That was my plan. If I could just become the person I was supposed to I would have a picture perfect family with a picture perfect house and things would always go smoothly because we would always make good choices and be good people. Truth be told, I think I gathered this idea in church more than from the movies. You see, I think for a while that has been the message we've sent as the church. Make good choices, be a good person, live in a bubble with other good people. Sounded like a plan to me! For a long time I had such a desire to live up to a certain standard and eventually one day maybe God would use me to teach other people. We would all be perfectly groomed and beautifully dressed and say the right churchy things and I would finally feel good enough.
Turns out, things don't always go the way we plan. In fact, I wouldn't begin to know what to do if a plan I had came to fruition. Because life. Because people. You see the longer we have been in ministry the more God has opened my eyes and tugged at my heart. I've learned that ministry is not so much the classes taught or the songs sung on Sunday morning. It is the late night phone calls and unexpected knocks at the door. It is brokenhearted people, confused people, and honestly sometimes downright mean people. It is unscheduled, inconvenient, and messy. It is questioning how much to help, how much tough love to give, how to answer hard questions. It is feeling that there is never quite enough time or of you to go around. It is feeling that no matter what you do it is never enough. It is a downright battle between the Spirit's leading and self.
Because what I have learned is that while God calls us His heirs and that means we are royalty as the child of the King, it looks a little different from Cinderella. It is true we are adorned with new clothes, His robe of righteousness, but our task is so much more than appearances and productions. He saves us from our own mess so that we can be equipped to go right back into the mess. Sometimes He literally leads us to be the sweepers and the moppers and the builders. Sometimes He leads us to be the listeners and the huggers and the comforters. Sometimes He leads us to be the voice of wisdom and grace. Wherever it is He leads, I assure it's probably not going to be easy.
Last year I felt that God was telling me "Do hard things." I think I have. I think this last year has hands down been one of the hardest years I've had. I wish I could say I've always handled it well, but I've often found myself saying, "I didn't know the hard things would be so hard!" Insert 2 year old tantrum. And I guess if I'm honest I thought that would be my word for one year, and maybe this year would be "Do happy things!" :) But as time passes and I am continually brought to a place of complete reliance on my Savior, it becomes more and more clear to me that the mess is where it's at. Have I thought, "I didn't make this mess"? Yes, yes I have. Have I thought, "Why can't someone else clean up this mess?" Yes, yes I have. And then I've been gently reminded that I've made plenty of messes myself and I had a kind Redeemer, a gracious God. And also, people. I had people who loved on me, put up with me, prayed for me, and supported me. They were real. They were tangible. They were the hands and feet of God. And that is what we are to be to those around us. Even those in messes. Especially those in messes.
Let me be clear that I'm not talking about supporting bad habits, throwing money at problems, or trying to put a happy face on things. I'm talking about real, let's do this, we may get dirty, too, kind of caring. The kind of loving and caring that stretches us, tries us, tires us, and moves us to action. The kind that teaches us good boundaries but sometimes leads us to work around them. The kind of caring that brings us to the point where there is no way to do it without Jesus because His, "strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I share this because I just have such a burden. A burden for people. A burden for the church. I think sometimes we forget that while it is important and valuable to have opinions on things, one day we will be accountable just as much for how obedient we have been in action. We are told, "Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22) I am so thankful for the many teachers and writers who have poured their words into others. I know I am blessed by them daily. But sometimes I think, there are so many voices, but where are the hands and feet? Where are the workers? How do we put these things we've been taught into action? And the answer I find is that we have to be in the mess.
People often bring up that Jesus hung out with sinners. He did. He wanted to help them out of their mess. He preached on hilltops, but then he personally invested in those people's messes. He was in their homes. He ate with them. He washed their dirty feet. He gave them time and attention. He had his reputation and his sanity questioned.
A few Sundays ago Josh painted during his sermon. We weren't sure how that was going to go. At one point he almost knocked over an entire can of paint on the carpet IN THE SANCTUARY. Mine was the gasp heard round the world. Thankfully it stayed put but I immediately thought about how worried I was about the carpet. It's always a joke about carpet in the churches, but it is so true that we often stress and worry over things that have no eternal value. We get all kinds of bent out of shape about messing up God's house (don't get me wrong, I believe in taking care of God's house!), but we destroy people through our words and actions and apathy. By the way, God sent Jesus to save the people, not the carpet.
As Josh finished painting he came forward to offer the invitation. I was taken aback as I noticed red paint all over his hands and arms. It was such a visible reminder that we are able to stand before God only because the blood of Jesus covers us. Because He was willing to come be a part of the mess.
I only share this because I want to encourage you. I know God is calling people to do hard things, and I know it is scary. I know it is exhausting and challenging and sometimes you don't know if it's worth it. Do it anyway. I promise, the mess is where it's at. You never appreciate a clean room until you've helped pick up the mess. It's a gift God gives us to be a part. To walk bumpy roads and to cry important tears. I recently came across Psalm 126:5 that says, "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy." I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the idea that it is truly a blessing to care about something or someone enough that your prayers are tears. Those are the kind of prayers that lead to joy. And we can be in the mess and never be alone. "The Lord your God in your midst, The mighty one, will save." (Zephaniah 3:17) He's in the midst. In the middle of the mess.