiritual to-do list rather than a privilege.
Of course, falling short in these areas produced a never-ending cycle of guilt and condemnation that only left me feeling more distant from God. In desperation, I began to pray and ask God to “restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12). Bottom line, I wanted my joy back. But first I had to determine where along the way my joy had taken a hike and, more important, why.
If my hunch is correct, many of you can relate. Maybe your once-vibrant faith has, over time, devolved into a familiar mediocrity. Perhaps you go through the motions like a well-rehearsed dance number, never stopping to consider if God even choreographed the routine. On the outside your faith is clean, polished, and most of all, predictable. But deep down in your soul, you wonder if your walk with God was supposed to be more. More adventurous. More exciting. More risky. Before you even allow your heart to believe such a thought, you squelch the nagging thought, knowing it would require change and, most likely, a departure from your standard comfort zone. So you go through the routine another day. You wake up the next day and start all over again. Days turn to months, months into years, and years lapse into decades. Chances are, you’ll take that same routine to your grave. Unless something interrupts your tidy, well-groomed faith routine.
In the introduction of Move On, I shared how God used my son and daughter-in-law’s unexpected pregnancy as an interruption into my well-choreographed faith routine. It was a turning point for me and an opportunity for my family to take off our masks and talk about the mess. And trust me when I say this is only one of many interruptions over the years when mercy met me in my mess (including the ones I brought upon myself as a result of my own sinful choices!).
Have you ever experienced a similar interruption? What was your mess?
A rebellious teenager?
An unhappy marriage?
An unexpected diagnosis?
A stronghold of sin?
A mountain of debt?
A job loss?
A friend’s deep betrayal?
An unfulfilled dream?
An empty nest?
An ongoing struggle with depression?
Or maybe you’re smack-dab in the middle of a mess right now. Life is messy. Many of us are left reeling from our messes, knocked off kilter when life takes a turn from the scripts we’ve plotted out for our lives. Why are we so caught off guard by the fact that life is chaotic and unpredictable? Why can’t we accept that messes are inescapable in this life? We frantically rush to fix them, brush past them, or bury them deep. As a result, we deny the possibility that God intended the difficulties of life to become a small part of His bigger story. But we also deny others the privilege of walking alongside us in the messes of life.
As we kick-off the release of my new book Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess, I thought I’d pitch the question to you:
What is your mess?
Whether your mess is past tense or your current zip code, will you consider sharing it? Maybe just admitting the mess is a big enough challenge and you don’t feel comfortable posting your name. That is completely fine. Feel free to post it under “anonymous.” There is no judgement here. Also, email addresses are never posted with comments, so rest assured that your identity will be protected. Or maybe you want to share about a past mess when Mercy showed up in a big way and met you in the midst of that mess. This is your opportunity to allow God to use your mess as a part of His bigger story and encourage others who may be experiencing a similar mess in their lives right now. If you found yourself clinging to a particular Bible verse, feel free to share that as well.
As a thank you for your courage and bravery, we will draw four names among those commenting and each winner will receive two signed copies of Move On (one to keep and one to give away!). We will not announce those names on this post (to honor your privacy) and will contact you directly by email to get your mailing address if your comment is among the winners. Winners can pick between the Move On book or the Move On Bible study workbook.
Finally, and most importantly, I want you to know that I will commit to pray for the messes submitted that are in need of immediate prayer. I count it a privilege to do so and ask readers to join me in praying, as well.
So, are you ready to remove our masks and say goodbye to the pretender game? What’s holding you back from sharing your mess?
You can stay where you are or you can get honest and … move on.