Meeting God in the Mess

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Have you ever gotten the idea that life with Jesus ought to be easier and simpler than it frequently seems to be? I have. And, at times, I find myself longing for a faith that continually hears angels singing sweetly in the background as I feel their wings caress the air around me.

One of those times was when people around me went absolutely silent as I shared God’s new direction for my life in ministry. Looking back, I should have paid more attention to that silence.

Full of my new calling, I set foot to the path. Not too far down the road, my new journey with Jesus became a source of an almost crippling frustration. I did not feel prepared to deal with bouts of angst about my journey. I questioned myself regularly. Had I stepped off the path? I mean, who wants to be whale barf like Jonah? Not me. Could I identify a time when Jesus asked me to do something and I declined? No. Along the way, God was gracious to reminded me that I ought to stop beating myself up over such nonsense, in kinder wording, of course.

The pain I endured was severe and real. I was not living the smooth 45-degree angle incline with angels singing in the background. My journey was more, well… messy. Since no change was on the horizon, I began to grieve. God could not get it wrong, therefore my hearing must be impaired. I grieved the dreams of what might have been; dying dreams are particularly difficult to grieve. I decided the healthy thing would be to do a mental funeral and bury my dreams once and for all. Fortunately, God knew better and performed a resurrection.

The mess still haunted me. One day, I hit a pinnacle of pain in the midst of a major gripe session to Jesus. After yards of mental rambling, out spilled the words, “This is such a mess!” There. I said it. Out loud and to God. I do not own a large collection of exact “words from God” directly to me, but here’s what God said that day: “I have trained you to walk in the mess.”

In the silence and stillness that followed those words, I stood amazed at God’s ability to totally reframe everything in one frantic yet solitary moment. This little piece of clay shut her mouth and continues to deeply ponder God’s commentary. The words have not left me, nor have they left my Spiritual Director who loves to repeat them back to me at the most convenient of times.

I am not totally cured of the desire for an easier and less complicated path. Neither are any of us from within the ranks of faith who endure pain, challenge, and hardship. The fact remains: Daily life is messy. People’s lives are messy. Faith is messy. Journeys are messy. Ministry is messy. Church life is messy. Yet while we see mess, God still sees potential in us. As God’s people, we have to remind ourselves to quit staring so heavily at the mess, allowing it to dictate and consume. We must look to Jesus, because it’s Jesus who walked into every part of human mess… for us.

This Jesus volunteered to clean up our messes; sin and the notion that we know better than God how life ought to run. He lived daily in our mess, according to God’s purposes, to show us an abundantly fruitful way of living. Jesus endured every kind of mess humanity could dish out during his life and sacrificial death. In God’s graciousness to us and love for us, God rejected our mess, resurrected Jesus, and showed us how new life can come out of ashes—our mess (Isaiah 61:1-3 and John 10:10). Those promises ring true for the here and now messes of life.

I truly wish we learned best in the easy chair. Unfortunately, that is not who we are as people. We make life messy as we choose our own agendas over God’s agenda for us. Then, when discomfort comes we scramble. Our inclination is to get out of the mess and go find clean boots. We easily become little pieces of yappy clay griping about what a mess this is and how it ought to be cleaned up right now.  We wonder why God left us in this mess without a rake, shovel, or if warranted, a backhoe.

In reality, Jesus stands ready with anything and everything we need in order to learn that walking through the mess is the path to growing in trust of God’s faithfulness. The fancy theological word is sanctification. Along the way, we encounter momentary relief of angels singing in the background as their wings caress the air to remind us that Jesus really does know what he’s doing with us. God loves us and often desires to create something of beauty and value in the Kingdom of God rather than take us out of our messiness. I see this as more than an ambitious undertaking in looking at myself, and am regularly amazed at God’s graciousness to me.

Image attribution: uros ravbar / Thinkstock

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Margie Bryce is the lead pastor at DownRiver United Methodist Church, a church plant where 4 congregations left their beloved buildings to do the new thing that God is asking of them. She serves the Detroit Annual Conference as a Vital Church Initiative faculty, coach, and consultant. She is a graduate of Nazarene Theological Seminary and Ashland Theological Seminary.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A way to view the pain and messiness:

    “We never want to get too sentimental about grace.
    While most days it is God’s gentle refreshment to our souls,
    sometimes the river comes as a terrifying reminder that our lives are out of control.
    On stormy days, we may wonder if it was such a good idea to live so close to the stream.
    We may even wish that God would just leave us alone.
    But if the storm sweeps away everything that is not spiritually rooted, then even that is grace.
    The point of God’s grace is not to be nice to us but to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
    It carries us home to God, sometimes on a gentle stream, sometimes on a raging torrent, but always back to God.” —M. Craig Barnes, Sacred Thirst

    “To long for grace is to discover life in the crucible of God’s creativity.
    That is always a painful and yet wondrous place to be.
    The pain comes in having to encounter the truth about the loss of our dreams and godlike illusions.
    But mixed into that despair is the wonder of the creativity of our God.
    We know he is up to something.
    Something that only God can possibly create out of this chaos.
    What will God do with our life?
    We continue to live with that question.
    We yearn for its answer.
    But to spend life receiving the mysterious creativity of God, well–it is enough.”—M.Craig Barnes, Yearning: Living Between How It is & How It Ought to Be.

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