I listened to a speech recently, and it was an absolute disaster. A mother gave a carefully-prepared speech, but she kept getting interrupted. The culprit was none other than her six year-old son who was, in fact, the topic of her speech. While she explained the miracle of her son’s life – six short years riddled with hospital stays and surgeries – that very bundle of energy ruffled at the edges of her words, threatening to steal the show.
It was quite beautiful, actually.
The mother and her energetic son were a reminder that as much as we try to present ourselves as polished and put together, life is messy.
I have a really hard time with mess. I have a hard time focusing until the dishes are cleaned up and I’ve established a certain amount of “zen” in my environment. For me, mess is a problem. Clutter is a distraction.
But maybe there’s some beauty to be found in the messes of life.
Mess means “Work in Progress”
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott points out that the mess means it’s unfinished. Mess means the job’s not done yet. After all, you only clean up when after the project’s complete. The clutter means we’re working on it.
Ben Chestnut made the important connection, that having simply having humans in an organization means there will be mess. If you want to have a perfect machine of an organization, remove the humans. But if you want life and creativity, there will be a mess. That’s just a fact.
What I love about the story of Jesus is that he brought the “up there” world “down here”. He pitched his tent in our campground. Instead of requiring that we clean up our act, reminding us of the filth and clutter, he joined us in the middle of it.
Mess is a Sign of Life
A few nights ago I asked my three year-old daughter about the following day’s plans, when her best friend would be visiting.
“What are you going to do with your friend?”
“We’re going to play with everything and make a big mess in my room!” she exclaimed. “I like making a mess with my friend.”
(Of course, any good parent is obliged to explain that part of life is cleaning up after yourself afterwards. Which I did.)
Embrace the Mess
No mess, no fun. No creativity. No life.
Maybe the mistake we make isn’t in making a mess in the first place. Maybe our fault lies in assuming that the “picture perfect” photo is an expected ideal. That the poetic waxing on spirituality is the very pinnacle of spirituality. That a speech about an energetic six year-old needs to be a polished one.
It’s tempting to try to suppress the clutter, to smooth life’s waters. But maybe joy can be found in embracing the mess and riding the unpredictable waters of life, complete with all of its screaming children, unfinished projects and interrupted speeches.
Sometimes it’s the mess that makes it beautiful.