This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet two incredible women who shared their stories for a benefit for St. Agnes House. Heather (who blogs at extraordinary-ordinary) and Ellie (who blogs at One Crafty Mother) spoke about being beautiful messes.
I wish more people had heard their profound message this past weekend, but I know that those who did hear it were changed and affirmed by our sacred time together. I also know that hearing such truth is not for sissies. Through their honesty in sharing their life stories, they peeled back that tacky veneer of perfection that we all develop. As we live, we learn, unfortunately, that our imperfections, our failures, our wounds and scars are distasteful in proper society. So we paint over them, paper over them, and cover them with all sorts of tricks.
The mess always surfaces, and eventually some of us give in and decide to explore our messiness. Many don't, sadly. In the Church, I often hear what Mary and I call "Awesome-Offs" among clergy. Clergy gather to share how rich their church is, how many members it has, how their church is single-handedly saving the human race, and how, in the clergy's spare time, they are writing God's memoirs. Clergy themselves often paper over their wounds by piling on the external affirmations and validations. Don't get me wrong, we need the externals, but when they become the sole way we know we are worthy, trouble is just around the corner.
At one time in my life, I enjoyed and participated in the awesome-offs. I wanted to be awesome and wonderful. I wanted to be well-appointed and totally together with a nifty job title and the accouterments that went with it. I accumulated degrees and awards and lines on a resume and felt quite awesome. Until I realized I was not.
Until God reminded me, in the midst of huge amounts of grief and disappointment and pain, that I was quite a beautiful mess. Being honest about my messiness was initially hard, so very, very hard. A physics and calculus exam in Latin hard. Seeing the true reflection of yourself with your mess is painful. I wanted to go back, to be perfect and put-together again, but I couldn't. So I discovered slowly, carefully, and cautiously, with the help of close friends and an amazing therapist, slowly, my very own mess.
At first I didn't think it was beautiful. I was ashamed of it. Horrified by it, and I wanted it to go away. But as I kept discovering, I saw God shining through the cracks and breaks. At first in pinpricks of light, but then I saw holiness in the mud, and I heard prayers in the ashes. I touched my beautiful mess. I named it aloud. I picked it up in my hands and held it to my cheek. I saw it as God sees it, not shameful at all, but my tangible, earthy humanness that was raw material in beauty and ugliness, elegance and messiness.
I am far more impressed by those who stand before us and share their pain and messiness, who speak of their struggles in addiction recovery, who show us their scars, who tell us that on a good day, maybe - maybe - they manage to iron their outfit and eat four servings of vegetables and take dedicated time for prayer, but they also swear while they pray and cry in the middle of Target because, when they pass the birthday cards, they remember they totally forgot their nephew's birthday two weeks ago. Okay, I did this - this one is mine. Bo, I wish I could tell you I won't do this again, but your Aunt is a beautiful mess, so I probably will, but I will also always let you be your own beautiful mess. No. Matter. What.
So, how to own your beautiful messiness? Some ideas sparked from Heather and Ellie's sharing and our own experience:
Don't tell me how perfect you are, because I know you aren't. I'm not. None of us are. If the best you can do is be silent about your mess because you haven't yet seen the light of God shine through your brokenness, I'm good with that. But please don't lie to yourself or me or any of us with your stories of perfection. And I've participated in all the Awesome-Offs allotted to me in this lifetime. So when I roll my eyes and leave, you'll know why.
Don't tell me how perfect your church is, because I will wonder if it's a church. My church is place where the saint and sinner is welcomed equally, even, especially, in the same person. God loves the messes. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, David, Mary Magdalene, Peter - all beautiful messes. God changed the world with them. Perfect people in church read the Gospel; messy people in church are the Gospel.
Don't tell me how my messiness is a sign of weakness. Be brave enough to listen to my story, without judgment, without advice, without diminishing me. Hold my hand if you feel very brave. Bring me chocolate. Be honest enough to run away if my beautiful mess scares you. Messy people have a bravery that takes my breath away. If you can't be breath-taken away, then don't suffocate me with your "perfection."
Do remember that loving our beautiful messes is a lifetime commitment that will never be easy. As Heather said so perfectly, "I wish I could learn the hard lessons in life without slamming into a wall at 100 mph." So do I, but perhaps slamming into a wall shatters the false perfection. Then and only then can God show us the colors and beauty of the pieces of our broken selves on the floor. And then and only then can God piece them into resurrection.
Do love me in my beautiful mess. And know that I am learning to love myself, my messy, sometimes disastrous, sometimes breathtaking self.
Do love your own beautiful mess. Only the darkness gives depth and dimension to art. Only your scars give depth and dimension to your soul. Again, I've got it on my list to ask God, "Why?" Right now, the best I can do is accept it as truth.
Do check out Heather and Ellie's blogs. Read, learn, and inwardly digest. And love the beautiful mess that you are. Just as God loves the beautiful mess that you are.