A Holy Madness

As I Was Saying

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Sometimes serving Jesus invites us into a holy madness that makes little sense to the world.

I don't mean mad as in being angry at others. I mean mad in its classic sense—crazy, nuts, out of your mind—all those disparaging things we say about those who have lost touch with reality.

For that's what madness is, an inability to see the world with clear eyes, to see things as they are and to react accordingly. It is a break with reality-based living.

Here on East Colfax, where we serve among people who are broken, there are moments when only a holy madness will do, a madness chosen gladly in the face of hard realities that seem unlikely to change.

I spent some time recently with an old friend named Don; I have known him for years but connect with him only rarely. He is old, near the end of his life, but is making the most of his final days by giving himself to loving those in need. He is a bit nuts, but I think of him as my mentor.

Don told me a story of a young woman he has befriended. I know her well. She works in one of the motels and supplements that income by selling her body. Everything about her screams of the harshness of her life. It has left her weary, cynical, and angry. Some bury their pain through drugs and alcohol, but she has turned it into anger aimed at survival. She is not a pretty sight.

Don, however, refuses to accept the harsh reality of her life. He speaks of her in glowing terms. He talks of her gifts, her beauty, her kindness, how she inspires him. To him she is not sullied but clean, even virginal. He refuses to call her by her given name, choosing instead to call her a new name worthy of how he sees her.

He is mad, and in his madness can only see the best version of her. Reality does not get in the way. Then he treats her accordingly. Every time I hear Don's story, I am convinced that his madness is holy and reflective of the heart of Jesus.

My friend's name is Don Quixote, the hero of The Man of La Mancha. Recently I had a chance to see the iconic musical. My heart is always stirred by this crazy old man who refuses to accept reality. Don Quixote chooses to live the life of a noble knight long after knights are gone from the earth. He lives in hope and faith and vision, attempting great deeds though he is old and feeble.

His friend is Aldonza, the battered maid/prostitute who works at a shabby inn (which Quixote sees as a great castle!). He renames her Dulcinea and treats her as an inspiring, pure, and virginal motivation for his great and knightly deeds, such as they are.

Don Quixote's madness inspires me. Jesus has taught me much about seeing the most broken as created in his image, worthy of being loved. He has taught me to love them where they are and as they are, simply being present with them.

But there is another lesson I need, the holy madness of Don Quixote. I need to see people not as they are but as they can be; to see beyond their worst to their best. And then to treat them out of that beautiful vision in a way that calls them to Jesus and the best life that Jesus has for them.

Later, in the motels, I practiced holy madness. With one young woman, wrecked by drugs, unable to stand, confessing her sale of her body to survive, I saw the beautiful woman she might become. For my friend John*, abused as a child, a meth addict, overweight, crippled with pain, I saw a strong man, lean and focused, serving Jesus and others.

Don Quixote’s lesson is front and center in our current ministry. Most of our friends are broken and battered, and that holy madness allows us to dream about the brighter, purer vision that exists in our mind and in the mind of God. Before we came here, we served for 30 years in the suburbs, places that seem more sane and healthy. There only the odd person looks battered and broken; most look normal, functional, even beautiful. But 30 years there taught me this lesson: under glittering exteriors many are lost, broken, and confused. Discouraged and depressed, they question their worth. They neither value themselves nor believe in what they might, by the grace of Jesus, become.

Those who live in those seemingly “normal” places also need someone in the grip of holy madness, a Jesus follower who will first learn the true story behind the glittering exterior and then see the beautiful person waiting to be born. When we walk with Jesus, we learn that he sees more in us than we see in ourselves. When we walk in this world, we do the same for others, seeing more than they can imagine. That principle works everywhere—be it among the battered and broken or the glitteringly beautiful.

At the end of the story of Don Quixote, Aldonza refuses to be called Aldonza; she insists her name is Dulcinea. It is the madness of Don Quixote that helps her begin to change.

If Don Quixote be mad, let me be mad; more, let all of us who follow Jesus be mad. Let us see people for who they can be; let us see them beautiful and treat them so.

I don't cry easily, but I cried as I watched this crazy old man who so captures the heart of Jesus. And I resolved to be more like Jesus and, yes, more like my mentor, Don Quixote.

About the Author

Shawn Sikkema is an urban missionary pastor with Jesus at Colfax Ministries, a ministry he cofounded with his wife, Diane. He is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. 

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