My wife and I are confronted daily with messes. It is the nature of having two boys – well, its the nature of having children period. Yet, the refrains from us are consistent, making our lives feel like the movie Groundhogs Day: please clean up your room, please put away your toys, please clean up this mess! Daily.
Yet, I had a thought recently, due to a story my dad told me that I will share with you shortly – and that was, what if this mess wasn’t here at all? What if the little treasure who made this mess was no longer here? Truly, they’re not going to be 5 and 6 very much longer. And tomorrow, quite frankly, isn’t promised to us. In most ways, life, growing older, death, are outside of our control.
To look at the mess in another way, we might be able to say that this mess was, in fact, “signs of life.” For our house, they are signs of life that the brains and bodies of 2 little men are at work living life right in front of our eyes. A beautiful mess. (Which still needs to be cleaned)
My father told me a story about a time when my mom and he had visited my grandfather shortly after their marriage. They were spending time with him, his wife and her mom while my dad’s step-brother Jeff was playing in the backyard with his friends. They were, of course, being boys and making quite a bit of noise to the consternation of Jeff’s mother and grandmother. And their frustration grew and grew, and finally grew to the point that my grandfather Bernie had had enough. He walked into the backyard, told the boys to go hide in the garage and don’t say a thing until he returned to get them. Then he returned to the porch and told everyone to listen. They said they didn’t hear anything. “Listen closer then.” “We don’t hear anything.”
To which my grandfather replied, “exactly. This is the sound that we will be hearing for years, in pretty short order, once these boys graduate. If you want that silence now, keep complaining – otherwise, enjoy these boys while they’re here.”
They all broke down and cried, a real lesson to be learned. It was signs of life. It was a beautiful mess.
Our society has little tolerance for the mess. We are constantly told that beauty lies in perfection, and thus we see others abandoning the mess they have for the perfection they think they deserve, or that they falsely assume they can attain. Therefore, they throw off what they have been blessed with in order to pursue the perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect family, the perfect job, the perfect friendship, the perfect image. And, it never fails, the perfect which is pursued ends up being a bitter pill of pride to swallow.
They failed to see the beautiful mess that was left behind.
Putting it another way, let’s use a house construction analogy. One has a house that may need work or may simply need more space. There are two equal and opposite temptations in the pursuit of beautiful perfection. The first is to move to bulldoze the whole thing, destroy it all and build something else in its place. For the present imperfections just simply cannot be tolerated. It’s not worth keeping anymore, it no longer makes me happy. So down it must come. The other temptation is to protect the house that is – for the house that is, is manageable. We’ve survived in this thus far, we know this house backwards and forwards – let’s not disturb a thing. Don’t change out the furniture that was purchased 30 years ago. And certainly don’t blow out a wall here or there – that would make a mess.
Both attitudes have little tolerance for the mess. Yet, if we were to stop and think about it, what a pathetic way to live! The first temptation causes one to quit and give up. The second causes one to stand still in fear. Why not fix what needs fixing? Why not blow out a wall here and there and make a mess?
And its not just the press or non-Christians who have little tolerance for mess – we do as well. There are many churches who are persuaded to masquerade as beautiful perfection – a place that promises perfect marriages, perfect families, perfect relational health and successful businesses.
Yet, the church family is by definition a mess. A mess made beautiful not by pastors or programs or donors. A mess made beautiful by a loving Father. And through his grace we can see our imperfect marriages as beautiful, our imperfect families as treasures, our imperfect relationships as blessings, our professions as a means of God’s constant work in our lives. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a worship service without any children making a fuss? Well, would we rather not have children?
Wouldn’t it be nice not to find an empty soda can on the property? Well, would we rather not have a junior high and a senior high youth group running around our campus, learning about faith and life? Wouldn’t it be nice to not have a church dealing with cancer, it seems, at every turn? Well, though I hate that bloody disease, yet I have learned more about faith in Christ from watching my friends in faith handle it with trust, with patience, with courage.
These beautiful messes are signs of life.
Everything else are signs of death. Cold. Sanitary. White-washed. Antiseptic. Preserved. Lifeless. But everything is perfect, right? No.
For goodness sake – get used to the creak in the living room floor and then blow out a wall in the den. Accept the mess you have, and then make more messes. Love the people God has blessed you with, imperfection and all – and yet take some risks along the way. Acknowledge that you’ve failed at numerous points in your life, yet don’t be afraid to fail once again. Be grateful for what God has blessed you with, yet refuse to stand still.
Yes, even for a few brief moments, I can convince myself to desire the illusion of beautiful perfection. Yet God always pulls me back to embracing the beautiful mess that he put me in, that I myself AM. If I cannot see the mess that God somehow makes beautiful in me, I will certainly be unable to see it around me. And I will miss so much along the way. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
(1 John 3:1-2 ESV)