On the day that I met him, Josh sat across me and inhaled the cigarette held precariously between his fingers.
“God and I, we’re alright,” he said.
But you can’t possibly be a Christian, I thought.
“I’m still learning to love him better.”
You smoke and you curse.
“I used to be active in church.”
And then you backslid.
“Now I see God everywhere.”
Maybe you’re not looking where it matters.
I sat on a high horse for most of my freshman year in college. In my head, there was a way that Christianity needed to look like for it to be real. Any other way was greeted with a polite smile and a doubtful heart. In a stroke of divine humor, the first friend I ever made, Josh, was the antithesis of everything I believed in at 18.
Back then, love looked a lot like lifting up prayers for the people who didn’t live out their faith the way I did. I promised God I’d keep Josh in mine as often as I could, believing that, by the end of the year, he’d be transformed.
Everyone who understands grace knows that it meets you when you are unworthy. That’s what makes it revolutionary. That’s what made Jesus countercultural. Grace does not wait for you to be pretty or perfect. It holds no bias. As Jamie Tworkowski put it: “It is the patient telling of another person’s worth.” It is the one thing I needed to learn, the one thing I am learning still.
The other great thing about grace is this: it is roaring and relentless as much as it is kind. Grace has a gentle way of teaching a person about what it means to be humble. And I say this because, at the end of that year, grace took me down from my high horse. It was me who was changed. Not Josh.
I entered college scanning people’s flaws and using them as a basis to judge their faith. I was convinced that love and sin, that God and sin, could not co-exist. I held biases against people instead of looking at them the way Jesus would: as worthy and beloved and capable of knowing God authentically. In the end, a person is so much more than just the sum of their sinful nature. That is the story of grace.
I cannot tell you how many times Josh showed me inordinate kindness throughout our time in college. Josh was more than just a nice guy — he moved to the rhythm of a grace, a wild life-changing grace, I could not seem to grasp. All of my self-righteous monologues were met with a great compassion. In the middle of the semester, I dislocated my knee and missed a week of class. Josh made sure I got my homework done and that I passed all my classes, even though he was failing his. When I returned to school on crutches, he walked with me everywhere to make sure I was alright. Whenever I went against my own moral convictions, which happened a lot, Josh would counter the religious indignation I knew too well. He’d shrug and say: “God still loves you, you know.”
So he smoked cigarettes. So he cussed like a sailor. So he covered his arms in beautiful tattoos.
The anatomy of righteousness was starting to look much greater than just a man’s vices. Josh did not seem to walk the ‘ideal’ faith walk but the way he lived his life most definitely echoed something far greater: love. Josh understood Jesus in a far more profound way than me. He understood Jesus beyond mental checklists and rigid ideas; he knew that he didn’t necessarily have to squeeze into a mold to be alright with God.
What Josh knew then is what I am learning now: that character is the essence God wants us to use to redeem this broken world. Perhaps we are not who we try to be. Perhaps we are how we love.
Jesus served every person he met without conditions.The hypocrites, the hurt and the greedy — he took them all in and believed they were deserving of heaven and home.We’re called to do the same. I see that now. Instead of isolating others with our preconceived notions and personal biases, we are, ultimately, called by God to view everyone through the lens of unconditional love and hope. I look at people now with the blinders off and I try to watch the way they serve others instead. The group of girls who quietly sit in the midst of their friend’s grief. The church that finds ways to lift up the poor. The profane boy who helped a girl in crutches. It is blindingly beautiful to see the speckled canvas of love that exists in this world.
Now I see God everywhere too, Josh. And I think I’m finally looking where it matters.
This article was originally written for the Church Simplified website.
Every Holy Week my church, Church Simplified, puts up Walkway. It is an interactive exhibit on the Stations of the Cross. This year the big idea we are navigating through is the table. That God invites us — dropouts, sinners, failures, fools, hypocrites, liars, cowards, doubters — to come and share a meal with Him. He bought us a seat just to join and be with Him.
This year, remember how He loved us. That we, in turn, might learn to love like Him.
Featured image by Madel Crudo
When she isn’t writing, Isa Garcia is a teacher in a private college in BGC. She is also the author of Found: Letters on Love, Life, & God, published by OMF Literature. You can read more of Isa’s thoughts and her writing at her blog, Isa Writes.