I have found God in the midst of the mess. And I’ll never be the same.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way:
I was too old to care about Hannah Montana and I didn’t love her achy breaky daddy either. That song was awful, even when it was popular, but this daughter of his, she’s a whole new level of what in the literal hell is going on? She sings a song about a wrecking ball, but I think a song about a trainwreck might fit her a little better.
I know, I know, “Steve, this doesn’t sound much like grace.” But hear me out.
Grace is available to any of us, all of us, each of us all the time. I’m just saying, from the outside looking in, Miley looks like a hot mess.
Yet I’ve learned something from Messy Miley.
The other day, one of my besties sent me a text saying that she wanted something with more substance from my writing. She said something along the lines of, “Life isn’t always full of flowery hope.” From her perspective, life is more like the Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb”. My friend wants to see real life stories of finding grace in the midst of the mess. She wants to see struggles that don’t always end with gift wrap and a bow on top.
The “This is My Story” series came, in large part, because of my lifelong friend’s honesty.
Jesus said, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain sometime.”
That was Lynn Anderson, but you get the point.
Jesus actually said, “In this life, you will have troubles.”
I wasn’t raised on pop music. There was no rap in my home. Or death metal. Very little classic rock. In my home, there was country music. I grew up listening to Conway Twitty albums. We had just enough red on our necks to know every line to “Family Tradition”.
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As I got a little bit older, I became a big fan of Garth. Trisha, too. No one could harmonize like Winona and her Mama and if you were looking for something classic, King George was the man. And there’s Reba. Oh, Reba. Fancy never did let me down. I’ve been a lifelong country music fan. For me, it’s about more than just the dog getting run over, a cheating heart, and a b-double-e-double-r-u-n. The longer I live, the more I believe, life is very much like a country song. Even those sad, sad ones.
Country music has gotten a bad rep through the years from people who aren’t true fans and don’t really listen to the message underneath the sad lyrics. Sure, country music focuses a great deal on themes of love and loss and heartache. But the thing is, life is all about the lessons learned and the life we choose to live in the midst of uncertainty and pain.
In the words of the Prophet Miley Cyrus, “There’s always gonna be another mountain. I’m always gonna wanna make it move. Always gonna be an uphill battle. Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.”
Life comes with losers and leavers and mother-in-laws we’d love to leave in a cloud of dust at the end of a long dirt road. But if we’re lucky, we also find the grace to keep living. To take another step. To lean into the mess and not miss out on the full spectrum of the human experience.
Right smack in the middle of the mess is where we most often find grace.
Last week, I asked members of the Grace is Messy Community to summarize their personal encounter with messy grace. Here’s what they said:
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In my life, shame told me I could never be honest about my struggles. So I tried to clean myself up, live up to unrealistic expectations of religious people, and never let them see my real issues. I thought if I just prayed hard enough, God would just love me enough to work a miracle in my life, and my mess would all be over. I was so wrong.
It makes some people uncomfortable, but the truth is, God’s perfect love wasn’t enough to heal me. Jesus didn’t snap His fingers and fix my mess. It took practical, real life steps for my life to change. For me, healing came from honesty, medication, therapy, and hard work.
Yes, God was involved every step of the way, but it didn’t happen at an altar. And it didn’t happen magically, or overnight. In fact, my healing is still happening today.
Whether your story includes childhood sexual abuse, recovery from addiction, working through the aftermath of infidelity, or something completely different, grace is available for each of us. But grace isn’t just a snapping of fingers and a shout of Hallelujah. Grace has a million different faces.
Sometimes grace is just the strength to keep living another day.
And Grace isn’t a word that is only allowed to be spoken from pulpits and read in devotionals. In its simplest form, grace is a second chance. And at it’s most complex, grace is a second chance.
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In my case, grace looked like a second chance from my wife. I had given up on myself after my suicide attempt, but Lindsey’s trust in God’s goodness was unwavering. For my wife, the messy middle includes me.
Why? Because life happens in the messy middle.
*This post is part of the “This is My Story” series.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
It’s Time for the Church to Confront Mental Health (via USA Today)
Suicide: Let’s Talk about It (podcast)
Pastors and Suicide: How Do We Keep this From Happening Again?
Suicide Survivors: 7 Things to do the Day After You Leave the Psych Ward
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Guest Post: When You Can’t Erase Your Childhood Religion
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