Posted by: edsohn | January 17, 2008

A Mess In The Presence

I’m a mess! I’m an emotional mess. Why? Because I’m going through a pretty tough breakup. I won’t go into details, but it’s left me feeling really guilty, a lot of self-hatred, and some confusion and hurt too. I’m not always living in those emotions, but they come and go in pretty massive tidal waves.

The persistent feeling I have the most: emptiness. I feel empty. I’m not sure what to do next, because my life feels like it’s … empty. Less full of stuff. I feel less alive. If I let myself, I think I could spend the next week in my apartment watching TV and eating chips.

If I were to slice my brain and heart into different pieces, it looks like this. On one part is my superego, the negotiating force that keeps me looking sane at work and coming off as normal to my friends. I’ve never really embraced my inner emotions much, I’ve just found ways to articulate and spin my way around them. It’s what enables me to talk rationally about the whole situation, to sum up my story to friends around me, etc. We can call this the “Oprah” sector.

The next part is the voice of my religious upbringing, the Age of Reason words of “Christian wisdom”. “Don’t worry. It will pass. God will take care of things. He can heal you. He can make it better. Trust God, He’ll make it better. And one day, you and your ex will both find the right person and be able to praise God for His perfect ways. There’s something to be learned here, I’m sure God wants to teach you something. Self-pity and self-deprecation are ultimately just selfish; stop being selfish and turn to God.”

None of those statements are false, but they flood my brain as an automated response, almost a defense mechanism in themselves. And even if much of it is truth, what good is bathing in truth if you won’t let it soak in?

Underneath all of it is yet one more part, this dread, this incredibly simplified emotion of pain and dread. I don’t want to sit there and really think about it for too long, because then I might be confronted with some really ugly feelings. Maybe I really do hate myself. Maybe I love myself too much. Maybe this breakup wasn’t the right thing to do at all. Maybe I’m not going to be ok, I’m not going to be better, I’m just a messed up guy that can’t be trusted in another relationship for at least a good five years or more, because right now, all I know is how to hurt people and hurt myself.

That’s where I REALLY am. I’m not ok. I’m a mess. I’m able to control it because I’m so good at adopting external behaviors, but I think I’ve been weeping on the inside and questioning everything deep down. How is it that this can sway me so far when I profess every day that I have a relationship with the most beautiful and amazing being in the Universe? My emotions betray me.

That’s when all of that Bible knowledge and theology really started getting through to me. Not in terms of conventional wisdom, nor in terms of emotional lifeline verses (both of which are good sometimes), but in terms of just true stories of how God interacts with humanity. According to the Bible, God doesn’t wait to clean people up. He doesn’t wait to “normalize” them before giving them His presence. He doesn’t hold off until people are rational or have a grip on their emotions before sitting down to talk with them for a while. In fact, while there are a lot of cool-headed mature types, the Bible is also filled with a bunch of crazies. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David… not to mention Peter and John and Paul.

I remember reading a book called “Messy Spirituality”, by the late Michael Yaconelli. I think it was along these lines: we should encounter God IN our mess. Not even necessarily with the idea of getting OUT of our mess, because sometimes the mess is exactly where we’re supposed to be. It’s disingenuous to put a different face on that and try to approach the throne room of God, self-deprecated and robotic. Moses was MAD at God sometimes. So was Jonah. David was frustrated beyond belief. But it never kept them from God.

And that’s all I’m holding on to. Not just this vague idea of a steely faithful God who never gives up on people and wants to bring them out of their messes and into His good cleanness. No. He’s Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the ghetto, the Hero of the hood. He was BORN into a mess, and He knew a lot of messed up people. He CHOSE to befriend them, and while some of them had some serious and instant behavioral/emotional change as a result of Him, others were just messy people delighted to be in the presence of a Savior.

So that’s the new part, the part I’m still trying on for size. The part of my heart and mind that tell me, yes, you’re a huge mess, but that won’t keep God from you. Not, “it’s ok, things will eventually be ok.” Not, “God will clean me up and make me whole.” I’m trying to turn to God not just to “get me out of here” and “save” me from my emotional distress. It’s just the thought that life is far bigger than me, and God doesn’t wait for me to get “cleaned up” before giving me Himself.

Give me Jesus, give me Jesus. You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.



  1. Amen.

    Thank you for your relative transparency. And your clear explanation of the Incarnation’s healing nature, rather than God being our fixer-upper.

  2. i’ve been going through (slowly) emotionally healthy spirituality. it’s been good in helping me figure out more about the icky stuff in side that i too have overlooked and ignored in my past. =P

  3. Such a great ending.

    Anakainosis, (blast you for choosing such a long pseudonym) thank you for sharing your deep, honest and insightful thoughts.

    a quote for you, from Rob Bell:
    “Our healing begins when we participate in the suffering of God. When we don’t avoid it but enter into it, and in the process enter into the life of God. When we see our pain not as separating us from but connecting us to our maker. And in this connection, there’s always the chance we’ll find a reason to risk again. If God can continue to risk, then maybe we can too. Perhaps you have had your heart broken by somebody. You risked and extended and offered yourself and they rejected and turned away and didn’t return your love. There is something divine in your suffering. Somebody divine in your pain. You know how God feels.”

    –Rob Bell, Sex God

  4. i love the ending quote. give me jesus. you can have all this world, but give me jesus. so simple..desperate..and true.

  5. Enoch “walked with God”

    Entire lives of people in the Bible are summed up in a couple of verses as if they might have not had some utterly human struggle/episode such as a break-up.

    But they probably did. Enoch notwithstanding.

    And I take great comfort in knowing that in at least one instance this whole God-to-man-man-to-God thing was a 365-year process.

  6. Long time reader, first time comment-er.

    It is after a very difficult 2007 full of heartbreak, pain, deaths that I realized that
    it is not that God does things for a reason.
    but , that there is reason in what God does.

    So I’d suggest you not try to find meaning/reason in what has happened. But make reason/meaning in regards to what has happened.

  7. the dread, the maybe’s, all that mess. maybe sometimes we act like God doesn’t understand us as humans and every path in our spirituality is supposed to lead to a clean slate again. that’s actually now a disheartening image for me, as if God is out of reach or just ahead of me and i’m trying to catch up with a broken leg, or something like that. God understands every part of our human confusions and meets us where we are.

    sometimes i actually feel something like shame that i can’t be “strong” anymore, “trust God,” see the lesson plan from the beginning. and it’s hard because whether from being trained to face my struggles like that or from my personal fear of exposing my weakness, i’ve become quite good at and capable of building that kind of false shield.. though now i’m convinced that way stores up more hurt or disillusionment for the future. it’s good to begin talking to each other and to God as vulnerably/honestly as you did – “I’m a mess!”

  8. My status as a mess reminds me…

    God needs to save me. not from all those things I recognize, but often, I think God needs to save me from myself.

    We’re a mess. But God comes down and steps right into the middle of it all. What a ridiculous and crazy God…

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