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From a Mess Comes a Message

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 23, 2010

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

We like order.  We like for things in our lives to run smoothly.  We like peace and calm and serenity.  Actually, we love those things, and we’ll move proverbial mountains in our lives trying to get them.  We squelch, endure, tolerate, avoid, look past or over, rationalize or even ignore–all in the name of achieving or preserving peace.  In a pinch, we’re even willing to settle for the facade of those things rather than deal with the fallout from their absence.

The trouble with all that is that  life is messy.  We’re messy because we’re works-in-progress.  Works-in-progress on the road to perfection require change.  That’s how we perfect.  And change, even good change, usually makes a mess.  Messes disturb order, peace, calm and serenity.  It’s the way of things.

Take cleaning out the closet or the garage.  You pull everything out, which creates an awful mess, and then sort through, keep some things, set some aside for another family member to take to their home, decide to donate some other things, haul some stuff to the trash (and now the can’s overflowing), and before you know it, you’ve got boxes everywhere and stuff coming out of your ears.  But you keep working at it and bit by bit you put the select stuff back into the closet or the garage, and the undesired items get to their respective places, and your closet or garage is neat, orderly, and clutter free.  You kept the good and ditched the rest.

We do this with our closets and our garages.  We also do it with ourselves.  We adopt mindsets, attitudes and behaviors.  Eventually, good ones (or ones we perceive as good) we keep.  The others we reject.  So what’s the problem?

There is one.  Really.  It’s this:

How often do we decide to clean out the closet or the garage?  Don’t laugh.  There’s a very good insight here (at least, it was for me).  Maybe once or twice a year.  More honestly, when we get sick and tired of looking for something we can’t find because things are such a mess.  Then, we clean.

Mess encourages us to clean.  It’s an opportunity, really.  One we can seize or ignore.  But sooner or later, we decide, you know, I can’t stand this mess anymore.  I’m going to spiffy it up around here.  And so you do.

This little truism got me to thinking.  What if there were no mess?

Without the mess, we wouldn’t have a signal to clean things up–including us.  And so, I fear, we’d do what we do–pay attention to other things that snag our attention.  We’d ignore what didn’t insist we address it.

And that little truism has me thinking, too.  Most messes don’t start out huge, they start out small.  But if we ignore them, they grow.  Then, instead of dealing with a little mess, we’ve got a mountain to move.  Is this, I wonder, how people become toxic?  Heartless?  Hopeless or cruel?  Is it how they become jaded and cynical and fail to see the good in anything?

A toxic person–one who immerses in toxic behavior, actually–didn’t go from well balanced and normal to toxic in a day, just as a closet or a garage doesn’t turn into a disaster zone in a day–well, not without a disaster like a tornado, anyway.  So there had to have been time when choices were made to ignore the signals of the little messes.  Scrapes, brush burns and that sort of thing.  Ones where the underlying issues weren’t addressed or they would have been reconciled and prevented the little messes from becoming big, destructive, ones of monumental force.

I was reading in James last night, and that spurred this whole line of thinking.  In it, we’re told that God neither does evil nor tempts us to do evil.  Temptation is earthly, born of our own desires and, when we give in to them, that’s sin.  James also warns us that all men are tempted.

I’ve been chewing on that ever since, and I think it applies to messes, too.  They’re meant to stir things up.  To make us think and pay attention to what we’re doing, who we are or who we’re becoming.

We do make our own messes.  We choose to stuff something in the closet rather than where it belongs.  Leave things out of place in the garage until we’ve got haphazard stacks everywhere threatening to fall on unsuspecting toes.  Inside, in our spiritual selves, the same is true.   We’re tempted to say or do something we know we shouldn’t do, and we go to great lengths to justify doing it because we’re tempted to do it.  We see some gain, some benefit.  And maybe we do go ahead and do it.  That’s where we get our mess.

Because we’ve compromised or rationalized and found a way to slide a little once, it’s easier to do so again.  We survived the first mess–which wasn’t too bad.  Only now we discover the first mess is still there waiting for us to address.  Now it’s bigger because we’ve added the fallout from mess #2 to it.  And on it goes until we’ve got Mess Mountain and it’s in our face and we have nowhere to go and no way around it.  We must clean it up.

So we do.  And during the cleaning, we recover lost treasures.  Things we hadn’t seen or thought about in a long time.  We even take a stroll or two down memory lane, like when we pull out old pictures.  We remember when they were made, remember those who are now gone.  We get perspective, a clearer picture.  Free from the clutter, we look inside ourselves and we decide whether we like and feel good about what we see, or if don’t.

And in that decision we discover a message.  That message might be to stop sliding, a warning that the slope is indeed slippery and when we hit bottom, we’re really going to hit bottom.  That message might be to get our priorities in order.  To focus on some lost dream that’s time has come.  Whatever the message we get it now.  We recognize it for the opportunity it is, and we have a chance to address it.  Whether or not we actually do address it and how we address it is our choice.  But the opportunity is given to us.

Yet it wouldn’t have been possible–the opportunity, I mean–without the mess.

So messes are incredibly valuable.  We’re busy, we’re flawed, we’re occupied.  We ignore.  Without the message, we wouldn’t recognize the opportunity to clear the clutter.  Without the opportunity, we’d be condemned to bigger and meaner and more messes that eventually would become toxic.  Toxic, we’d be miserable–and make those around us miserable, too.  Now that doesn’t sound at all appealing.  Not to me.

Okay, so messes have value.  Lots and lots of value.  Without the mess, we wouldn’t get the message.

That truth is there for us in the very words.  Doubt it?  Try spelling message without first spelling mess.

Now why didn’t I notice that before . . .?




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