While I was growing up, and even until very recently, the people whom I admired most – the ones I put on pedestals – were those around me who shone like a pillar of marble in the church. Their hair was always done, their clothes were always in style and flattering, their nails were always painted. Their hands were always clean. More than literally, but spiritually. While I knew that everyone sinned, for these people it seemed there was no discernible flaw or mar about them. They did not swear, they did not drink, they did not read Harry Potter – and they made sure that everyone knew about it. They were elevated and elegant, which I recognize now as self righteous and exclusive, but I longed desperately to be part of their “in” crowd. I never quite made it. I wasn’t an outcast, but rather stood at the hem of their social circles. As I’ve grown, both in age and in Christ, I have come to realize something, and that is that clean hands are overrated.
Their hands were clean, this much is true, but it is the most they could say for themselves. For all their airs and manners, I cannot count hardly any times when they got down and dirty for the Kingdom. They, at best, ignored those brothers and sisters who were uncommon to them. They would boldly and publicly perform services for the homeless, but there was no going out to the broken among them, within their own congregation’s walls. There were no missions trips either on the home front or abroad, no heart of giving or service that might in some way be an inconvenience, or at the very least without some kind of pay off. Oh, they worked goodness in the church, so long as the church meant their closest friends and others who were of notable status. The rest of the congregation were merely left to glean among the tares.
I have soiled my hands throughout my life. If not for Christ, I would be stained and shamed by the filth and dirt that have covered me because of my sin. No amount of washing in the hottest water could remove it, there was only one thing that could do that – blood. The blood of Jesus. When I reached up to Him and dipped my hands in the holy alter of His sacrifice, all of the taint of sin was completely covered. I am not proud of those sins, but because of the freedom I have found in Christ, I can be thankful for what they afforded me; grace, compassion, understanding, and a deeper love for those who suffer around me.
Mercy and Grace are funny things, in that you can only give of them what you have taken of them. We love because Christ first loved us – we follow by God’s example. So, if we haven’t bathed and basked in God’s mercy and grace, how could we know how to bestow them more fully on those around us?
Now that I have daughters, I have realized that I do not desire for them to strive for perfection. I don’t want them to shy away from the dark places of the world for fear that they will ruin their manicure or soil their pristine
reputation clothes. We are not saved by our actions, to live in a way that is controlled by a fear of falling would be no more than a great disservice to our God and His Kingdom. Grace is not a blanket, it is a safety net. It does not serve as a cover up, or an excuse, to sin. It serves as protection and security for when we go boldly out in the name of Jesus, and accidentally misstep. I do not want vapid, robotic, well behaved children, I want children who have a passion and a fire for Jesus. With that love will come a desire to be right before Him, to do His will, to resist sinful temptations and rebuke Satan – but I do not want that to be the forefront of their lives. I do not want them to be so consumed with perfection that their salvation becomes their vanity. I want their focus to be on loving His children, on spreading His news to the world. I want them to get their hands dirty. To craft houses and churches from mud bricks in South America, to dig wells for water in Africa, to rescue orphans from the trash ridden streets in India. Let their feet be soiled from trekking through fields in Asia, the saving love of Christ on their lips as they go
As for me, I prefer the company of dirt covered missionaries from the corners of the world over the manicured and refined religious socialites any day. As it turns out, there’s something to be said for dirt stained hands after all.