The question I’ve been seeking to answer for the past six months is this: you’ve met Jesus- now what?
You’re a Christian, now what were you made to do in the kingdom of God? What lights your heart on fire? What story are you writing with your life? Could you be telling a better one?
I work for a Christian organization, I have mostly Christian friends, my boyfriend is a Christian, my family are Christians, Christianity has become this ‘given’ in my life.
It’s less of a novelty, less of a topic of conversation and more the undergirding to my life. “Yeah, yeah, yeah- I love Jesus. Now lets talk about the real stuff – what do you do with that?”
But what I realized tonight was that Jesus isn’t a given. Not for everybody. And he wasn’t always a given for me.
I am given a lot of flack for the fact that I’m the worst movie watcher in the world. If it starts after 8:30, I’m sure to fall asleep. I never want to see anything new, preferring to stick to my old standbys because that way I know what I’m walking away with. During the Oscars I accidentally confused Argo with Fargo, not having seen either movie – leaving my boyfriend, Carl, shaking his head in dismay.
I like movies to make me feel the way I love to feel- positive, inspired, like the world is a beautiful, hopeful place. And since entirely happy stories don’t make for very good stories, I haven’t seen very many movies.
Tonight was date night and so Carl and I decided to pick out a movie to rent. I tried to talk him into a few repeats, having finally just accepted When Harry met Sally into my repertoire, but was unsuccessful.
We picked ‘Flight’ and because I thought it was a movie about a pilot, I thought my emotions would be pretty safe from any movie induced rattling.
I was wrong.
Over the next two hours I watched a story unfold about deep drug and alcohol addiction. I watched a man lie and cheat and make mistakes over and over again. I watched him ruin his relationships with his family and wake up in a hospital room alone. I watched his life unravel completely and understood fully how a person could get there. I was no longer a spectator, I was involved, making the decisions with him, and feeling the weight of their consequences (apparently the mark of a really good movie).
But it also brushed a little too close to home.
As I watched him drink and drink and drink, I could smell the stench of the stale alcohol, memories of my own days of constant binge drinking flooding to mind.
I remember holding trashcans for friends as they threw up everything in their stomachs. I remember sitting by the toilet with people I didn’t even know, rubbing their backs as we waited for the ambulance to come. I remember finding that kid barely conscious in the parking lot, having fallen out of his car into his own vomit on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I remember the look on his friend’s face as he was put onto a stretcher and taken away.
But it wasn’t just other people, it was me too. In college, binge drinking was what we did. It wasn’t a problem but rather a party trick – one with heavy consequences. I remember mornings where I was so hung over I couldn’t move. I remember waking up with no memory and with bruises I couldn’t identify. I remember throwing up. I remember my own night with alcohol poisoning and how my friends saved my life.
And as I watched the movie, I got to see darkness deeper and more hideous than I had cared to remember. It felt completely hopeless.
After the movie I was quiet for several minutes, and then I began to cry. It wasn’t a delicate cry, but a deep, gut-wrenching sob.
It felt like my blinders had been ripped off and I could all of a sudden see things that I’d forgotten about, and things that just don’t cross my line of sight these days. I’d forgotten how deep the despair in our world can get, and I’d forgotten that I’d ever spent time sitting in it.
Carl didn’t try to keep me from crying, didn’t ask any questions. He just pulled me in close and began to pray.
As he prayed for me- a soothing, sweet, reminder of a prayer- things started coming back to me.
Jesus, the cross, hope.
Tonight, ‘pretty’ was washed away. Tonight, for a while, I completely forgot that beauty exists. I writhed and sobbed with the pain I’d just witnessed and the pain it reminded me of- and it was a deeply healing moment to realize that Jesus exists for pain just like that.
Tonight, Jesus wasn’t a given, because he’s not. Redemption and hope and joy are nice sounding words that feel very far removed from the messed up parts of our world. Jesus seems like a nice idea or a cheesy band aid- complete with a sing-along album. It sometimes feels impossible that there’s any match for the darkness in our world.
But I know better. I know that Jesus is so much more than a quick fix or a bandage. I know from experience that when we are in a relationship with god that he can actually change and heal the broken pieces inside of us.
I have proof.
I am proof.
God changes us. He takes our addiction, insecurity, selfishness, hatefulness, he takes our bad decisions and our past and the things that we can’t even forgive ourselves for doing – and he makes them new.
He literally takes the ashes of our lives and makes something beautiful out of them.
I don’t know how he does it exactly, but I know that he does. I know because I’ve seen it.
In my life, Jesus is a given. He’s the undergirding of everything I do and everything I am. But he wasn’t always a given, and my life wasn’t always full of hope and beauty and joy. And tonight I remember that more clearly than I have in a long time. And I’m grateful.
Jesus changed everything – and I’m filled with deep love for the God who really does make all things new.
What has God transformed in your life? Have you let him into the deepest places of your ashes?
(Carl – I promise I’m not going to cry that hard at every movie we watch…)