A worker had been assigned to sweep the carpet by the door. She didn’t look thrilled. Probably the umpteenth time she’d had to clean the carpet during her shift. Plus, as soon as she got the rock salt off one part, more customers walked in and tracked it up again.
The mess kept returning. She kept sweeping.
Kind of like our lives, no?
We live in a world that’s a mess in progress — tornadoes and earthquakes, hurricanes and blizzards, floods and wild fires, all leaving behind a lot to be cleaned up.
And we fit right in.
When it comes to making a mess, we’re naturals from our first breath. Our birth was christened with gushes of amniotic fluid, blood and goo. And we were just getting started.
We spit up on our parents’ shoulders as they burped us. We graduated to eating from a plate, and we looked like the baby in the photo at the top of the blog. Our teenage years were the pimple-faced embodiment of messiness — the hormones, the drama, the angst in our souls, the piles of clothes on our bedroom floors.
We have our never-ending adult messes, too. So many. Even the best part of our lives — our various relationships — involve messy collisions between love and insecurity, passion and fear, reaching out and pulling back.
Practically every day I feel like a mess in some ways, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. Messiness is such a constant in our lives that you’d think we would come around to accepting it. Even embracing it, maybe.
Instead, we do the opposite. We pretend there’s no mess at all. Look: Everything’s all neat, clean and orderly! I’ve got my life under control. Any tears are experienced out of view, perhaps during another sleepless night.
We put up a false front. We brush our hair, put on clean clothes and head out into the world looking like the embodiment of neatness. But we don’t invite our friends back to our home because, well, there’s that dog hair on the carpet and those dirty dishes in the sink.
And those footprints tracked all over our souls.
Speaking of souls, you would think that religion could be helpful in handling our messiness. After all, there’s a holy quality to it. The creator made a very messy universe. And a very messy us, too. All in God’s image. A story suggests that in the midst of the chaotic creation, God decided that it was already very good — messes and all.
Unfortunately, we often turn our churches, temples and synagogues into places where messiness and godliness are treated as opposites. We’re told that our lives aren’t neat enough — sin is a synonym often bandied about — and that we don’t measure up on religion’s tidiness scale.
Too bad. Because like it or not, messes are an integral part of life, just as water is an integral part of a shower. No water? Then there’s no shower, no getting clean. No mess? Then there’s no life, no real love.
Life and love are innately messy. It’s the divine way of things. Each of us is a sacred, marvelous mess, living in a universe that matches us that way.
So what do we do about it?
In “Bruce Almighty,” a confused Bruce visits God (played by Morgan Freeman) and is handed a mop and invited to help clean the floor. Bruce also gets some advice, though it’s not the answer he was looking for.
He’s told that the ultimately, the messes aren‘t what matter. It’s how you respond to them.
“No matter how filthy something gets, you can always clean it right up,” Morgan Freeman says, mopping away.
Perhaps God gets great satisfaction out of both the mess and the mopping. Delights in both the ongoing chaos and in the ongoing cleanup. And doesn’t seem to mind that as soon as the floor is spotless, somebody walks in and tracks it up again.
Maybe the challenge is to embrace the mess — the ones that we make, the ones that we are. And then to pick up the mop. To forgive. Be reconciled. Embrace. And smile as we do it.
The floor won’t stay spotless for long. Nor will we. And that’s perfectly OK. A mop is always handy. And there’s always a partner eager to help.
A partner who loves nothing more than a good mess.