Messy and connected

“If I don’t know how to connect in my mess, I miss a lot of loving. “

It is an odd moment to be a favorite.

But it’s mine.

My favorite liturgical moment of the church year happens today, Ash Wednesday, in the middle of the service. It is the moment when I exchange the peace of Christ with my neighbors in the midst of ashes on my head and theirs.

It is an experience somewhat foreign to me: connection in the middle of mess.

For most of my life, I lived in the context of a faith tradition and family that taught grace and lived law. The community around me was always more concerned about being right than being love. Mess and connection were on opposite ends of a very linear spectrum.  In that space, I survived by learning to be very good, to pretend there was no mess and if that failed, to run away anytime mess was exposed, be it another’s or mine.

I was sad this week and profoundly effected by the thought that perhaps I had never had a messy and connected moment, a real and true connection, with either of my parents.  I was comforted to remember one.

I am in the process of growing to a new place. Grace, I suppose.

Now these experiences of connection in the midst of mess, however brief, strike a chord deep inside of me. They activate a longing to be loved just as I am… to experience connection in the middle of all my mess.

The story of the woman caught in adultery strikes that same deep chord in me.  As Jesus stoops to write on the ground, I believe he was seeking to find connection with the messy woman who stood before him… a woman likely filled with shame whose head was bowed and eyes lowered.  He sought to meet her there, eye to eye, connecting in the midst of the mess.

My husband and I are in marriage counseling right now. Not because our relationship is about to fail, but instead because we want more. We connect well in the tidy parts of our lives; we know and love one another as our best selves.  We don’t do so well with the mess.

Speaking for myself, mess scares me.  It feels like it threatens both my personal safety and my connection with others.  It feels like something I need to run from in order to survive. I am tired of running and ready to learn a new way.

Truth says that mess is an integral part of life.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 

Today, those verses surfaced a recognition that I also need to redefine forgiveness.  I’ve always seen it as wiping the slate clean so that I could connect; keeping connection and mess on their opposite poles. So what is forgiveness if love is about connecting in the midst of mess? Perhaps it is the freedom to hold the mess between us and still connect.  What a different picture.

If I run from my mess or another’s I am a liar. Hard words. Maybe healing words. If I don’t know how to connect in my mess, I miss a lot of loving.

Today, this Ash Wednesday, I will get to experience being messy and connected.  In the strength of that grace, I hope to write each day of lent about redefining repentance according to the upside down backwards in-a-mirror wisdom of feminine spirituality.

Pray for me.

Journey with me.




  • Gwen

    I love that you are wanting to live in the mess. I love your honesty and your willingness to go to a new place no matter how messy it might be. You inspire me.

  • Janet Davis

    I think I would still prefer to not have mess… but seeing as that option is out, I’m sure wanting to learn how to be in it myself in healthier ways and do a better job of connecting with others, too!

  • Anna

    Thank you Janet. As much as the grace for messes has always resonated with me, you caught me at a period of time when I had reverted to trying to maintain a facade of absolute “togetherness” . . . didn’t realize it till I read your post.
    Grateful to you for your words of Truth!

  • Melinda

    Loved that thought about our dwfinition of forgiveness needing to be a clean slate. Where did we get that. So afraid to have anything left messy. It’s ALL messy.

  • Rhonda

    I am currently participating in a group discussion based on the book “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This blog reminds me of our conversation about “community”, messiness comes with the territory. Living as a single person, it is relatively easy to keep my living environment somewhat clean and orderly; however, the minute another enters into my space, I quickly discover that this sense of orderliness becomes more of a challenge! Messiness is (without question) a part of “togetherness” (and with right perspective, a wonderful part). Clean or messy, what are the trade offs? Messiness has a strange warmth factor that (for me) seems to take precedence! Coffee spilled on the counter, clothes hamper overflowing, hair in the drain…that is the stuff of real life…a representation of a deeper kind of messiness, entangled and entwined but a treasure at the core! Thanks for the reminder and for your constant vulnerability!

  • Bill DeForest

    No personal implications for other people here but I find messiness-untidiness-mistakes to be much more prevalent in my life as I age. I’m not nearly as ——- (fill in your favorite positive attribute) as I once was and am now much more ——(fill in your favorite negative attribute) than I ever was before. It’s not only hell getting old, it’s messy! Life’s price is that the façade of “having it together” gives way to foolishness.
    P. S. Here’s my don’t-ever-do-this-again-on-Ash-Wednesday story: had a doctor’s appointment at 8:00 am and received some discouraging news and then went to the bank where I had been slogging for a week and a day to get a mistake the bank made corrected. I made a mess of my Ash Wednesday!

  • Maureen Sebek

    Janet – As ALWAYS, I am blown away, humbled and encouraged by your honesty and authenticity. You never cease to bless me. Thanking my God for you today. Happy Valentine’s day!! <3

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