Henri Nouwen, in his book The Genesee Diary, wrote, “He who thinks that he is finished is finished. How true. Those who think that they have arrived, have lost their way. Those who think they have reached their goal, have missed it. Those who think they are saints; are demons.”
As I have reflected upon Nouwen’s words, I have come to the conclusion that God is not finished with any of us. For you and me to be the people God intends for us to be, we must come to the place in our lives where we admit we are unfinished.
Unfinished means incomplete, imperfect, in process, in progress, under construction. Spiritual healthiness means that we are imperfectly living our lives for God. The construction site of our souls exposes our flaws and our not-finished faith clearly visible in our hearts and in our living. God begins a good work in us. God begins shaping us, but the finishing process is a life-long process. The work of God in our lives will never be finished until we meet Jesus face to face.
The author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter (or finisher) of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Spirituality isn’t about being finished and perfect; spirituality is about trusting God in our unfinishedness.
Michael Yaconelli, in his book Messy Spirituality, tells the story about a recovering alcoholic named Eric. His battle with alcohol had been mostly unsuccessful. He had been in and out of jail, and his drinking was taking its toll on his marriage. Eric stood up in worship one Sunday and announced, “I need prayer. My wife has given me an ultimatum-drinking or her. She’s asked me to decide today, and I just wanted to tell you all that have decided…” Yaconelli writes,
A long awkward pause ensued, and every person in the church was on the edge of their seat with their face turned toward him, encouraging him, pleading with him to make the right decision. You could have heard a pin drop. Finally, he stumbled on, tears in his eyes, “I’ve decided to choose my wife!” Applause and cheering broke out.
No one said it, but you hear it anyway: “Good answer! Good answer!” Eric was not afraid to tell the truth; he was not afraid to reveal to all of us how difficult it was to give up alcohol, even for his wife. Eric is a spiritual man. Troubled? Yes. Weak? Yes. Unfinished? Absolutely! But Eric told the truth and admitted that his desire for drinking was conflicting with his desire to stay married. Eric refused to pretend life is clean and neat, and he knew he had to tell us the way things were, not the way we wished they were.
Jesus understood unfinishedness very well, which is why he was comfortable leaving eleven unfinished disciples. When he died, the disciples were confused, depressed, afraid, and doubtful. They faced a lifetime of finishing, just like you and me.
Yaconelli says, “Messy spirituality not only reminds us we will always be a work in progress; it also reminds us that the unfinished life is a lot more spiritual than we imagined.”
Each of us is a work in progress. Thanks be to God! God has not given up on us!
-Rev. Tim Bias