The train and I shared the same stretch of land for a while before the tracks veered off. Traveling about the same speed, I had time to admire the handiwork of countless individuals who expressed themselves in paint across the train cars. With bright colors and bold strokes of the spray can, names and sayings told pieces of stories I’ll never know. I was curious thinking about the people who painted the train cars: where were they now? what possessed them to choose the side of a big metal box to display their prowess with a spray can? Did they live in rail yards or simply hangout there so they could enjoy the huge canvas’s? As I wondered all this, a train car rumbled along with a message I wasn’t expecting scrawled in a hand that was markedly different from the others. Jesus is my homeboy.
Huh. A joke? Shout-out to a friend? Or public profession of faith? Even in the midst of all the graffiti, the saying stood out.
An out-of-place confession painted in white, in a messy hand on the side of a moving black box.
And strangely, that feels like my faith story: awkward confessions from an average middle-aged woman living on a big blue ball hanging in space.
I led worship yesterday in our tiny, faith-filled church. And I felt like my reading of scripture and speaking and “leading” songs was stilted and awkward. I thought of how this faith-journey feels like a series of spray-painted confessions of “Jesus is my homeboy”.
My faith always feels messy. I’ve written about it before: this less-than-perfect faith. I still wonder why for some souls, faith is like coming home to a warm, lighted, picturesque bungalow and for others, faith is a series of wanderings. My own is a constant mingling of peace and turbulence, trust and doubt, obedience and sin.
We all have stuff–crap–sin–lingering issues that we deal with and deal with and deal with. As I’ve walked through this advent, I’ve been both convicted by new things and blessed with the convictions. And God’s gentle convictions to forgive freely and give generously and love unreservedly are both beautiful and hard. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and get bogged down by how much left there is to do–in my heart, I mean.
Laying in bed this morning, after the fuzzy lovely moments before the world and worries rush in, my heart felt the crush of the weight of life. We all have troubles. Some this holiday season are in the depths of grief–having lost those near and precious to them. Others feel trapped in addiction or lousy relationships or unhealthy lifestyles. Marriage woes, financial burdens, parenting dilemmas, and job insecurities all press in and threaten to choke out seeds of faith. We’ve believed lies whispered and shouted at us through the years. Lies that we’re not enough. Lies that we don’t have what it takes. Lies that we have to get our act together before we venture into God’s presence. Choked. We can feel choked. And it’s hard to think we have anything left to offer. We have no eloquent words.
But here’s the truth dear, fellow traveler: the beauty is in the offering. He–this amazing, loving God–wants us just the way we are; awkward confessions and all. And as I stood there, worshipping yesterday, although no burden was actually lifted (my dad did not reappear and money did not start falling from heaven) the tight grip of life that was strangling me, did lift. As I focused on God and who He was and what He did, and offered the stilted, uneasiness that is me, the seeds of faith had nourishment to grow.
From the Prophet Isaiah:
Who has believed our message?
To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
8 Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.
But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. (emphasis mine)