Finding God in the Mess — Broken & Hopeful
I have always loved people’s stories. Even the sad ones. The ones that feel so hopeless. I love to listen to them talk about their lives. I’m not afraid of the suffering, of the doubts, of the anger. I want to hear it all, in it’s raw honesty. I am also always looking for a glimmer of hope, for I have realized that I am a hope-seeker. I don’t want to pander to trite nothings or try to put a positive spin on it. I want to find real hope, and pull it out and hang it up for all to see. I want to see both the suffering and the hope for the future, not denying either one.
I think often we end up in a place where we want an all or nothing concept. We want to be all sad and mad, seeing only our pain and finding no hope at all. Or we want everything to be roses and champagne, with no hurt following us around as we dance through meadows without a care in the world. I don’t think either is true to life as a human. We hold both all the time. We tend to feel hypocritical, though, when we allow both. It’s like finding yourself laughing at a funeral—it’s not wrong or even disrespectful. Instead, it shows that you can hold many emotions at the same time, valuing all of them equally. We don’t need to put down one in favor of another.
I have been listening to a new album released for Nightbirde (after her death in Feb 2022), the beautiful woman who rose to fame on America’s Got Talent for her honest and brave voice in the middle of a cancer diagnosis with only a 2% chance of survival. Soon after her diagnosis, her husband left her. She suffered in a real way, but found this amazing way of holding both suffering and hope at the same time. I have quoted her before, but I want to let her speak for herself in these excerpts from her blog post “God on the Bathroom Floor” from March 9, 2021 on her website www.nightbirde.co.
After the doctor told me I was dying, and after the man I married said he didn’t love me anymore, I chased a miracle in California and sixteen weeks later, I got it. The cancer was gone. But when my brain caught up with it all, something broke. I later found out that all the tragedy at once had caused a physical head trauma, and my brain was sending false signals of excruciating pain and panic.
I spent three months propped against the wall. On nights that I could not sleep, I laid in the tub like an insect, staring at my reflection in the shower knob. I vomited until I was hollow. I rolled up under my robe on the tile. The bathroom floor became my place to hide, where I could scream and be ugly; where I could sob and spit and eventually doze off, happy to be asleep, even with my head on the toilet.
I am God’s downstairs neighbor, banging on the ceiling with a broomstick. I show up at His door every day. Sometimes with songs, sometimes with curses. Sometimes apologies, gifts, questions, demands. Sometimes I use my key under the mat to let myself in. Other times, I sulk outside until He opens the door to me Himself.
I have called Him a cheat and a liar, and I meant it. I have told Him I wanted to die, and I meant it. Tears have become the only prayer I know. Prayers roll over my nostrils and drip down my forearms. They fall to the ground as I reach for Him. These are the prayers I repeat night and day; sunrise, sunset.
Call me bitter if you want to—that’s fair. Count me among the angry, the cynical, the offended, the hardened. But count me also among the friends of God. For I have seen Him in rare form. I have felt His exhale, laid in His shadow, squinted to read the message He wrote for me in the grout: “I’m sad too.”
I see mercy in the dusty sunlight that outlines the trees, in my mother’s crooked hands, in the blanket my friend left for me, in the harmony of the wind chimes. It’s not the mercy that I asked for, but it is mercy nonetheless. And I learn a new prayer: thank you. It’s a prayer I don’t mean yet, but will repeat until I do.
Call me cursed, call me lost, call me scorned. But that’s not all. Call me chosen, blessed, sought-after. Call me the one who God whispers his secrets to. I am the one whose belly is filled with loaves of mercy that were hidden for me.
Even on days when I’m not so sick, sometimes I go lay on the mat in the afternoon light to listen for Him. I know it sounds crazy, and I can’t really explain it, but God is in there—even now. I have heard it said that some people can’t see God because they won’t look low enough, and it’s true.
If you can’t see him, look lower. God is on the bathroom floor.
Perhaps that is what I really want—I want to crawl onto the bathroom floor with people and hear God’s voice with them. I don’t want them to act a certain way or to pretend everything is fine. I want to hold a place for their pain, while also reminding them of the mercy He brings. I want to see it in my own life as well. I don’t want to shy away from the messy bits. I want to sit in them, waiting for God to speak there as He’s not afraid of the mess. He doesn’t ask that we clean ourselves up, or pretend we are fine. He wants us to just come to Him, and He will tenderly care for us wherever our bathroom floor happens to be.
But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. So I’m not defeated by my weakness, but delighted! For when I feel my weakness and endure mistreatment—when I’m surrounded with troubles on every side and face persecution because of my love for Christ—I am made yet stronger. For my weakness becomes a portal to God’s power. 2 Cor 12:9-10