She shows me around the apartment that is nicely painted and decorated. Pictures of her two children are shown in two separate photographs with her when they were several years younger than their present ages. She proudly shows me around the sparse kitchen, the common room area, and even shows off her bedroom with closet/storage space. The final room is a bedroom that hosts two single beds, one covered with toys of pink, plush and frills, and the other with a Cars theme duvet and toys of blue.
She keeps talking to me about having her kids “back home” with her. She explains about lawyers, and court and signed documents. She tells me about her landlord who has redone the apartment to accomodate her children, and that he has promised her a larger space when they come home. I can sense the longing, the burden, the heart ache behind her smile, but also….something more.
I see that despite her outward apprearance, it seems that inside she is broken. It’s not something I can quite put my finger on. But her mind seems a bit broken somehow. She alluded to mental health problems briefly. She told me that the job that she began 3 weeks ago didn’t really work out because she couldn’t take the sight of parents coming in with their kids. “Too hard.” She speaks ill of the people who are taking care of her kids, the foster home they are in, the involvement of others who are also part of their story. She says she doesn’t understand why her lawyer won’t file the signed documents in court so that she can have full custody. All the while, an burly, older guy sweeps her back patio. I have found out that this is her ‘on-again, off-again’ boyfriend, a man old enough to be her father. In one short visit I see enough to show me that I’m not sure that I would place her children in her care. I’m no professional. But I am a mom. And although I hear her heart, I also sense beneath that, there are layers of issues that need to be addressed and dealt with in a healthy way. I really wanted to be able to reach her, to make some kind of connection, as one mom to another, one woman to another, as one who has known brokenness too.
But I couldn’t make that connection somehow. It seemed during my visit that she felt the need to ‘impress’ me, or to say the ‘right things’. She knows I am part of a church. It’s where I met her months ago. We tried to help her when we found out about her homelessness, and her desperation. We gathered donated items to help her begin again but unfortunately, the first place fell through when the landlord did some background checking. There is lots more to her story than what you see on the surface.
It’s messy. It’s sad. And my heart cries out with the love of Father God who longs to hold her in His arms.
I see the carefully constructed façade but I also sense a crumbling of it behind the smile. I feel frustrated with the fact that she tries to portray a picture of having it all together, a doting, loving, and healthy mother, ready to welcome her kids home… she called it her ‘divine role’. It was as if she thought I was some social worker and she had to say all the right things. I felt sad that because I was part of a church, she felt like she had to portray herself in a certain light. Her statements about praying for 2 hours every night for blessings for her kids, or the one about doing things to help others in order to please God so that he would bless her kids, were just not right. That’s not how God works; God isn’t a task master, there is no ‘check list’ that we have to have all ticked off before he will bless us, or listen to us, or answer our prayers. Christianese phrases and pithy Christian-y platitudes were flung my way; they would have had any religious person nodding and agreeing in profuse agreement. But they told me that she didn’t really know God and what He wants. (Good heavens… if only I prayed for 2 hours a night!)
What I really wanted to say was this:
“Can we just cut the crap here? You don’t have to try to impress me. You don’t have to try to be holy and prayerful if you aren’t right now. You never have to try to impress God, sweet one. He knows your story, inside and out. He knows your heart inside and out. He knows your pains, your wounds, your doubts and fears; He knows every moment of your story, and He longs to touch you and heal you. He doesn’t care what issues you’ve got goin’ on. He never rejects. He always forgives, and always loves despite every circumstance. You don’t have to pretend to be anyone with Him. Just be you… that is who He wants. All He wants is for you to receive His love. He just wants you to let Him love you...”
I know that God wants to love her back to health, love her back to wholeness, love her and show her the life abundant that he promises to those who know Him. Not just life… abundant life. How many of us feel that we are living the Spirit-empowered, abundant life that Jesus promises?
Often I find in the Church that we try to hide behind façades, to mask our pain, our doubts, our crushing disappointments. We seek to portray a ‘good’ front, a ‘nice’ appearance, despite the fact that we are secretly dying inside, and wondering where that ‘good God’ is that is talked about on a Sunday morning. How many times have I showed up on a Sunday morning with a storm brewing in my heart? How many times has my week turned me topsy-turvy upside down and whupped me upside of the head? And then people at church ask how I am and I smile and nod and say “Good! How about you?” What is the point in hiding the true, the real, the broken and the messy? Shouldn’t we, the Church, be the place where all of that is brought into the light? Let’s just cut the crap, shall we? God knows all of it anyway!
We don’t condemn brokenness, we bring it to Jesus. We don’t tell you to ‘get your stuff together’ … we help you to bring all your stuff to Jesus. We uphold the hurting, pray with the broken, ‘be in’ the mess together. That is real. That is true. That is life. That is Jesus.
Jesus didn’t run from the messy, from the wounded, from the broken… He talked with them, He touched them, and above all else, He loved them. He always showed kindness, compassion, mercy and love, no matter the circumstances or the situation. And He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
If you are broken, hurting, doubting, seeking, wondering, crying…. He is waiting for you. Reach out to the God who cups your tear-stained face in His nail-scarred hands and holds you as you weep.
And as for this young woman? Would you lift her up before God, even for a moment? Would you ask that God would help bring down the walls and the obstacles that block her from hearing His voice? Would you pray against everything that holds her captive? Would you pray that she might know the health and the abundant life that Jesus offers to her? And that through His love, she might come to know the One who loves her more than anything… the One who loved her so much that He died for her, so that she might know true Love.