The more I study theology and the more I take Jesus' teachings seriously, the more messy my life becomes.
I was raised to believe that Christianity is about going to church on Sundays, not saying bad words, trying to be good, and having all the right beliefs (and knowing who doesn't have the right beliefs). Within this framework, Christianity is very neat and proper. One dresses in such a way that conforms to modesty (no tattoos and piercings, thank you); one uses coined phrases to know who's really in or out (we say 'blessed' not 'lucky'); one never touches a cigarette or consumes alcohol (because that's what makes us 'not of this world' right?); and one makes sure to only hang out with those who have the same beliefs (for having different beliefs or opinions is clearly a sign of waywardness). This was my world all the way into my 20s.
Then something happened. Or, in actuality, many things happened. I am unable to pinpoint one thing that upended my world. It was a bunch of little and big things that projected me onto a path of radical living, and I give the credit to the Holy Spirit (and to my husband, but that's another story).
As a result of those many little and big things, I began to see the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament in new light. Passages I had heard all my life took on a whole new and radically different meaning. Beliefs I had taken on without thinking came crashing down, as I began to hold them in view of Christ's teachings. It was then I started to discover how far off my thinking, and thus my life orientation, was.
Now, my faith is messy. Really messy. Where black and white once reigned obvious, gray and complexity has taken over. Without my rigid rules, relationships and beliefs become messy. And I can't tell you how much I love it.
Instead of worrying about my appearance, I look at my heart. Instead of pointing at and judging others, I now pursue a relationship with them. Instead of focusing on my beliefs, I focus on creating a lifestyle of love. Instead of avoiding bad words, I speak words that give life and healing. Instead of taming Jesus, I invite his scandalous ways.
The more messy my faith becomes, the more I find myself turning to Jesus, asking for the Spirit's wisdom and leading, and living a life of love. I allow relationships to grow and challenge me, no longer rules. I allow the Spirit room to move and breathe within me, no longer looking to humankind for all the answers. I allow myself to be a safe place for those who are marginalized, oppressed, and ignored, no longer thinking about my reputation. As this unfolds, the closer I feel to Jesus. The more I love his Word. The more radical my interactions become.
And this is exactly why Jesus came to earth: to undo our preconceptions of what is holy and unholy; to put the last first and the first last; to exchange judgment for love; to invite the sick and the broken, and to challenge the (self)righteous; to exchange this broken world for his Kingdom. Truly, the more God's Kingdom comes and the more God's will is done, the messier life gets and the more beautiful this world becomes.
Nikole Mitchell is a wife, mother, and activist, who is passionate about simple living and loving creation through a zero waste lifestyle (see zerowastehome.com). She has written for Red Letter Christians and can be followed on Twitter @mitchellnikole.
Image: mixed media religious images, Gordan / Shutterstock.com