Embracing Mess

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“Please excuse the mess.”

We have all heard it.

We have all said it.

Hannah and I make plans for dinner at 6:00 with a couple we have not spent much time with before. We are both off of work and speed-walking from the garage into the house with thirty minutes left before our guests will be here. We cook, we vacuum, we straighten, we dust, then we exhale. We make the pass-through and our coffee table look less like a catch-all and more like the front cover of an HGTV magazine.

And yet. “Please excuse the mess.”

Here’s a question to ponder: Why do we excuse the mess?

My wife and I have had lots of guests over in the home we live in now. It is a fixer-upper, but looks nothing like what Chip and Joanna Gaines have gotten their hands on. The stairs are half-finished. Some of the kitchen tiles are cracked. For an entire year, we had to explain away the hole in the ceiling from where we had a stubborn leak. We have done so much work, and as is evident, have a lot more to do.

Up until now, I have felt dirty for subjecting my guests to these things. A sneaking feeling of shame washes over me when I feel like I have to explain we are working on things, like I should apologize for my home’s current status. “Please excuse the mess.” But the more I have thought about it, I am beginning to think our allergy to mess is spiritual, not just social. What’s behind it?

I’m not advocating for leaving your house a total wreck, with or without guests. Cleaning up your house for guests communicates to them that you care about their comfort. But let’s get real for a moment: mess is what discipleship is built on. A thousand times I have heard the phrase that “relationships are messy.” This is true, and sometimes, it looks like a sink with dishes in it. Most of the time, these household messes are simply mirrors for the Christian life, and compelling ones at that. What happens when we stop excusing mess, and embrace it instead?

We learn to be who we are.
Maybe you haven’t even opened your home to others for this very reality of mess and the fear of man. Other ways we hide our mess includes isolating ourselves with sin, or masking our real prayer requests with more palatable (and less significant) ones. The longer we allow mess to mount shame on our backs, the less we will be able to express the authenticity we all aspire to have. In discipleship, embracing our mess says to others, “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10). Living in the light with others is the definition of the Christian life (1 Jn 1:7). Those that are Christian have it easiest; we are the only ones whose messy lives can be confessed with hope.

We learn that Christ is enough.
Thank God Romans 10:9 doesn’t say, “If you clean yourself up enough, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Jesus Christ certainly came in the world to make us clean, but He did not come for the clean. The Jews struggled so much with this. How could Gentiles sit at the same table as them? The gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes, both Jew and Gentile, proper and out of sorts (Rom 1:16). This power brings us together, into imperfect homes with imperfect personalities, for His sake.

We learn to bear one another’s burden.
We say “please excuse the mess” as if the one we say it to has none. Being willing to let our guard down and expose our authentic, grace-gifted self to another is a powerful form of ministry. It says to others, “You don’t have to keep your guard up anymore.” It is also an invitation to allow your companion to live in the light with you. Isn’t this an amazing cycle? The moment we commit to striving to live an authentic, messy life with someone else, it often seems they start to do the same with us. No prodding. No weaseling it all out at small group. An easy way for you to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) is to help them see your own.

To the mom who sighs at her friends’ Pinterest boards, or the pastor who feels the daily pressure to perform: choose a better way. Stop trying to scrub the mess away as a means of justification. You never know how welcoming it could be for someone to step foot in your home and see something dusty, something unorganized – something real.

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