Our four year old has discovered that conkers aren’t acorns, and it’s safe to say that acorns have blown his mind, especially the ones that still have their little hats on! The flip side to this is that the boys and I have spent our non-school hours searching for oak trees which are surprisingly rare in our part of Peterborough!! Upon discovering the said ‘rare tree’ we have then sifted through piles of leaves and twigs and conkers and dirt and stones and feathers and those things you throw in the air that spin like helicopter blades (I feel like I should know the proper name for them) in the hope that we’d find an acorn in a hat. We’ve picked up some rather rotten looking offerings which most definitely haven’t just fallen this autumn, infact I’m not sure some of them were even last year’s debris! It was in this beautifully simple activity that I realised the world is a mess and that somehow that’s important.
There was nothing neat or tidy or organised about the ground beneath the trees it was just a mess. The more I thought about it the more it made sense; nature is messy, with its mud and dirt and berries and all those bits that stick to your clothes or shoes…animals are messy, we have a dog that frequently trails muddy paw prints around the house and doesn’t appear to care! Then there’s birth, that’s messy, not to mention the follow on job of raising children, who by nature, are messy! The thing is we so often try to control, reduce or remove the mess. We invest so much energy in being tidy, neat and ordered. We teach our children to hang clothes up, to put toys away, to wipe their feet, to eat and drink without spilling their food, all of which seemingly goes against what they would naturally do! We spend hours cleaning and tidying or we pay someone else to do it; we constantly fight the mess. Hair needs to be brushed, grass needs to be cut, trees have to be trimmed, we’re fighting a force that naturally leans more towards mess than it does neat or tidy! Then it hit me, the trees aren’t stressed! They’re not trying to dominate or control or compete or be something else, they’re just there, being trees, in all their extravagant messiness!
Ok so I’m not writing a manifesto for messiness. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tidy or clean but what if there’s something deeply freeing about accepting messiness, about not fighting it…and I don’t just mean the physical dirt and mess!
There’s something about living with or around other human beings that is messy; plans don’t always work out, others don’t always do things the way we’d like. Jobs are lost, people move away, friends fall out, loved ones die, there’s illness and worry, all of these things intermingle with love and laughter and celebration and the school run or the commute or the gym or all the other more mundane routines we have. Life…Is…Messy. The more we try to control, and organise and plan the more our stress levels increase because some of the mess we just can’t control.
I think that’s what I connect with so much in the Jesus story. Jesus didn’t avoid the mess, he cried when people died, he shared food with those no one else would, he befriended women who other men only used for one thing; he got tired, he needed head space, he partied, he had breakfast on the beach (sand is always messy!!) he made friends and lost friends, he had friends let him down and misunderstand him. Life, as Jesus knew it, was messy! The way of Jesus didn’t reduce or remove the mess, it embraced it. The way of Jesus didn’t give neat answers to the big questions it more often than not just exposed the question behind the question and left everyone even more confused!
The reality is that there’s so much that doesn’t fit neatly into a box, so much to life that can’t be explained, yet we constantly want answers, we want things to make sense, to be neat and tidy, maybe even perfect, but what if that’s not realistic or even helpful. What of some things aren’t meant to be easily explained?
What if, instead of a neat explanation, nature (along with the Jesus story) offers us a rhythm, a pattern, or a blueprint for life; a way of seeing the world in all its mess. What if we’re shown that there are seasons, that nothing is static, that we are always being drawn onwards into something new, even if there is still evidence of the old and we have to learn to live with the scars. What if there’s beauty in the mess, what if it’s OK for those tears to still fall and for that person still to be missed? What if it’s OK to have moments where we still yearn for what was and wish we could return? What if its OK to feel those twinges of sadness, regret, even despair, to acknowledge them and yet still move forward? What if it’s OK not to have it all together? What if we stop striving for perfection, stop thinking that there shouldn’t be pain and that all hurt should be healed? What if we just accept that there is mess? What if we take time to appreciate the mess of the world around us and see the mess within the stories of the bible? What if we celebrate, rather than constantly try to fix, the mess that is within our own story and in doing so realise that it’s OK to be messy!
Maybe in doing that we’ll begin to realise that it all belongs. That in embracing all that is we’ll find a richer depth to life. Maybe we’ll learn to smile more, to take a breath and simply know it’s OK, not perfect but good enough and maybe in doing that we’ll learn to live more at peace with others, our world and ourselves!