I was a pretty terrible friend to someone I love very much recently. When I was finally called out for it, I was immediately defensive and an argument ensued while my husband sneaked around carefully closing the windows lest the neighbours hear me peeling the paint off the walls with my screeching. I reacted like a wounded animal when I was the one who had wounded my friend – it was steadily my fault. The snot was flying and nearly an hour later, I was repenting and sobbing with remorse. We followed the argument all the way down to redemption and forgiveness, and we emerged battle worn and exhausted and reconciled. If it had been up to me, I would have never had that undignified argument (hello, I’m an INFJ, nice to meet you, I hate conflict) and that important friendship would have been lost in my attempt to preserve dignity.
Thank God for friends who nail your dignity to the wall and crawl into your mess and failures to haul you out, kicking and hollering, to the light. It’s not always dignified to fight for a real relationship but it’s always good. Dignity would have lost me the real goodness of a friend. Instead, in the very human act of puffy eyes and hiccuping, of confessions and confrontations, I found God all over again and I was restored to a very real and very holy friendship, to a life without the protective armour.
Hey, happy-clappy folks, do you remember that song we used to love called “Undignified”? We used to sing it and jump around and wave our hands because it was a song about the passage of Scripture when David dances wildly before the Lord and his wife shames him for it but he retorts that he’ll become even more undignified in his worship. So we sang about how we were going to dance like David danced; we were going to become even more undignified than this. And then we’d clap our hands and stomp our feet and whirl with abandon.
I loved that song. (I have been trying to write through the complexity of reconciling and reclaiming my charismatic upbringing, and how I am both progressive and pentecostal in my sensibilities but I’m not doing a good job at it. Someday perhaps.)
Anyway, I was thinking about that word “undignified” after that come-to-Jesus moment a few weeks ago, and realised that I’ve almost always found God most in my undignified moments – by dancing ridiculously, by telling secrets, by being willing to be foolish, by taking chances, by working hard, by engaging in the mess and weirdness of family life, all of it.
I used to have an idea in my head of what Someone Who Is Holy looked like: sedate, thin, beautiful, ethereal, just a mite austere. Of course a posh British accent is the true mark of holiness to a gauche Canadian like me. Someone Who Is Holy has children who don’t fuss, they probably love to listen to classical music. Someone Who Is Holy isn’t pacing down the grocery store aisle with three tinies hanging off the cart and coupons in her purse, she isn’t running the dryer again to “fluff” the clothes that have sat in there too long, she isn’t snorting while she laughs at television shows on Netflix, she isn’t on her hands and knees wiping up someone else’s vomit, she isn’t locking the bedroom door and throwing a saucy look of promise at her husband because clearly good sex isn’t included in the holiness life, she doesn’t sweat, she doesn’t turn on cartoons for three-minutes-of-peace-for-the-love. She is above such things. Someone Who Is Holy walks in beauty, like the night, no doubt, perpetually calm and serene, clean and aloof, beautiful and wise.
No, instead, I’ve found God in the daily scrum and commitment, the discipline and noise, of a family and a community and my own womanhood.
I’ve found God to be most present, I’ve heard the Holy Spirit most clearly, I’ve felt the peace of Christ most, when I stop thinking that these indignities and frustrations or failings, are getting in the way of my Real Life. The Real Life is the undignified life and the Real Life is the classroom for holiness anyway. If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find Him at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet times or the mission field.
I believe God hides in plain sight in your right now life, if you have the guts to taste and see, confront and wrestle and rest.
I’m not so worried about holiness anymore, to be honest anyway. I’ve given up on false demarcations between the sacred and the secular in my life, the Kingdom is so close it’s breathing beside us now. I can’t confuse an unbothered and uninterrupted life with a peaceful life anymore – that luxury disappeared with three babies in four and a half years, with work and bills and longings for justice and the news cycle and neighbourhood kids ringing my doorbell, and public school.
Holiness can be found in washing soiled bedsheets and clipping fingernails while singing songs to distract worried toddlers. Holiness for me was found in the mess and labour of giving birth, in birthday parties and community pools, in the battling sweetness of breastfeeding, in the repetition of cleaning, in the step of faith it took to go back to church again, in the hours of chatting that have to precede the real heart-to-heart talks, in the yelling at my kids sometimes, in the crying in restaurants with broken hearted friends, in the uncomfortable silences at our bible study when we’re all weighing whether or not to say what we really think, in the arguments inherent to staying in love with each other, in the unwelcome number on the scale, in the sounding out of vowels during bedtime book reading, in the dust and stink and heat of a tent city in Port au Prince, in the beauty of a soccer game in the Haitian dust, in the listening to someone else’s story, in the telling of my own brokenness, in the repentance, in the secret telling and the secret keeping, in the suffering and the mourning, in the late nights tending sick babies, in confronting fears, in the all of a life.
Love doesn’t afford much dignity. All of life flames with God, yes, and God is blazing out in the indignities of a life.
By God’s grace, I will become more undignified than this.