Expectant parents decorate the nursery in shiny white furniture and soft, cuddly stuffed animals. Everything must be just so. The room has to be perfect. After all, this is where the mother will rock her beautiful newborn to sleep and daddy will sing sweet lullabies.
Then, the child is born and the young parent’s illusions are shattered. The room is soon cluttered with stuffed animals, stained blankets and what the baby wore yesterday. Both mom and dad are exhausted and all three of them are crying.
Babies are messy. Diapers have to be changed and mouths have to be wiped. Food dries in hair and babies don’t know to cover their mouths when they sneeze. When you’re a parent, you surprise yourself by what you’re willing to hold in your hands.
Yep, babies are messy. Life is messy but there are a lot of important things going on in this mess. The problem is our dreams are so pristine and precise we can’t see the beauty in the chaos. Things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to go or look the way they’re supposed to look.
Real life rarely works out works out the way we dreamed it would. Check that. Real life NEVER works out the way we dreamed it would. No matter how well you plan and how hard you try, the picture never turns out like you planned. In the family portrait, your daughter is looking at the ceiling and your son has his finger up his nose. Dad has on the wrong tie and one of the kid’s wiped their hands on mom’s dress leaving a stain she didn’t see until it was too late.
And this was the picture that was going to hang over the fire place. While this may seem like a disaster, when Mom and Dad look back, this will be their favorite picture of the family. They will tell their friends this photograph captured the essence of everyone so perfectly.
When the kids become teen-agers, the parents will need hazmat suit to enter their rooms. These will be some of the most formative and creative times in the lives of their children, but they will be messy years.
And when they get married, you’ll bring in-laws into your lives, and grandchildren and careers and long-distance separations that make you FaceTime with your grandkids. And you’ll recognize the mess on the other side of the screen.
For some reason, we always think life is going to look like a Norman Rockwell painting. All the men are going to grow up to be handsome, all the women beautiful and the children all well behaved. It’s just never like that in real life.
Where do we get that idea that things always work out? Where do we get the notion that life is supposed to be perfect?
Actually, nowhere. The promise of a perfect life, of days without pain and suffering, isn’t found anywhere. There are no religious texts that promise life without pain. There’s no serious philosophy that teaches we can live without suffering. In short, we just made up this idea of a “perfect life.” Somehow, we get it into our heads that life should be different than the one we know. Life should be better. You know, “perfect”.
It’s an illusion, a dangerous self-deception. Why dangerous? Because if a situation isn’t perfect, we don’t engage. If the moment isn’t just so, we don’t take the risk for love. If the day hasn’t gone perfectly, we withdraw into our homes and forfeit countless opportunities for new experiences, joy and even love itself.
We don’t say “I’m sorry,” because we just don’t feel right in the moment.
We hesitate expressing forgiveness because it’s uncomfortable.
We don’t confess because we’re too embarrassed to admit what we’ve done and as a result, anger and regret aren’t dealt with and slowly freeze into bitterness.
We keep waiting for the perfect moment and the perfect moment never comes.
We never succeed. We never fail. We never do anything waiting for the perfect moment because we never try.
Life is messy. Deal with it. Adjust your expectations.
No, your friend’s not perfect. Love them anyway.
And yes, you’re right; there’s no job or calling more exhausting or frustrating than being a parent. Jump into the day anyway. There’s magic in that mess.
Sure, the world is a mess and the last thing we need is someone else telling us it’s a mess. Pick a spot. Any spot. Jump in and make that part of the world a little better. Yep, you’ll have your heartbroken a million times. That’s just part of it. Love is messy. Life is messy.
One of the reasons people have such a hard time believing in the Incarnation is people don’t believe God would be willing to get that dirty just to love us. Why would God, enthroned in splendor, take of His shoes and walk barefooted in the dust of Galilee? Why would this great God, maker of heaven and earth, risk such painful disappointment by loving the disciples? And why would He suffer the indignities and pain of the cross for a world as messed up as ours?
Because Jesus knows life is messy. He knows things may not work out for you and me. Yes, in the end Jesus completes His divine purposes, but if we don’t want to be part of it, He won’t force us to join Him. Some of us, like Judas, just won’t believe that Jesus knows what He’s doing. We won’t believe His messy way of love will work.
So, we won’t believe and because we don’t believe we won’t follow His way.
But love, love on the other hand, understands life is messy. Love understands things may not work out even with our best efforts. Love knows, however, if no effort is made, failure is guaranteed.
Love understands life is messy. Love understands the risk.
And love takes that risk.