Everywhere I turn these days, the descriptor of “messy” is being used. The church is messy. Discipleship is messy. Our lives are messy. Friendship is messy. Marriage is messy.
Everything is messy.
Much like the word “missional,” the word is used a lot without actually being defined. What are we saying when we say something is messy?
Last night , we asked our boys to clean up the den because it was messy. Legos were everywhere. Their socks and shoes were scattered across the room. Library books covered one area. So they cleaned it up.
An hour later it was all back.
A couple days ago, I read yet another blog post about the messiness of the Christian life. And this is what triggered my thinking about these things. As my boys were cleaning a second time, I had the humorous thought of one of them turning to me and dignifying the messiness of the den with poetic flair.
Now look, I’ll be the first one to defend a messy den. It means our kids have been there and been playing with toys. My mom once said to me as I was apologizing for the mess our kids had made something along the lines of, “a messy home is a happy home.” That’s some good wisdom. But she knows and I know and even the kids know that some point the mess has to be cleaned up.
I believe there is some good and some bad in our seeing the Christian life as “messy.” The difference is why we are calling the Christian life messy.
First, the bad – Far too often “messiness” is an excuse for ourselves. We use it to excuse wrong behavior and a defiant bare honesty without repentance in it’s wake. We aren’t unrepentant, selfish jerks with addictive behaviors, we are “messy.” There is a whole genre of blog posts now about the messiness in the author’s life. I’ve probably contributed a few myself. I’m afraid to look. The language of grace is used but I cannot help but get the feeling, no one wants to clean up the den. It’s a true statement and needs to be acknowledged. But it’s kinda like saying a a battlefield is bloody.
Now, the good – The Christian life is never, no matter who is living it, a straight line. The grace we think we are showing ourselves when our following of Jesus gets “messy” is harder to extend to others. But when we do get glimpses into other’s lives and see the starts and stops and triumphs followed by epic failures, and see the messy parts up close and love them anyway without writing them off, that’s a good thing. Part of that love will be reminding them they are loved in spite of the mess, even if they are covered in the mess. But another part of the love is helping clean the mess up and off.
It’s true Jesus loved messy people. He seemed to go out of his way for them. Smelly fisherman. Hated tax collectors. Prostitutes. Lepers. Half-breeds who had rejected God’s law. This is good news for us. And a great example for us. When we feel like our lives are a mess and hope seems to be just beyond arm’s length, we know that God has sent Jesus into the mess of this world and then became a mess for us. And it helps us see the need to extend the hope of the gospel to those whose lives seem hopelessly a mess.
But we need to also see Jesus’ coming as a rescue mission to slowly clean up the mess. And sometimes it is painfully slow. Slow in us and slow in others. But this is where the hope is, the removal of the mess.