Running the Race: Keeping Joy in the Mess

by Rev. Doug Gray

I have scoured the internet, and here are my “Top Ten Ways You Know You’re a Mom”:

10.    You know you’re a mom if you’ve ever crawled under a crib at 2 a.m. searching
         for a pacifier like your life depended on it.
9.      You know you’re a mom if your emergency kit for the car is not jumper cables
         and a scraper, but Band-Aids, tissues, diapers and wipes
8.      You know you’re a mom if you think of physical pain on three levels: pain,
         excruciating pain and stepping on a Lego.
7.      You know you’re a mom if happy hour has become the 60 minutes between
         your kids going to bed and you going to bed.
6.      You know you’re a mom if...you can recite 10 children’s books in the car at a
         moment’s notice.  One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish......and so much more!!
5.      You know you’re a mom when, instead of running from vomit, you run towards it.
4.      You know you’re a mom if you have tried at least once to put your husband in time out.
3.      You know you’re a mom if you’ve ever stuck a pacifier in your mouth just to clean it off!
2.      You start rocking from side to side when you hear a crying baby.
1.       Hearing “Mom!” yelled out in public makes you stop and look around, even when
         your kids aren’t with you (or have grown up).

Now I know we are not all moms here, but we have all had moms, and there are some things our list above—and Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi!—seem to have in common:  they all offer us insights into how to keep our joy in the middle of the mess.
First, in the middle of the mess, we notice the unexpected blessing of opportunity. For Paul, the mess is being in prison—not something most of us have had to do. Paul discovers that what should be holding him back, making it harder to share the Good News of Jesus Christ—that being in prison is actually helping him. A friend of mine worked in a nation-wide market chain, and she hated it. She didn’t like the environment, or the people or the products she was selling. “Why do you stay, then?” I asked. She stopped for a minute, then said, “Besides the money? Because maybe the way I know God will come through in how I live and treat people.” I think she was totally right. True, in that economically depressed area, she didn’t have a lot of job options, but she recognized that some of the most hurting people in our community either worked or shopped at that store. In the middle of our mess, we may suddenly find an unexpected opportunity.
Second, in the middle of the mess, we find out what really matters. Paul has learned that some people are sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ for selfish or even greedy motives. Now that might upset us, but Paul is cool—as long as Jesus is proclaimed. That’s something we learn from loving others, right? Things that used to gross us out—now we don’t even bat an eye. Things that used to make us flip out, now we don’t even worry about. Why is that? I think one reason is that we figure out that what matters is the one we are caring for—child, adult, friend, partner. Unclean and disgusting situations? Yeah, sometimes—but we are unfazed out of love and compassion for them. In the middle of the mess, what matters is that they know they are loved.
Finally, in the middle of the mess, we find our purpose. Occasionally we may have clean, crisp moments when our purpose becomes crystal clear. Thank You, God for those! But my experience is that most of the moments that define us are messy. Part of Paul, for instance, writes, “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” Our lives could be easier, less messy. I guess we could try to escape…but when we really look into the eyes of the people who count on us…the trust they have in us, the hope they have because of us…perhaps they are why we are on this planet? Seeing people become, being with them through thick and thin, praising and thanking God for what we have…priceless! We may not ever get thanks from the people whose lives we touch and bless…but if they experience joy, it’s enough.
As it’s Mother’s Day, perhaps a story of my mom will illustrate the combination of these. For second grade, my parents switched me from public school to a private school. I will never forget coming back from the first day of class, sobbing because everyone was expected to know how to write cursive and I only knew how to print my letters. My mom seemed to take it in stride—well, then you need to learn how to write cursive. She spent four hours that day, teaching me how to write. I had to work at it, practice, pay attention, struggle with it—but Mom was there beside me. I knew we could do anything. As I look back at that evening I realize how Mom took my rotten day, my anxiety and my despair and found the opportunity to teach me about loving someone enough to suffer with them. Through her patience and perseverance, I learned I could do anything I really worked at—and I knew I really mattered to her. I learned that her strength and joy seemed to grow when things were hard.
Which brings us back to finding joy in the midst of the messiness. Real love tries to do the right thing whatever the conditions. It’s Jesus, the Son of God, leaving heaven and immortality to be born as a baby, to experience what it was like to live the mess that our lives can be, to be tempted in every way like we are. Jesus knows what it’s like to have a messy life, but somehow he always seems to know the loving thing to say, the right thing to do, the thing that God wanted. We often think of Jesus suffering on the Cross—and for sure He did, even though our lives were a mess—but the messiness is part of his living with us too. He touched people who were gross and smelly, opened Lazarus’ tomb though it would smell, even healed those who had leprosy. He hung out with people’s whose lives were a struggle—prostitutes, tax collectors, the broken and desperate. So if your life and mine are messy, tough and a struggle, Jesus is happy to meet us there. Jesus is happy to help us find the opportunity in the mess, find what really matters in the mess, find our purpose in the mess. Perhaps in the mess, joy will find us as we live the love of Jesus Christ.