When Life Gets Messy

“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

My physical life is not perfect right now, and I’m quick to write it off as “a phase” or “just the project.” As if this season will eventually pass and I’ll finally return to my settled and arranged and calm life. Because that is what’s real…right?

I think the deep unsettled feeling I have rolling around in the pit of my stomach, though, is that this is not a season. This is life. Life is messy. My home isn’t a wreck because of a renovation project. Instead, I’m starting to realize that my current physical space just so happens to accurately represent life as it really is. The veil has been lifted.

Life is never perfect, but sometimes I try to curate the appearance that it is so. Or maybe, more accurately, I try to order my actions and thinking to create a belief that perfection can be achieved. I wouldn’t call it perfection, though. We would never be that honest with ourselves. Instead, we call them “goals” and “priorities” and “this is just how I like things to be.”

I don’t think people mean to do this. To curate their life. To be dishonest about their behind the scenes. And there really always is a behind the scenes, is there not? But we all pretend that we don’t know about each others’ hidden spaces. Because to acknowledge yours would be to acknowledge mine.

Ann Lamott was right (she always is). Messes are real, and messes are necessary because it is in the messes where you learn who you really are. You can be anyone you want to pretend to be in a perfectly calm and cultivated environment. But when your kids are busy giving each other black eyes and the ceiling is literally falling in on your head and the stupid barista at Starbucks gave you a leaky cup with coffee grounds in the bottom – well, that’s when the truth comes out.

Our plumber was here the other day. We have a hot water boiler heating system and a few of the baseboards needed to be removed for our renovation project. My husband was working out in his shop and I was trying to shuttle all the kids out of the door to keep them out of the way. I had everyone loaded up in the van and had to run back inside for a few necessities since I didn’t know how long we would be gone. Diapers, sippy cups, snacks – check. Wallet? Check. Keys. Keys. Where did I put the keys???

I passed the plumber on my way out.

“I have to hand it to you,” he said.

“Oh yea? Ummm. For what?” I was genuinely curious.

“Most women in your shoes would be pretty cranky right about now.” he said. “You seem to be taking everything in stride.”

I almost laughed out loud. He hadn’t been there the night before when I literally threw a pair of shoes across the room because, frustration. So all I said in a kind of sheepish response was, “Well, I have my moments.”

“We all do,” was all he said, and walked away. (This same plumber also gave Mike some pretty astounding and profound advice about life. I’m not sure if he was there to remove our baseboards or to counsel our souls but we ended up getting both.)

We all do though, right? We all face frustration and messes. We all have things we can’t do. We all have good things happen to us and talents and skills that not everyone else have. We have things break, we break down. We make messes and we clean them up. We have unexpected bills and unexpected kindnesses.

We all do.

I know, what I’m about to say is basically a paraphrased version of my last post – but I’m running low on creativity these days and for right now, this is the lesson.

We learn who we are in the messes.

I thought I was good at learning and growing. But this home renovation showed me a few things that I’ve kept behind the scenes of my head and my heart. And now, the emotional along with the literal walls have been stripped away and I’m left finally facing a mess.

We all have messes. Some are more obvious than others. Some messes are out there in the open – a divorce, a chronic illness, a job loss. Others are more easily hidden behind false facades – old wounds, hurt feelings, doubts and fears. Sometimes we do a good job of patching the holes of our heart. Sometimes we add new paint, hoping to distract the eye. And sometimes, we start tearing out the walls, not even remembering that we had worked so hard to hide behind the layers of plaster and patches and paint.

I’m living in a mess right now. Literally. So much mess. A mess that is bringing things out of me and revealing who I am and who I want to be.

Messes tend to do that. To all of us. We run from messes because they are, always, unresponsive to the neat and tidy way we’ve become accustomed to handling life. That is the nature of messes. That is why they are messy. And that is why we run.

I think the bravest thing we can do in life is to first accept that messes are a part of our journey. They aren’t an indicator that something is wrong. They aren’t an indicator that we are unloved or unloving or horribly horribly wrong somehow. Messes are as real as the sunrise or a newborn’s smell or the love between a man and a woman. And just like the beautiful things of this world unearth something good and true about our creator, the messes unearth something in the created. And the beauty of working through a mess is that one day, you wake up, and see something new. In your home. In your world.

In you.




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