Unpretending (Messy Spirituality Excerpt)

There is no room for pretending in the spiritual life. Unfortunately, in many religious circles, there exists an unwritten rule. Pretend. Act like God is in control when you don’t believe he is. Give the impression everything is okay in your life when it’s not. Pretend you believe when you doubt; hide your imperfections; maintain the image of a perfect marriage with healthy and well-adjusted children when your family is like any other normal dysfunctional family. And whatever you do, don’t admit that you sin.

Practically, pretending is efficient, uncomplicated, and quick. Answering “Fine” to the question “How are you doing?” is much easier and quicker than saying, “Not very well, thank you; my back is bothering me, my teenage children are disappointing me, I’m unhappy with my body, my husband never speaks to me, and I’m wondering if Christianity is true.” Honesty requires a huge investment of time and energy from the person asking the question (who would then wish they’d never asked).

Pretending is the grease of modern nonrelationships. Pretending perpetuates the illusion of relationships by connecting us on the basis of who we aren’t. People who pretend have pretend relationships. But being real is a synonym for messy spirituality, because when we are real, our messiness is there for everyone to see. Some people consider the use of words like messy spirituality rude and audacious. “How dare you suggest that people are messy? What are you proposing? Are you suggesting that sin is okay, that we should condone less than a 100 percent effort to serve God? You are too negative. It’s not helpful to emphasize our flaws.” But the truth is, we are a mess. None of us is who we appear to be. We all have secrets. We all have issues. We all struggle from time to time. No one is perfect. Not one. (I have just paraphrased Romans 3:10.) The essence of messy spirituality is the refusal to pretend, to lie, or to allow others to believe we are something we are not. Unfortunately, people can handle the most difficult issues more easily than they can handle the lack of pretending.

When you and I stop pretending, we expose the pretending of everyone else. The bubble of the perfect Christian life is burst, and we all must face the reality of our brokenness. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality


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