The Dove Likes Messy Spirituality

By Pastor Bob Myers

Recently I shared how cherishing God’s presence is one way to cultivate a deeper personal walk with Jesus Christ. I heard a preacher use the example of how you would behave if a dove sat upon your shoulder and you wanted at all costs to keep the dove perched there as an example of living attentively before the presence of God. Imagine if someone told you they’d give you a million dollars if you could keep that dove perched there for an entire day. You would become an expert on what the dove likes and shaped by keeping the dove happy. For instance, if the dove liked to be rained on, you would take walks in the rain. If the dove hated greasy food joints, you’d avoid them. Your whole movement and behavior would be shaped not by whether you liked it, but whether the dove liked it.  

So, as you talk to your spouse, you’d make sure the tone you used was what the dove liked. You’d find yourself saying, does the dove like it when I go to this store?    Does the dove like it when I watch this TV show? Does the dove like it when I sing worship songs? Imagine the transformation of people who never sang if they discovered that singing was a way of keeping the dove happy and securing it on their shoulder.  

One of the things the dove likes in the church world is churches that are committed to messy spirituality. Tidy churches are not safe places for the likes of sinners like us. Tidy churches do hospitality the way Aunt Mabel did it. She had plastic covers on the lampshades and sofas in the “best” rooms. It qualified the welcome.

Years ago, Mike Yaconelli wrote a book called Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. In the book he said, "Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God's being present in the mess of our unfixedness….Messy spirituality is the delirious consequence of a life ruined by a Jesus who will love us right into his arms."

Love calls each of us to love unfinished people. God calls us to believe He loves us perfectly while we are yet extremely imperfect! If we are not loving unfinished, unlovely people, unconditionally, our love will harden and we will become paralyzed when it comes to loving others.   

One writer summarized the main difficulty in the process of becoming like Jesus this way:  “It is incredibly difficult to stop living like the prodigal son without turning into the older brother.” Unless we continually discomfort, rather than satisfy, the elder brother dynamic in all of us we revert back to outward conformity but inward hypocrisy.   

Madeleine L’Engle put it this way, “Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself."


The pressure of Central Bucks County is to keep up appearances. Add a little religion to that, and you create a place that’s not safe for defects. So, here’s a good guide for undermining that. Share the messiness in yourself. Encourage others when they share by finding a way to honestly say, “Me too”. Walk people into the messy rooms of your heart. Start your sharing in your small group with “What’s not working well for you right now?”  Where do you struggle the most to be your true and real self?  Where do you find it most difficult to be the you that you were meant to be by God?    

The dove likes it when I speak aloud to others my weaknesses. The dove likes it when I am wiling to own my current failures and struggles with others. The dove likes honest and broken Christianity. 

How are we doing at keeping that dove perched on our shoulder?