Messy Faith

I recently took a trip to LA with my buddy Erin to visit some friends. During our time there, I found myself in multiple conversations with my friends about life and its unpredictability; conversations about broken relationships, grief, confusion, awkwardness, and just general uneasiness. I was getting the sense that no one’s life was perfect and put together (shocking, I know). No one had it figured out. None of my friends said, “Life is everything I want it to be right now, no complaints here.” 

I remember thinking about how much I respect these friends. I respect their ambitions and their convictions. They are people who love Jesus and are trying to follow him. They are also some of the most real people I know. That’s why my conversations with them weren’t all sunshine and roses. They had tough things going on and they were willing to share them. It got me thinking about how our faith in Jesus (believing in who he is and what he’s done) plays out in our daily lives, through the ups and downs, and how it remains. I think it's pretty clear that how we think about faith has a significant impact on how we live as well. 

I’ve grown up steeped in Christian culture, as I’m sure some of you have also, and along the way, I’ve seen the beauty of biblical faith get twisted into something that is supposedly effortless and painless; faith that comes with no cost or sense of honesty. 

I have, on numerous occasions, fallen into the trap of believing that for faith to be effective it has to be completely uncompromised and unquestioned as if God cannot work with less than perfect faith. We have this tendency to treat our faith like a fragile gift, neatly packaged with shiny wrapping that is displayed on a mantle for all to see. We like to strive for this kind of faith, thinking that it’s what’s necessary for a life of following Christ. 

But, I am slowly coming to realize that it’s okay for our faith to be messy. Messy doesn’t mean absent or weak. Messy means honest, living in reality, making progress, working, struggling, asking, wondering, joy-filled and sorrow-filled. People full of faith are more often than not, the ones who are going through the crazy storms of life. Recall the parable that Jesus tells about the man who built his house on the rock in Matthew 7 - “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it has been founded on the rock.” That’s a bit of a mess. Maybe the house lost a few shingles in that storm. It may have gotten a little drafty and had a few leaks in the roof. After all, our lives are not perfect and God does not expect them to be. But the point is that the house remained standing through the storm. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know that our faith is not what it ought to be. Life comes at us hard and we put on this brave face while inside we are questioning and crying out. C.S. Lewis said “We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” How can we grow in our faith when our starting point is not real or honest; when our lives are built on sand instead of rock? 

Here a few reasons why I think this kind of messy faith can actually be a great thing:

  1. With messy faith, we are never complacent in our relationship with Jesus. Messy faith is on the move, looking for new ways to love Jesus and grow in our understanding of his love for us. 
  2. With messy faith we continue to learn or at least be open to learning. When we stop thinking and creatively and actively engaging with our faith, we become like a dull knife, still getting the job done but doing it half-heartedly, going through life lusterless. 
  3. Messy faith is attractive to others and more winsome for Christ. You might think that faith that is neat and tidy is more attractive, but it’s actually a recipe for loneliness and inauthenticity. Messy faith invites others in and says “I also don’t have everything put together or figured out, you’re not alone.” I believe God is so pleased with our stumbling and our honesty in the midst of life’s difficulties. Messy faith allows depth in a shallow world and the willingness to go deep will inexplicably allow others to go deep also. 

Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think that faith in God that is not examined regularly, whether by life’s circumstances, doubts, academic and intellectual research, or anything else, is shallow. Messy faith gets down and dirty in the realities of life. God has given us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7) so we don’t have to be afraid of our faith falling apart the moment we step into uncharted territory. We don’t have to be afraid to take our faith off the shelf and live life with it. 

- Vanessa // @vncoker