I remember a time in my life when everything had a place. Neat, tidy and organized. My husband and I struggled to fill up our home, with blank spaces and unused corners abounding. Now, just eight short years later and filled with three more people we are simply living on top of each other. Piles accumulate, the living room seems to always be eschewed, and no one dares walk around barefoot less you have week old crumbs and who knows what else embedded on the soles of your feet.
At first, I remember fighting against the encroaching piles. As soon as the accumulation started I would feel my anxiety rise and quickly try to put everything back in its place. But with each subsequent child life just got messier and there never seemed a chance to get ahead, much less quickly behind what life had to throw at me. I read books, I devised new strategies, I declared us minimalists and started throwing and giving everything away that wasn’t nailed down. Each attempt lasted for a bit but I eventually had to decide, would I let the anxiety and illusion of control rule my life, or would I accept the times I’m given, and sit in this mess?
Of course, this literal mess of stuff in my home is also a metaphor for the mess that is living life. It was easier earlier in life to have all the answers to everything. I remember going off to college and meeting captivating leaders and teachers who taught be so much about life. I soaked up every book, every conversation, every talk. I filed it all away into neat little piles and drawers and boxes. Every time a question arose, oh let me just look back into my storehouse I’m accumulating and whip out the right answer, because you know I thought every answer I had was the right one. My feet were planted on solid rock and I thought I was set for life.
And there’s nothing wrong with being so assured of our faith, of our knowledge or our life. It gives us the confidence to go out and do the work we’ve been given, to believe we can make a difference and we do. We impart a change in people’s lives for the greater good and we can partner with God and have him use us to build his kingdom here. But pride can happen so easily at this point too. I believed that if people would just read the right book, use the right lens to look at life and the Bible and God then they could have all the right answers too and life would be organized in a neat little bow for everyone.
But then life gets messy and suddenly the right answers don’t seem right anymore. That storehouse in my brain doesn’t have a file to explain away the mess and then what seemed so sure before becomes questions and doubts. If I can’t answer this one question, can I answer any question? Does it all sound like pat answers unable to deal with the brokenness of this world?
Ahh, the crisis of life and of faith that we don’t talk about in church. I feel that there is a deception that goes on in the modern church of today that to have true faith you must be “passionate” for Jesus and “on fire” all the time for him. When life’s mess does come around you pray it away with your soul in tune with God and flip to the all the right verses in the Bible to assure you of that smile on your face. But when I tried to find the verses to keep that smile and that fire going I found mess, real mess and read it with new eyes because I was sitting in my own mess for the first time.
Here’s what I learned as I read of the crises of faith in the Bible that I found, they didn’t all have to end there. On the outside to others, it looks like we’re losing our faith and falling away. Heck on the inside it feels like we’re losing our faith and falling apart. And for some they do. In the end, Judas hung himself and his story ended there for us. But Peter got to move through the crisis and he realized that the solid rock he thought was dying and crumbling away was still there but the answers from before took on new meaning and transformation. Jesus reinstated him giving him a stronger hope with a renewed faith and he went and built the church.
The winter seasons of our faith can feel long and unsettling. Doubt can attempt to undo all the glory and wonder of earlier stages of faith. But here’s the truth it can’t undo it, but it can transform it. God is in the business of redemption and he is big enough to handle anything and everything. Life’s messes come along to remind us that we aren’t in control and that there is more than one way to live this life. It’s not always going to fit into neat little piles. We claim to love an all-powerful God but then too easily put him in a box. I think the messes of life come to throw us out of our boxes and into the all-encompassing love of God.
I’m learning to accept the mess of my living room, and dining room, and kitchen, and every other room in my house. The mess doesn’t define me or my family. It’s just there and it’s a part of our lives. It proves that we’re alive and that we’re having fun and living one moment into the next. I’m learning to look beyond the mess into life and remember that our family is built on a foundation of love that will get through any mess life happens to throw our way.