A couple of summers ago I had the privilege of playing bass in a band at a weeklong ministry event for teenagers. Before the night services started, everyone involved would get together and we would talk about our vision for the night, the technical aspects of what was going to happen, and some of the things stirring inside of us.
There was one woman with us that week from my local church that is very petite, very joyful, and very loud. She is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met. One of the nights when we got together before the service started, she asked if she could share something with the rest of us. She went on to say that sometimes people find her annoying because of how happy she is. She said that people look at the way she praises God and say that she’s fake and too over the top. She then went on to say that she knows that none of those people have any idea why she is the way she is. She told us that when she was around 11-years-old she was kicked out of her house and forced to live on the streets. She started living out of an abandoned warehouse and had resorted to prostituting herself for food and clothing. She contracted multiple sexually transmitted diseases as a very young girl due to her promiscuous living. When she became an adult, she got connected to Jesus and she said he transformed her life. She said that she’s never very bothered when people criticize her for how joyful she is and how much she loves God because none of those people have any idea that when she became a Christian she was healed of all of her diseases and emotional pain, met a loving man who is now her husband, and had beautiful children that didn’t receive the diseases from her past life at birth. She said that those people that criticize her have no idea why she praises God like she does because they have no idea what she’s been redeemed from. She said that if those people knew God the way she did, they would be as happy as she was.
When she got done telling us her story, we pretty much just sat there in silence. What do you say after that?
The country music stars Johnny Cash and June Carter were both renowned for their fantastic marriage to one another, and I’ve heard a lot of people talk and even write songs about wanting know extravagant love like they had for one another. That’s nice and all, but like most things, there is more to the story than what we see on the surface. Johnny and June both went through messy divorces before marrying each other. Johnny had a drug addiction, and once while he was high he tried to kill himself while living in a cave. When Johnny surfaced from the cave, June and her parents moved in with him and helped him through his addiction. There are quite a few stories like that about the two of them. People want to know love like Johnny and June had, but the truth is, Johnny and June went through a lot of crappy stuff together. I’m willing to bet that their love for one another had a lot to do with the unpleasant things they got through. Beautiful things generally aren’t easy.
Some of the original followers of Jesus used to tell this story about Jesus eating with an official when a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and expensive perfume and then dried them with her hair. The story goes that the official tells Jesus that he wouldn’t let her wash his feet if he knew who she was and what she had done. Jesus responded by saying that a person who has been forgiven of a lot will be more grateful than someone who has been forgiven of a little. I think what Jesus was saying was that the official had no right to judge her because she knew redemption in a way that he didn’t. Her story was different than his. She knew Jesus in a different way.
I think that a lot of us want to live good stories and be better people, but are generally unwilling to go through some of the hardship necessary to make our lives beautiful.
No one gets through life without hardship. We all come out of the womb crying. Everyone around you has a history with some gruesome details. No one has ever known a perfect life. When we come up against suffering in life, it’s easy to get stuck asking why things happened the way they did. It’s easy to let past hurts stop us from hoping for a better future. It’s easy to feel completely and utterly crushed by the hard things that happen in life.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives one of his most famous sermons, and he starts it by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus is with the hurting. Jesus is all about healing the brokenness. He is in the business of making beautiful things out of the dust and death. Jesus is about resurrection. The only thing about this is that in order for something to be resurrected, it has to first know death.
Here is where the difficulty lies. We want to know the resurrection of Jesus, but we want to stay away from the suffering. We want to experience the good without knowing the bad. And it really just doesn’t seem to work that way. Hard stuff happens to everyone. But I have found that when we invite Jesus to help us with our struggles, the abandoned, diseased prostitute becomes a loved, healthy mother. And the broken-hearted, suicidal addict becomes a laughing, loving husband. The outcasts become loved and accepted. When we invite Jesus into our sufferings, he brings healing. He makes our stories beautiful. So at the end of the day, we are a little bit more joyful than the rest, and we learn how to love deeper, and our broken pasts become sweet perfume at the feet of Jesus.