The Gospel Mess of Being Human

Because I host a blog and podcast about the spirituality of messiness, one might assume that I am very comfortable with being in messy situations.

The truth is that I am obsessed with the mess because I’ve learned that embracing this part of being human helps me to feel healthier, happier and more free. Accepting the inevitable messiness that comes with living a life of faith allows me to show up much more authentically and joyfully.

The truth is that I would rather the house was always neat, tidy and orderly. I would rather that dust bunnies and cobwebs would stop appearing in the corners. I would rather my clean laundry would quickly find its way into a well-organized closet instead of taking a week-long detour to the chair in my bedroom where it sits until I put it away.

Turns out that following Jesus means we must embrace the mess.

I would rather that my mind didn’t feel chaotic and busy. I would rather that anxiety and grief, disappointment and anger, didn’t storm through my days, my interactions, my attempts to get a good night sleep and wake up ready to praise God for the beauty of another day. I would rather I never felt grumpy, just joyful and grateful. 

I would rather that the neighborhood was crime-free and peaceful at all times, that the reality of robberies, riots and murders didn’t disturb my comfort zone nor my trust and belief in the goodness of all people. 

I would rather that there were no guns and no school shootings, no conflicts or crisis.

I would rather that there was no racism, no violence, no war, no uprisings, no political tensions or pandemics. I would rather we all valued diversity and were eager to embrace the other, including the wonders of our common home: Earth.  

I would rather that I met people without seeming a little scattered or uncertain, bursting with confidence and clarity instead. I would rather I came off as poised, professional and grounded no matter my mood or struggles.

It is embarrassing to admit all of this to you, that I’d rather live in heaven on Earth and want order and predictability and safety. It’s embarrassing to admit that I fantasize about living in a utopia where messiness isn’t part of my daily struggle to be a radical disciple of Jesus. 

It’s embarrassing to admit that I’d like a How To Guide and easy cheat-sheets when the mess of relationships and conflict and my own emotions and physical pains all feel like too much.  

It’s embarrassing to admit to you that I am a Franciscan Sister, and I struggle with disorder and dysfunction just as much as everyone else. (Side note: Sometimes I wonder if my longing for structure and simplicity is what led me to discern religious life; I was attracted to the stereotype of a neat and predictable convent life. Turns out wherever you go, there you are. Turns out, community life — like family life — is very messy.)

Turns out that the Gospels show us that the Incarnation — God taking on human flesh and entering the human experience in person of Jesus Christ — reveals that Gospel living is messy. Jesus was born into a messy scene: among farm animals, in a manger. Birth is messy. Being a baby is messy. Being part of a family — even if it’s a holy one! — is messy. Because of the Incarnation, the ordinary and messy elements of the human experience are now sacred and meaningful.

If you read and pray with the Gospel stories and lessons found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John through the lens of messiness, the Gospel truth starts to pop off the page. Yes, Jesus Christ is a totally human and dealt with all the messy elements of the human experience. He was in messy relationships. His body was likely bruised and blistered. He felt the discomforts of sickness, isolation and injustice.

Think of Good Friday: consider the mess of the day when Love en-fleshed was crucified. Consider the denials and disappointments, the violence and anguish. The sweat, the blood, the tears. The broken bones and pierced skin. The broken hearts and confused minds. Consider who stayed with Jesus and who ran away. Consider how the messiness and violence of the cross set us free. The mess can be liberating!

Turns out that following Jesus means we must embrace the mess; we must accept that messiness is part of the human experience. The horrors and hardships of human sin, such as the murder of children in the middle of a school day, are outrageous and messy. Living in a non-dual way means letting go of either/or and black and white thinking, allowing yourself to be in the spaces that are gray and messy instead.

Welcome to the mess!

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