I have an ongoing relationship with messes, a relationship that I do not keep a secret. My children are busy and active. They color about nine times a day at the dining room table, and by “color” I mean scissors, glue, duct tape, foil, and whatever else they rummage up. They play games all over our house. They leave socks in places that make no sense. They shed clothing. They come home full of things that they can’t wait to show me and dioramas that must be made. And all of this is not even any of the mess that comes from the food prep and clean up. Six small children bathing and showering and leaving towels everywhere.
When talking about homemaking, Christian women often refer to the fact that God loves order. He created an ordered world. This is so true, and I love it. This is why I work every day to have an ordered home. But then I look outside my house and laugh – because God also created places where you have a storm of natural messes. My yard is strangely prolific in falling items. We have a huge oak tree, and the squirrels party on down in that thing like a bunch of wood chippers. There are shards of acorns everywhere. And then the tree itself doesn’t lose its leaves until after the snow has fallen. So we can’t rake it really, we just keep the leaves primarily in our gutters. Then there is a beech tree that drops a bazillion leaves that we can rake if we are fast, and then there’s a bunch of nut-like products that make walking on our driveway sound like walking on shells. And in the backyard we have a cherry tree that takes a turn pelting the world with tasty blood-red staining agents. We have a black locust tree that throws huge black pods all over the house like confetti. The squirrels also love that, and they merrily transport them to a picnicking location right outside the living room window where they peel and shred pods until their pants are too tight, and they decide to go nap. And then there is an old apple tree that needs some sort of help to make useable apples on a level we could access, but instead makes a bountiful crop way up high and releases them all at once to rot quickly on the ground. And this fits my life. Because inside my house we work in a similar style.
Have you ever seen some of those breathtakingly serene pictures of Swedish interiors? A home made up of sleek surfaces and rustic counterpoints? Quiet colors and surprisingly modern touches next to acres of plain empty space? I can look at that kind of thing and be filled with a real longing. Longing for a place that does not get messed up like this place. A place that stays beautiful, a place that looks the same in the evening as it did in the morning. I am confident that in that place there are not plasma cars wheeling around the kitchen in tight circles to the soundtrack of hilarity. I am pretty sure that no one got all the washcloths out and into the tub, and I am sure that if you decided to turn on the sink, or begin to bake something, that there would not instantly be three children on chairs behind you asking you to move over so they could get on with their plans. I bet that in that home when I put a stack of clean clothes on the bed in my room, toddlers would not lay siege to it and throw it back in the dirty clothes. Because in that life, there would not be the unsavory mess of my life. There wouldn’t be all the dishes and all the wet rags. There wouldn’t be the crayon wrappers or the stickers that somehow only stick permanently to the wrong surfaces. There wouldn’t be misused sharpies, or coats that got dragged through the mud outside by a misbehaving puppy. In that life, there would not be the mess of my life.
But you know what else there could not be? The fruit of my life. Resenting the mess in the barn is resenting the crop in the field. My children are not here to keep the barn tidy, they are here to plow the fields and bring in the crop.
Some people God calls to live in the desert with one tasteful display on the horizon of rocks and a cactus. And you can honor God there with contentment and joy and sacrifice. And some people God calls to live in the cranberry bog where you can’t go out without hip waders, and the sacrifice of your life will always include messy boots and stains and crazy bounty that has to be raked up. And the only way to honor God in either place is to embrace with thanksgiving the life that He has put before you. Honor God, love your life.
All the work of cleaning the barn is simply a way of honoring the strength of my children and acknowledging their purpose in the world. God has given them to us to shelter and feed and teach (about cleaning up after themselves too). He has entrusted these kids to us to bring in the increase. To work the fields in His harvest. Loving this life I’ve been given means seeing my children the way God sees them: as an inheritance, as a force for increase, as a gift, as a means of a great harvest. Cleaning this barn is a way of honoring the strength that God wants us to desire. The mess in this barn is a mess of plenty, it is the mess of the gift He is giving us.
I need to see my children as a force for good in the world, and not simply a destructive force in our home. I need to desire the harvest more than a clean and unused trough. I need to look in faith at the big empty silos, and in gratitude at the mess in the barn. And all that said, I need to throw on some boots and muck out the stalls.