No Happy Endings
When I was a little girl, I loved stories. My mom used to read to me all the time, and I learned to read at a pretty young age just by sitting with her and absorbing as she read to me. She read me a lot of stories from the Grimm brothers’ giant book of collected fairy tales, and the copy she had was so old and worn that it no longer had any covers. These stories didn’t always have happy endings, but the best ones did. The prince would show up, the princess would be rescued, the land would be healed, and all would be well. I don’t think the desire for a happy ending is limited to little kids. I think all of us secretly want and hope for a happy ending for ourselves, too – but if I’m being honest, I just don’t think happy endings exist. Let me explain.
Once, my mom took me to the library for a reading of a children’s book by its author. Because of this experience, or maybe just because I was little and didn’t know very much about the world, I began to think anyone who reads a book to a group of people must be the writer of the book. I made this connection with the book my mom was always reading to me at home, and this led to me believing my mom had written Grimm’s Fairy Tales! (Which would have been awesome. Think of the royalties!) Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves have secret authors, too. We think we are telling ourselves who and what we are, what our true identity is, and what our story will look like, but sometimes it is someone else. It might be the voice of the enemy of our souls, society around us, or God. Figuring out who is the author of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves is an important bit of work we need to do if we are going to see ourselves clearly and authentically, as we are.
We tell stories to other people about who they are, too. These might actually be the stories we should be the most aware of and careful with. The story Jesus told people about who they were went something like,
“You are worth SO much to God, and you were made for a grand adventure with Him! Come to the table, your seat is saved. You belong here, and I made you for a purpose! Let’s leave all your mistakes behind and go love everybody and change everything, together.”
That’s the story I want to tell others with my life, too. But what if the story for some people goes more like,
“After I came out as gay, my priest asked me to stop coming to our church.”
“When I was homeless, people acted like I was invisible. Like they didn’t even see me.”
“Everyone just treated my addiction like it was ‘my thing’ to deal with, something they didn’t want to be involved with. I felt so alone.”
“Honestly, I like Jesus a lot. But the people who say they follow him seem to be nothing like him.”
These are all stories from people I have been interviewing for the Everyday Grace podcast. I have been carrying these stories in my heart for weeks, and there are many more stories to tell. These are a small cross-section of the vast ocean of folks we the church have failed to love well, and to all those who hold their own stories silently in broken hearts, I just want to tell you I’m sorry. As I continue interviewing people, my eyes continue to be opened to the injustices we as a church body – and I as an individual with privilege – have inflicted or perpetuated toward people in the margins. I know better than to think I can heal your hurts, but what I hope to do is tell you about my friend Jesus, who can and does heal broken places in his friends.
I know this because he has worked on my own broken places, and I’ve found healing and rest in him that’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced. My life with Jesus isn’t perfect or pain-free by any stretch, but it’s better and freer than it was before we were friends. If you aren’t friends with Jesus because you don’t think he would want you as a friend, let me tell you something: he does! He thinks you’re pretty amazing, and he has saved a place for you right next to him. If you aren’t friends with Jesus because you don’t know that much about him and you want to know more, you can reach out to me or someone you know who knows him. We’d love to tell you more.
But if you aren’t friends with Jesus because of the people who follow him, we have failed. I am so sorry that our failures have kept you from experiencing the healing and love that is available in Jesus. That is just a shame. I just keep thinking about how much of a tragedy it is that I – someone who LOVES Jesus with my whole heart – have at times been part of systems or just my own wrongdoing that have turned others away from Jesus, which is the opposite of what I want to do.
I guess the most important thing I want people to know about my friend Jesus is that he isn’t like the religious people who make themselves the judge of everyone else’s mistakes. Some of us like to tie things up in nice neat little boxes, and everyone who doesn’t fit into our boxes isn’t allowed. Some folks try to call this holiness, but Jesus called it hypocrisy. He publicly spoke out against the actions of these folks, and warned us that God is more worried about the way we treat each other than whether we are getting everything exactly right. We all get it wrong at some point, but God knows we are works in progress – rough drafts of the stories we are living. As long as we know that too, and don’t pretend to be finished and perfect when we’re not, Jesus says his grace will carry us forward out of our mistakes and into our next chance to get it right – or at least do a little better. It’s a good thing he is good at giving those second, third, fourth, and eleventy billionth chances. I know I sure need them.
The truth? I’m a hot mess. I know it. Jesus knows it. He heals it. That’s how I keep putting one foot in front of the other. When I’m close to giving up, he doesn’t give up on me. Somehow the thought of that usually gives me what I need in order not to give up on myself, or the work he wants me to do – the work of becoming more like love. I don’t have to be there yet, I just have to keep walking toward love. This is my story in Jesus, though it has not been straightforward or easy. And this can be true for you, too.
Walking others into better stories needs to be part of ours, too. We who are trying to follow Jesus need to be on the front lines with people who are hurting, being targeted, bullied, and uninvited. We need to be making friends, including instead of excluding, inviting instead of kicking out. This is how we should be treating single parents, LGBTQ folks, people of color, people who have undergone an abortion or a divorce or an addiction. This is how we can take part in what Jesus is doing – breathing brand new stories over the ones that have been burnt down and had their cover ripped off. The stories that have been hijacked by the enemy until they aren’t recognizable. No matter what your story looks like, friend, there is hope. I know it.
So no, I don’t think the sad stories I mentioned above have happy endings, because I don’t think they have endings at all. Because I believe what the Bible says about eternity, I think this life will spill over into the next life, and that this journey never really ends. But healing? Growth? Forward motion out of the mess? Rest for the weary – even if what you’re weary of is religious judgement and shame? These are surely available in Jesus. Jump into that river with both feet. You won’t be disappointed. There are no nice, neat happy endings – only fresh, new, life-giving beginnings. Only second chances, next steps, and brand new days to look forward to. See you there.