I’m Kind of Screwed Up and Don’t Think I Qualify to Be a Christian

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I could not come up with anything that describes the fallacy of the thought: “I’m kind of screwed up and don’t think I qualify to be a Christian” than the story below, by Philip Yancey:

A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan.  Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts.  They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside.  “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times.  She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play.  Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her.  California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen.  He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay.  He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before.  She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year.  The man with the big car – she calls him “Boss” – teaches her a few things that men like.  Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her.  She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants.  Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there…

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean.  “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name.  She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit.  When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores.  “Sleeping” is the wrong word – a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard.  Dark bands circle her eyes.  Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different…God, why did I leave, she says to herself and pain stabs at her heart.  My dog back home eats better than I do now.  She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine.  She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me.  I was wondering about maybe coming home.  I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow.  If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan.  What if her parents are out of town and miss the message?  Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them?  And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago.  She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father.  “Dad, I’m sorry.  I know I was wrong.  It’s not your fault; it’s all mine.  Dad, can you forgive me?”  She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them.  She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years…

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks.  That’s all we have here.”  Fifteen minutes to decide her life.  She checks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth.  She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice.  If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect.  Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees.  There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot.  They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad.  She stares out through the tears of quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry.  I know…”

He interrupts her.  “Hush, child.  We’ve got no time for that.  Not time for apologies.  You’ll be late for the party.  A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

–from What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey

***

If you are screwed up, there is a banquet waiting for you if you turn to Jesus in the middle of your screwed-up-ness.  No need to wait until you’re all cleaned up.  You’ll never get there.  Jesus said about as clearly as is possible, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  Luke 15:7

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6 thoughts on “I’m Kind of Screwed Up and Don’t Think I Qualify to Be a Christian

  1. I do love it, but I also don’t, because I feel like my whole life I’ve spent holding a safety net for myself and everyone around me and frankly, it just doesn’t seem fair. I was never wired to say “f-u” and do my own thing. Of course, my favorite charity in the world is HOW, and I love the idea of grace and second chances. But then I think of the girls I was surrounded by in high school who were all popular and “wild” (as in drank and had sex) and now are very conservative (in splinter churches that left the Lutheran church as too liberal) and very judgmental. And that is just ridiculous. Any who. Those are my thoughts for the day. I mean, I get it. It’s a very appealing message for most people because they weren’t born old. But I was born old!

    • Ooh…thanks for the comment! I’ve been thinking about it since I first read it and there is so much in it! It’s hard, of course, to have a personal discussion about it in a blog comment section. But the one thing that struck me the most was your comment about those who were once wild and now are conservative and judgmental. There is nothing I find that suggests any true follower of Christ is saved and then can or should judge others or compare herself to others. In fact, quite the opposite. I think the judgmental piece breaks the heart of God. The reason Scripture says God sent Christ to save us was so that we would glorify him. I read a great quote recently from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that said something like: It is no sin to notice the shortcomings or failings of another, but only to the extent it provides me an opportunity to introduce unconditional love and forgiveness. And, there is a passage in James that talks about the divisiveness and destructiveness of judgment, ending with “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:1-13) Anyway, I guess my point is that those Christians who are judgmental and unloving do not represent Christ.

      Last thing — what do you mean by “it’s a very appealing message for most people because they weren’t born old. But I was born old!”?

  2. By being born old, I guess I mean being born so responsible. Sort of seeing youthful mistakes as things I should avoid. I would never have been the girl at the train station because I believed early on that my job as a human being was to be a “good” daughter, a “good” partner, a “good” employee — someone who could be counted on. My older sister was much more rebellious, and I saw that caused my parents, especially my Mom, a lot of pain. And my mom herself was a more vulnerable person, I would say, struggling with depression and low energy a lot when we were little. Very faithful though. So while I say I was “born” responsible, there was no doubt a lot of nurture that went into my wiring, and I was no doubt deeply influenced by the community of faith in which I was raised.

    • Thanks, Rach, for your comment. I think I understand what you’re saying. What do you think about the older brother in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15? I wonder if the book The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller might resonate or give you something to consider?

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