As a general rule, I've mostly found that people think you're an "awesome person" if you live in Africa. Especially if you live in the bush and poop in holes and sleep on thin mattresses and take baths in buckets... in the name of Jesus. Even more if you hang out with sick people or orphans or the poorest of poor. It makes me cringe from the inside out when this is put onto me (it's fine on the others, I even put it onto them along with everyone else) because I know what goes on in my heart and there is so so much that isn't awesome... but it probably doesn't show up very clearly in the pictures where I am snuggled up with brown orphans.
It was an act meant for good, without a doubt, but it watered the young seeds of some pretty ugly things in my heart. I think I was in 9th grade. I was a regular at church and Sunday School and Bible Studies for social reasons. It was fun and I loved the people and I was a generally nice person, so no one really looked twice in question of whether or not I 'belonged' there. It worked.
I will never forget it -- the Sunday School teacher came over and picked up my thick, colorful "Teen Study Bible" and held it up in front of the entire class. She said something along the lines of THIS type of Bible being the kind we should all have. THIS type of Bible was covered in stickers and doodlings (a result of extreme boredom and easy access to stickers during a Bible Study...). THIS type of Bible had wrinkled pages (a result of everything I touch being ruined within minutes... Homework, school books, etc just ask any teacher I ever had). THIS type of Bible had stains and rips and tears and unbound pages (again, I am mess. Lord only knows yogurt, rain, juice had soaked into the pages and by that point the mold was unhindered). THIS type of Bible was highlighted (because for the first couple of years of church, camp, Sunday school, etc I followed the rules and highlighted stuff they told me to highlight). THIS type of Bible was clearly and visibly well loved and we should all have Bibles that look like THIS.
My face flushed red--a common occurrence--but it was boiling hot in this instance because I was scared to death that she would ask my favorite verse, what I was learning in my non-existent "quiet time", or worse, a Bible trivia question to prove my alleged faithfulness to the Word of God. That would surely shut this party down. I knew the second she grabbed my Bible from my lap that this was now a lie I would have to work to defend. I was doing things right. I was someone who the others in my class should learn from. If she only knew...
My sins perhaps weren't the kind that necessitated being added to the email prayer list (Sally is drinking, I think. John smelled like pot once...so he is smoking pot. Amanda is probably anorexic. Sam is sleeping with his girlfriend, I'm pretty sure. Tommy loves the new Eminem CD, etc), but they were a plenty. The hidden kind are so often even more destructive than the exposed but what I was learning is that hiding sins and highlighting your Bible was all it really took.
I'm using this example because I have experienced how detrimental it is to keep your sin and struggles in the dark. To remain quiet, letting people keep on thinking that you are an "awesome person". I can recall precisely where I was when I first heard this truth come out of my CD player in downtown Athens :
“The best thing that could ever happen to you is that your sin would be literally exposed in the five-o’-clock news. Your deepest, darkest, most embarrassing sin. The one you work the hardest to hide, would be broadcast on the five-o’-clock news. Best thing that would ever happen to you… Because I am so weary, I am so tired of having to hide my sin from people. Of deceiving people about who I really am–I’m tired of it!” (Derek Webb)I literally felt nauseous at the thought of my sinful heart bare naked before the world. It left me speechless. It even gave me nightmares. Holy crap, that would RUIN ME. Why? The answer scared me even more. I was letting people think I had things together and was living right because I could usually be counted on as a designated driver, kept my Bible on my nightstand, drug myself out of bed for church (most) Sundays, tried to be nice to strangers and smiled a lot.
I remember exactly where I sat as I heard my pastor in Athens say the words of Paul (in his own way that I don't recall) "a sinner, of whom I am the worst." What?! It stopped me in my tracks. I think it was my first Sunday at my new church in my new city. It was the most beautiful gospel message that I came to hear every Sunday. It was a message I desperately needed to hear every Sunday. It was a message I needed to preach to myself daily. If it was okay for my pastor to need Jesus this much, it was okay for me.
It changed absolutely everything for me. I am not sure it was truly the first time I heard it (from a pulpit or a church leader) or if it was just the first time God opened my ears to receive it. But it rocked me. So hard. For good. I don't know what I was or wasn't before, but now that I was beginning to see and hear and learn that being a Christian means quite the opposite of what I had previously thought -- I knew I was in this time around. He had me. I wanted to follow this guy who actually WANTS the people who don't (and will never quite) have their shit together, for lack of better words.
Anyway, if you think someone is awesome (for reasons other than NOT being awesome, but because of God's sweet grace) but you can't name the sins they struggle with then you probably need to get to know them better. Please, get to know me better than to think I am awesome. ((I know this is a laughable statement to my close family and friends who are well aware that I am anything but...yack it up, people.)) Get to know Katie Davis or even Mother (freakin? seemed right) Theresa better than to think they, as a single unit, are awesome. And if you want people to think you're awesome, you're certainly not alone. Talk to Jesus about that (it's a conversation we have often because being seen as an awesome person doesn't sound so bad sometimes).
I'm just saying maybe we need to start looking up to the people who straight up suck at most of the things Jesus asks us to do. The ones who bear fruit because they ABIDE not because they're good at what they do. The ones who actually, truly, deeply, wildly need His grace, they don't just know how to talk about it.
Some of these people are in Africa, no doubt. But a whole ton of them are getting a different kind of dirty in a different kind of war zone. Maybe there's is less glamorous to their facebook friends, but it's every bit as beautiful.