Life is messy.
Walking on the beach tends to bring all of my thoughts to the surface. You know, those random thoughts of to-do lists that never get done, books you want to read, people you want to connect with, who you want to be, and all those emotions about life under the surface that you didn’t think were there. Yeah, those thoughts—or better yet, stream of consciousness.
On this particular morning, I created a mountain out of a mole hill. Something tiny irritated me. Frankly, something that wasn’t the issue forced me to dive head-first into the real issue. So, walking on the beach, I began talking about it with my parents. Over the years, I have believed that in order to be positive, I need to stuff all of the negativity and pain inside…virtually pretending it never happened. I thought that in order to be positive, or see the good in life, I had to just ignore the bad—like a trade-off of sorts. The only problem with that logic was that during all that time of stuffing my pain away, I allowed it to boil up to the point that I broke down at a tiny thing that wasn’t a big deal at all. I was the teapot we sang about as kids: I’m a little teapot short & stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout. When I get all steamed up, hear me shout “tip me over & pour me out!” After sharing my view on handling pain, my Dad said something that is changing the way I view life entirely:
“You don’t ignore the pain. You identify and recognize it, but don’t live there. Sunshine wouldn’t have any meaning if there wasn’t darkness. The darkness makes light that much sweeter. Allow the pain to make all of the good that much better. Don’t try to ignore or destroy evil. Learn to trust God in the evil and let the joy of the Lord be your strength.”
The problem isn’t the pain. The greater issue isn’t the pain. What matters is how I deal with it…how I learn and grow and navigate the waters of trusting God in it. In fact, living a great story requires stepping into the hard stuff of life. In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller writes, “I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.” Perhaps, the “mess of life”—that sticky, painful, difficult, seemingly negative stuff—is what I’m called to identify & recognize, and then trust God through it. Maybe, just maybe, the messy stuff that I try to bury is the very stuff that God is using to shape me into who I’m becoming.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lammott says this about perfection:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped & insane your whole life…Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter & mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover new treasures hidden under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation.”
I’m beginning to see that life isn’t about a clean, tidy, perfect picture. It’s the scary, wild, spontaneous times of trusting God that I’ll look back on & think, “Man, that was a good story.” It’s those moments of getting icing on your face & licking the bowl clean…those times of setting your alarm, grabbing a fresh cup of coffee, throwing on your swim suit, and watching the sun rise over the navy blue ocean….that moment when you risk everything to be honest with a friend, even if it means you might lose them….that time you stepped into your inciting incident because you just know God put it in your path so that you could begin living a better story. This is the stuff life is made of. But I can’t get there by burying the mess.