Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Embracing the Muck

Suggested Reading: Proverbs 14:1-11

I am something of a contradiction when it comes to my work spaces. When I am working, I tend to make messes. If you have ever seen my desk when I am in the middle of a ton of research for a sermon or a paper or story, I often have papers and books strewn everywhere, covering every inch of desk space available. At the same time, however, I have to have my work space clean when I start something. So, even though the surface of my desk will become invisible once I get started, I have to get it clean before I can start working. Proverbs 14:4 talks about the kinds of messes that can accompany work from the flip-side of the coin. "Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is clean, but an abundant harvest is produced by strong oxen" (NET). Translation: oxen are messy but they make it possible to be very productive.

A number of years ago, I served as a houseparent at a children's home in New Mexico that had a small farm/ranch attached to it. One of our responsibilities (and the youth's responsibilities) was to clean out the horse stalls, at least once a week but more often if required, and it was often required. The kids loved the horses, especially when it came time to ride them, but they absolutely abhorred cleaning out the stalls. If they wanted to avoid having to clean out a stall, then they simply chose not to care for a horse but that meant they didn't have a horse to ride.

Sometimes, getting things done in life requires a mess. Sometimes, that mess is literal: books and papers piled high on a desk, or a stall full of manure, or a kitchen stacked with dirty dishes and flour dusted counter-tops. And, if possible, I'm sure we would all like to avoid such messes. But messes are a by-product of productive living. If you never make a mess, you probably never get anything done.  Another way of saying that is, if you're only worried about keeping things nice and neat and uncomplicated, you probably won't accomplish much. Life is messy. Stuff happens. The only way to avoid messes for certain is to avoid doing anything of significance.

So what about you? Do you feel like your life is a mess? Or wish your house was always spic and span? Me too. But life isn't about staying neat and clean. In fact, having everything neat and in order and insisting that it stay that way is a good formula for a boring and insignificant life. If your life is messy, it is because things are happening! Yes, it's a good idea to clean up the messes from time to time. Yes, it's a good idea to take a break every now and then to get things in order, but mess happens. Don't let the fear of mess rule your life or nothing will ever get done.

Messes are a part of life. Don't try to avoid them. Balance your messes with what you are trying to accomplish. 

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