Cleaning Up Messes
This past Saturday, Jason and I retreated for the day and did what we always do this time of year – set goals for the upcoming year. Now I know for some of you, the very thought of setting goals sends a grimace to your face and forms a pit in your stomach. You would rather pour lemon juice on the worst paper cut imaginable than set aside an entire day to set goals. For others of you, the very thought of setting goals sends a flood of joy to your heart and puts a lift in your step – new goals, new year, new start.
If you’re not a goal setter, don’t worry. Today isn’t a push to try to get you to set goals, stick them in a drawer, and then never look at them again until you are cleaning out that same drawer a year later. Some of the most productive people I know hate to set goals. I think most people are either wired to set goals or they’re not.
Unfortunately for our children, both Jason and I are wired-to-the-core goal setters. Often times, I am pretty sure they are looking at both of us thinking, “Good grief, people. Live a little. Lighten up.” But like it or not, their year and our year ends and begins with setting goals.
After 15 consecutive years of talking through our past and future year together, Jason and I have learned we can only sit still for so long. Breaks are frequent, so on one of my breaks, I got up to heat up a bowl of turkey chili. I went into our mud room, opened the fridge, and pulled out the huge tupperware container containing a doubled recipe of turkey chili I had made the day before to make sure we would have enough to eat on throughout the weekend. As I pulled out the container, I quickly discovered I was pulling the lid but not the container, and two pounds of turkey, corn, tomatoes, tomato juice, black beans, and kidney beans dumped all over the bottom of the fridge, into all the drawers, ran under the fridge, and all over our fairly new rug in front of the fridge.
I kept looking around wishing one of my four children was there to blame for the ginormous mess in front of me. But it was me. Just me. Standing in my barefeet in front of the fridge holding a now empty container.
It took me a moment to come out of shock and actually begin to move, but once I did, it took Jason and I a solid hour to clean up that turkey chili mess. Jason was a champ and cleaned right beside me the entire time without a word of complaint. Not exactly the way you want to spend an hour of your day sans kids in the quiet peacefulness of your home.
During that hour, we pulled out every refrigerator door and cleaned every crack and crevice of that fridge. We pulled the fridge out from the wall and cleaned the floor underneath the fridge, floor that hadn’t seen the light of day in probably a decade. We pulled up the rug and cleaned not only the rug but underneath the rug, trying to wipe down every spot that had been stained by turkey chili. And while on my hands and knees wiping out the fridge, I realized I wasn’t just wiping out stains from the mess I had made just moments before, I was wiping out stains from messes made years before…stains that I had never bothered or taken the time to clean.
And here’s what hit me while I was on my hands and knees: some of our lives are one big gigantic turkey chili mess right now. We have stains all over the floors and rugs of our lives, spilling out and over into all the drawers, and we are dreading the clean up we know is ahead of us. Cleaning up this mess isn’t how we were planning on spending our time, our lives, or our energy, and the whole process feels like such a waste.
But I firmly believe this: sometimes God allows the big, messy explosions in our lives because He knows we would never get down to the business of cleaning out some pretty old, stained, dark, and dirty places unless there was an oozing mound of turkey chili running into every crevice and cranny demanding our attention.
Goal setting is messy business. Pulling up the rug and pulling out the drawers of the past year isn’t always fun. Every single time we sit down to set goals, I cry at some point in the process. I become frustrated with myself, with the year, with my marriage, with my kids, with my life, because setting new goals always requires looking at how the old ones have failed. How I have failed. At becoming who I want to be and who I know I should be. And sometimes it’s only when I have the size of a turkey chili mess in my life do I slow down for long enough to clean up all the other messes besides.
So here is my encouragement to us at the end of this year peering into the face of another: don’t be afraid of the mess. Don’t be afraid of the size of the task in front of you. Don’t be afraid of the size of the hole of grief a missing spouse or child has left or the damage a wrecked friendship has done or the failure of an empty bank account to provide. We all have turkey-chili-size messes on the rugs of our year and our lives. Because we are all human. No one’s life is exactly where they thought it would be or what they thought it would be, and if it is, like Tim Keller says, no one can keep it that way.
Just get down on your hands and knees, and start to clean up the mess. And here’s the thing: as you clean, you will look up, like I did, and see your spouse cleaning right there beside you, without a word of complaint. I’m not talking about an earthly spouse. I am talking about your heavenly spouse who cared enough about cleaning up your mess to enter into it. To take on human flesh, think human thoughts and walk a very human life so that He could get down beside you, right in the midst of the messiness, and clean those hard to reach places no one can touch but Him.
F.B Meyer says it this way in his book, Love to the Uttermost: “Again He stoops from the throne, and girds Himself with a towel, and in all lowliness, endeavors to remove from thee and me the stain which His love dare not pass over. He never loses the print of the nail; He never forgets Calvary and the blood; He never spends one hour without stooping to do the most menial work of cleansing filthy souls. And it is because of this humility He sits on the Throne and wields the scepter over hearts and worlds.”
Whatever mess is on the floor or year of your life doesn’t surprise Jesus. It doesn’t phase Him or overly concern Him. And cleaning up your mess doesn’t feel like a waste of His time. It feels like time spent close to you, next to you, scrub brush in hand, cleaning out all the drawers and washing out all the stains. It feels like relationship. It feels like Calvary. It feels like humility. And it feels like perfect love.
So don’t avoid the mess of your year, embrace it, knowing there is One who can clean it as you do the most menial task of getting low and picking up the scrub brush beside Him. And there, in the midst of the mess, you will know no matter what your year or your rug looks like, you are held in the perfect grip of Love who works all messes for good.