Sometimes, in college, for a study break, I would go through Disney princess coloring books and edit the captions to make them a satire commentary on the princess industry.
What can I say? Everyone needs a hobby.
I’d go through and comment on the tiny waists (I’m talking to you, Jasmine), the inane taglines (“Cinderella loves to sing from her heart!”) and the sculptures of hair that flare in the breeze at just the right point in the song (musically coordinated hair—can anyone tell me where to get product that does this?), replacing them with realistic and slightly ridiculous captions of my own.
I recently saw a Christian women’s magazine recently that could use a similar captioning. You know the type. Better Homes and Gardens, but with Bible verses. The houses are perfectly neat, with a sampling of color-coordinated books and a scented candle the only clutter in sight. The parties are so elaborate that you’re sure said hostess must have a full-time staff to help fold the complicated paper origami decorations and artfully arrange the appetizer tray. The women are demurely pretty, with elegant clothes maybe a few well-placed smile lines on creamy complexions, no sign of sagging or little-kid stains in sight.
We like things to be beautiful, from airbrushed model photos to Pinterest recipes so perfectly laid out and photographed that you can only dream of getting your own cupcake to look that way.
But do we really want those things? If our lives seem neatly arranged and perfectly put together, will that make us happy?
Nope. I don’t think so.
When we praise perfection, we’re accepting a message that puts a lot of pressure on us. Many Christians know the feeling all too well, and I’m not talking about just table settings here.
Have you seen it recently? It’s the person afraid to ask what “propitiation” means because everyone else seems to know…and by everyone, I mean the long-time Christian sprinkling in big-ticket spiritual vocab words to impress others.
It’s the kid in the youth group who is told over and over, “I’m grateful that you set such a good example,” which, while well-intentioned, usually has the effect of replacing Example or Nice Person as his primary role instead of Follower of Jesus.
It’s the women afraid to confess sins of lust, the Facebook statues that project a super-happy image, the times when we’re afraid to ask for forgiveness because maybe this time God won’t give it to us.
It’s all of these things, all of our well-intentioned, halfhearted, fear-driven attempts at looking good instead of being good and hoping no one notices the difference.
A few weeks ago, I had some people from church over to my house. The living room was cluttered and hadn’t been dusted for months and the chalkboard still had a clue from a recent mystery dinner instead of a pithy Jane Austen quote or something. The spaghetti sauce didn’t get heated all the way through. Some people drank out of mugs or jars when we ran out of glasses. Instead of a card table, I pulled out the old standby: an ironing board.
Basically, there was absolutely nothing about that lunch that could have graced the interior of a Christian women’s magazine.
And it was beautiful.
That’s probably because it was real, and because the people who came to lunch laughed without worrying if they were too loud and shared their thoughts and stories without fear and lived out what it means to come as we are.
That’s something I can learn from. I find it easy to be courageous in my lack of Good Housekeeping skills. But sometimes I find it hard to apply that courage to other areas in my life, to listen in love and speak things that are hard and stop trying to be perfect. But I need to do those things, because when I live in fear, I minimize the grace of God.
When we arrange our lives into a pristine photoshoot, we tell the rest of the world, “We don’t need grace. We are not sinners—you are. Come here and be better, just like us.”
Which is very different from Jesus’ messages of come you who are weary, love your neighbor as yourself, I came not for the healthy but the sick. Those are the captions that run all through the gospel—the idea that we are not good enough, but he is.
There is no fear in love. Do you believe that? That God loves you, that your fellow believers love you?
Do you love others in that way? Do you refuse to be shocked? Are you the first one to share your struggles and the last one to judge?
I’m not. Not yet. But I’m trying.
Let’s raise a jar of warm tap water to that. And come over any time. The ironing board’s always free (mostly because I never actually iron anything). I’m not the perfect hostess, not an example, not a paragon of virtue. I’m a sinner saved by grace. And that’s an awesome story.