Things seem an awful mess right now, everywhere and for everyone. I have some experience with mess, so I thought I’d share.
I like things neat and tidy. My brain works better when there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place. And I used to be able to keep things that way — well, except for the junk drawer(s) and the mail pile. But technically those particular things weren’t meant to be neat and tidy, right? So they didn’t bother me.
But then…life happened. Lots of good, some difficult…just, you know, life. And things got messy.
A baby, then two more. They are wonderful; they bring so much joy! And a lot of work, too, of course. And oh my, the mess! And it’s not just that kids are messy in and of themselves (though they do seem to have that tendency) — they come with so much STUFF! Oh gracious, all the stuff. Who has a place for all that stuff?? I sure didn’t. It was just…everywhere. It was good stuff, stuff we needed, but it sure did look a mess.
And along with the wonderful children came some not-so-wonderful health issues. Ten years of undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction will create mountains of mess, and not just in the house — although those are the most visible. I recall one of my daughter’s bedtime prayers when she was about 5: “…and please help us to clear a path before our friends come over tomorrow so they won’t trip.” Yep, it was that bad. Not always, but sometimes. Maybe often. My husband always did way more than his fair share, taking care of the shopping and cooking and countless other things on top of his full-time job (which of course gave him his own messes to deal with), and without complaint or criticism. He’s the best. But there’s only so much one person can do. All the paraphernalia and toys for three kiddos (ages 4, 5, and 8 at the time) tended to spread out, and I barely had energy to do the most basic stuff. In the hierarchy of exhausted momdom, putting things away didn’t make the cut unless people were coming over. And sometimes not even then.
So there was the mess of the house, the mess of my brain in a messy house, the mess of my emotions — not least of which was the guilt of not being able to do what I expected a mom to be able to do. You know: always-clean-and-basically-photo-shoot-worthy house and yard; home-cooked breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner; all the trips to the zoos and museums and parks and libraries and pick-your-own-fruit stands, all the best all-day homeschooling ideas, all the helping in the kids’ classes and activities and Sunday School. (All good things, of course. Do them if they bring you joy. But don’t do them just because you think you ‘should.’ Don’t do them if they exhaust you. Just had to drop that here.) Then there was the mess of my expectations themselves, which were unrealistic to begin with. The mess of trying to figure out how to homeschool a second-grader with two in diapers and therapies. The figuring out of the kids’ special needs; the regular pressures of life; the relationship stuff. Spiritually, I was basically sleepwalking, maybe comatose. I could go on, but you get the gist.
Some of these were things I could ‘clean up’ myself, at least eventually. Some weren’t. Those I just had to wade through, live with, adapt to. Some messes I got myself into; some were caused by other people. Some didn’t have an identifiable cause at all. They just happened; they just…were. Such is life.
Most days I felt like I was just barely scraping by, just slogging through. Survival mode. Surviving all the messes of those years. I wasn’t a miserable person; there was joy and laughter and love. Lots! There was beauty. My babies were smiley, happy babies who grew into giggly children, and that made me happy. When I thought about it. But so often I looked around and just saw mess. Mess I couldn’t do anything about. It felt hopeless sometimes. And it crept into my definition of myself. Was this all I would ever be? All my life would show? Just all these things I can’t fix, and so many evidences of my incompetence? Just…mess?
But I’m on the other side of most of that, now. And I can look back, and look around, and see that so much more than mere survival happened during that decade of exhaustion and mess; so much was happening besides just the mess that caught my attention. Maybe most days I couldn’t do anything but the bare basics, maybe most days I was mostly mess. Maybe all I focused on was the mess. But God! But God. God did a lot of really good things during those years. He brought me through them, and strengthened me, and taught me, and accomplished His good purposes. He provided what my children needed to grow into who they are, and who they’re becoming — they are more than I could have hoped for. Imperfect, as we all are, but wonderful, and growing, and sweet. He made up for all that I lacked, and more. He taught me and changed me. He grew me (though I didn’t feel it happening). He orchestrated. He strengthened. He healed.
God didn’t look at me in disdain, shaming me for not cleaning up my house better. He didn’t roll His eyes at my lack of energy, or at the way I let my kids watch so much TV, or even at my lack of spending time with Him. He met me there, where I was, how I was, a mess in the middle of messes, and He loved me, and He brought me through it. Maybe He pulled me on a stretcher, or maybe He watchfully escorted my sleepwalking self, but He got me through it. And while I wish I’d felt like I was learning more during that ultra-messy time (which is probably a sign of still-messed-up expectations), I can see now that I did learn and grow, and I’m still learning so much now because of that time. Things I wouldn’t have been able to learn without the mess. I have compassion and understanding I couldn’t have comprehended before. I can bear difficulty and tiredness with hope (maybe not always without complaint, but I’m still learning!). I’m better at taking joy in things it’s easy to take for granted, like having energy to get things done (I do the dishes now! EVERY NIGHT! It’s still exciting!) and knowing I’m not a lazy person (if I’m not dragging, I actually LIKE to do things!) and being able to actually enjoy things and people (enjoyment is tough when you’re exhausted).
He has restored the years that seemed to have been devoured by the ‘swarming locusts’ of all those messes (Joel 2:25-27).
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s still mess. Particularly now. Worldwide mess, even. Australia fires and COVID-19 and murder hornet mess. Life is just messy; it always will be. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus told us (John 16:33). There’s always something that’s hard; usually lots of somethings. But the messes wax and wane, and I’ve learned to try to see them a little differently — and to see myself differently. To remember Who made me, and Who I belong to. To choose better what I focus on. To set my gaze on Him, and on His Word, and on the beauty He provides through the mess, rather than on the mess itself. And that makes all the difference. The mess doesn’t define us. Not even this world-size mess.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Even when we’re walking through the messes of this life. And I know now that, whatever mess I find myself in, for whatever reason, God will see me through it to His glory. His glory, and my good.
Because He made us, because He works in us, because He ransomed us, because He loves us, we are more than the mess.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; … So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18)
“But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25)