I survey the kitchen and living room, and my eyes are assaulted with messes. Mail, worksheets, art projects, toys, plates of food with a few bites left, an origami style army of paper tanks, counting blocks. The messes feel endless. And for a tired mom, the messes can feel like the enemy.
Of course, they’re not. They’re evidence of life and growth. They are the essence of learning, exploring, and doing. A home without messes is a home without people, without life. If I want my children to grow as people, I must invite them to make messes. To take part in learning requires physical stuff to be used, to be handled, changed, glorified.
Then I also must invite them to learn to pick up, put away, restore order, and turn their learning into more than mere mess. A messy kitchen ought not to be chaos only, but the evidence of raw materials being transformed into something tasty and warm and good to eat.
And as I study God’s word, I find the same to be true. His word is living and active, and the process of growth that happens as I seek to understand it, and live my life under its authority and protection, makes messes. Not the kind of messes that are atrophy and dust-collection, but the messes of life and growing and glorification.
Expand Your Categories
As children have joined our family, so have our categories for living. Twelve years ago, I didn’t have a category for a load of laundry that was all pink. But three daughters later, now I do. Before having sons, our family life didn’t include a category for toys that were all of the round and throwable sort, but two sons later, the importance of such things is real.
This is doubly true in relation to our son with disabilities. I had no category in my brain as a 21-year-old for a family that included a son with a feeding tube. I never contemplated what it might be like to change a g-tube or help him sleep hooked up to his tube all night. How could I have? I don’t know that I’d ever heard of such things. Now we’ve expanded our life to include those sorts of things, along with countless other ways our lives have grown, changed, and become messier since having children.
When I study the Bible, the same kind of category expanding happens. The Bible regularly calls on me to open up a new file folder with a title I’d never contemplated before and couldn’t have anticipated.
Form New Files
As I’m currently studying 1 John, I found that I had to create such a category in accordance with 1 John 2:15–16, which says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world.”
John tells us not to love the world, which on first glance, seems external, like all those outside influences pushing in on me. Don’t love your TV or your house or maybe even your family. But then he defines the world as “desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes and pride of life.”
Desires come from within, not without. So I made a new category: desires that come from my sinful self, but are from the world — and that may very well mean I should forsake my TV or love of house. But it was helpful for me to realize that the desire for the world, even the world itself, is in me. The battle to be waged is first internal.
Align with God’s Logic
The Bible reveals God to us, and God’s logic and categories are not fallen or tainted by sin as ours are. So, I constantly am in need of aligning myself with his logic, his categories, his priorities.
And this growth, this stretching of my brain, can make some messes while I’m working them out and growing up into them.
I read in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” I’m given a principle that goes against what society tells me is true. It pressures me toward mere “tolerance” on the terms of unbelief — which is really a form of indifference toward others, not full-orbed biblical love.
John eliminates such a category for the Christian. He tells us that we are to love the brothers, and that not to do so is to hate them — or as he puts it, “to abide in death.” We cannot be indifferent toward our brothers, and their eternal good. We must love them, and the failure to do so is death.
When I seek to work this out in my life, it can get a bit messy. Because the categories of the world that include “tolerance” and indifference are set down more firmly than I may have imagined, and it takes work to shake them off. It takes stepping out of my comfort zone to love and actually care for and about people I was content to ignore or avoid. But God is a strong Helper and his Spirit can turn mere tolerant, indifferent people into loving, big-hearted brothers and sisters.
As we act in obedience to love others, he can miraculously change our feelings toward them. He can delete the category of mere tolerance and help us see the true categories of biblical love and risk.
Give Yourself to His Word
Studying the Bible is a remarkable gift, not to be squandered for fear of the disruption it may cause in our lives. And it is essential, if we want to make the kind of messes that turn into nourishing meals for our soul.
Even, and perhaps especially when, the other messes in your life are piling up, give yourself to knowing God through the Book he’s given us, and ask him to transform your mind and life — to reorder the chaos according to his perfect Word.
The glory, and eventual order, that await us are more than we could ask or think.