I don’t think it’s that the world of people outside of our faith expect us to be perfect, but more that we go about our lives pretending as though that were true. We try very hard to stay upwind from ourselves, enjoying our denial and calling it godliness, but that doesn’t stop the stench from wafting into the noses of everyone around us.
It reminds me of an article I read recently about this new fad, Blowout Bars. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, women go to these new salons and pay to have their hair washed and blow dried so they don’t have to do it themselves. Being a woman with long, thick hair, I do not dare judge them, if I had money burning a hole in my pocket, I would be a regular.
What had me in stitches about the article, were the comments that stylists were getting from husbands and boyfriends of their clients. These men were not complaining about how much money the women were spending, but how much they were trying to get out of their blowouts by using dry shampoo in-between visits. “Tell her to wash her hair! She stinks!”
I laugh because, I am a fan of dry shampoo and I know the stench of which they speak. It’s this sort of gym-sock-meets-damp-dog smell. While that sounds awful, and it is, I can’t deny that the product is brilliant. I can have the greasiest strands, spray a little dry shampoo in my roots, curl the ends, and look as though I had spent tons of time working on my locks. Though, if I were to do that for a few days, it would only be impressive from a distance.
See where I’m going with this? We can keep up our pietistic reputations so long as no one gets too close to see the truth about us. I think that we’ve bought into this idea of Christianity that once Jesus cleanses us of all unrighteousness, our hair never gets dirty again. That’s how we walk around this place, anyways. But that’s not the truth and it doesn’t smell anything like Jesus.
I don’t think it’s that the world of people outside of our faith expect us to be perfect, but more that we go about our lives pretending as though that were true.
The truth is that the Christian life is a paradox, or as Martin Luther put it, simul Justus et peccator. We are just and we are sinners. We are forgiven, yes. We are in an unshakable union with God in Christ, yes. But this side of eternity, we are anything but perfect on a horizontal plane with our neighbor. There are days that we just stink and it does not do the world any favors pretending that we don’t. In fact, that flies right in the face of the gospel where only sinners need apply. It turns people away from Christ, who welcomes the stenchiest among us.
Because we are loved by God, we are free to own this truth about ourselves, that our lives contain both light and dark sides. I’ve found that the more honest I am about my failures with people outside of my faith, the more they trust what I have to share about that faith, because I’m not pretending to be Jesus, I’m just being open about how much he loves sinners like me.
“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
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