When a Cussing, Drug-Addicted Mom Shows Up at Your Church

I have said many times that books by Scott Sauls should be in the hands of every single Christian without exception. I concur with our friend Christine Caine when she says, “I love everything Scott Sauls writes.” Scott’s latest, Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can’t Resist is no exception. On a personal note, Scott has become a deeply trusted, unwaveringly faithful friend to my husband and I. When we have hard questions that are wrestling us down, when we need prayer or a pastor’s counsel, Scott is the friend we turn to. Scott has faithfully, time and time again shared with us insightful wisdom, glasses-of-cold-water refreshment and encouragement, and an extraordinarily humble and vulnerable heart that beats like Jesus. The following words are a representation of his mind and heart, and is an adapted excerpt from Scott’s latest, direly needed book in a time such as this. We cannot esteem, appreciate or highly recommend Scott Sauls enough. It gives us joy to welcome him to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Scott Sauls

One Sunday at church, a woman named Ann B.  showed up.

From the start, it was clear that her life had been shredded up by hard living.

Ann B. explained to our greeters that she was in recovery from an opioid addiction (specifically, heroin), to which the needle streaks and scars on her arms gave witness. She was barely thirty-days sober.

The people at the rehab center had encouraged her to “add religion” to her life, because religious involvement tends to decrease the chances of relapse.

On her way to the worship service, Ann B. dropped her two boys off at the nursery. When she returned after the service, a woman named Jane broke some bad news to her.

During the service, Ann’s two boys had picked fights with several of the other children and broke several of the toys and possibly a nose or two.

Humbly, Jane said to Ann B., “I’m so sorry to tell you all this, but I thought that as the boys’ mother, you would want to know.”

Impulsively, Ann B. responded by screaming, “S***!” in front of several children and parents.

What happened next caused my heart to sink.

First, silence.

Next, an embarrassed, burning blush rising to Ann B’s face. Then, Ann B. walking the walk of shame from the nursery and out the door, forlorn and beaten down—no doubt for the umpteenth time in her life—by the shame and regret and the familiar feeling of failure.

It would be easy for our church to recover from this nursery incident with Ann B. and her boys. But would Ann B. recover? Could Ann B. recover from the shame that she carried out the door—the shame of a drug-addicted mom who took a risk, went to church, and bellowed an obscenity in front of all the children? Sadly, probably not.

But Jane had an idea.

What if she could reassure Ann B. in the same way that the angel of the risen Jesus reassured the once-demon-possessed Mary Magdalene and the coward-betrayer Peter (Romans 16:1-8)?

What if, roughly two thousand years after the fact, the resurrection story could be re-enacted with life-giving, shame-reversing, community-forming words delivered not by an angel, but this time by Jane, the nursery worker?

Jane sent a letter to Ann B. that read something like this:

Dear Ann B.,

It’s me, Jane, from the nursery at church on Sunday.

I’m writing first to let you know that all is well at church. No harm done! And the broken toys? No problem! We needed to replace so many of them anyway.

But what I really want to do, Ann B., is thank you.

Thank you for the way that you wore your heart on your sleeve on Sunday. That meant a lot to me, because I am often tempted to hide the messy things that agitate my heart. Thank you for being willing to be honest. Your courage to be honest got me thinking—what better place to be honest than church?!

You reminded me that Jesus invites us all to come to him raw and real—and to do that together and never alone.

I hope to see you again. More than this, I hope we can become friends.

Sincerely,

Jane

The next Sunday, Ann B. returned to church.

Having limped out the door the previous Sunday, she returned with a spring in her step that said, “These are my people, and I want their God to be my God, too.”

And her people we became. And our God, the resurrected and Living One, Jesus Christ, became her God, too.

As her newfound faith grew over time, Ann B. would attest with a smile that she was a beautiful mess, a work in process toward her ultimate completion in Christ. Her presence in our community was so good for all of us.

Then, two years after her cussing incident in the nursery, Ann B. became the nursery director for the church.

There you go! A happily-ever-after story, right?

Yes and no.

Several years later, we received a message that was short and heavy. Ann B., having been many years sober, had relapsed and died from a heroin overdose.

Ann B. reminds us that trusting in the Risen Savior is more than a mere intellectual endeavor.

It has to be more than intellectual for our faith to mean anything. It has to be visceral, from the gut, heart-level, and even more than all of these things…true.

It has to be true.

Because without resurrection, there is no hope for Ann B. and there is no hope for us. If Christ is not risen, we are of all people the most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). If Christ is not risen, we are still in our sins and are without hope. And yet, Christ is risen indeed! What’s more, He is going to return to make all things new.

For Ann B., this means that even though she fell asleep on a destructive high, she woke up in the arms of Jesus completely sober. 

Ann B. fell safe when she fell hard into the everlasting embrace of her Resurrected Maker. From the first moment she placed her trust in Jesus, Ann B’s judgment day had been permanently moved from the future to the past.

Even at her lowest and most shameful, self-loathing moment, Ann B. was fully secure and loved.

As Ravi Zacharias has said, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good or to make good people better, but to make dead people alive.”

For Mary Magdalene, Peter, Ann, and all who trust in the Risen Jesus what remains is a future with no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:1-7). It is a world where we will be like Jesus, because we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

After C.S. Lewis recognized Jesus in the Great Story behind every good story, he wrote a series of children’s books called The Chronicles of Narnia. The final book in the series paints a beautiful and compelling picture of what is to come.

In the following excerpt, Lewis imagines what it will be like for Christ’s family of sinner-saints on the first day of the life that is to come, which we call the resurrected life.

Referring to the Christ-figure and lion, Aslan, Lewis reminds us that the highlight reel of even the very best earthbound stories will pale in comparison to our resurrected future.

Take a deep breath, let your imagination be awakened by the words, and know that Jesus didn’t come up from the dead only for Mary Magdalene and Peter. He also came up from the dead for you.

As [the resurrected Aslan] spoke, He no longer looked at them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily-ever-after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures…had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

There it is. A happily-ever-after story that is also an echo of the ultimate, truest Happily-Ever-After Story. The “myth” that is also a fact anchored in history.

Let’s remember this for ourselves and also for those God places in front of us.

For neither a foul mouth in front of the children, nor any amount of self-loathing, nor an addition to heroin (or to eating or alcohol or shopping or television or partisan politics or gossip, as the case may be), nor self-destructive decision making, is any match for the kindness and mercy of Christ.

Christ is risen, Christ is with us, and Christ is for us.

Nothing—not even ourselves—can ever change that fact.

 

Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Before CPC, Scott was a lead and preaching pastor alongside Tim Keller with New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He lives in Nashville with his lovely wife, Patti, and daughters, Abigail and Ellie. He blogs regularly—seriously bookmark him—and can be found being humble light on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

About Irresistible Faith, Raechel Myers, Founder of She Reads Truth says, “As our family’s pastor, Scott consistently challenges us to be ‘people of the book.’” Donald Miller says, “I miss the kind of church Scott is describing in this book, and I don’t think I am alone.” Gabe and Rebekah Lyons wrote, that Irresistible Faith “is an antidote to much that is wrong with our western, American version of Christianity.”

I deeply concur. Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can’t Resist is one phenomenal, readable, and surprisingly comprehensive book about what it can look like for us to follow Jesus in truth and beauty. These pages echo the heart of God. This is an absolute must-read that I cannot recommend highly enough.