Grace in the Mess (Or the Joy of Being Imperfectly Perfect)

I remember thinking at the time that all I dealt with was poop.

I’m serious.

You see, back in 2010–2011 our twin sons were still in diapers and we had a new puppy to train. And you know those puppy pads people use? We were buying those and diapers in bulk.

On top of that, as you might imagine, toys were everywhere. Coming into our house meant you would likely step on a stray piece of Lego. And that, I can tell you, hurts.

Plus, dirty laundry piled up faster than we could manage to get to it. Often we found ourselves scrounging for clothes in a basket of clean clothes because we hadn’t yet found the time to transfer the clothes to drawers and closets. Do the kids’ socks match? Who cares!

Life was messy. Our family life was messy. And even though our kids are all teenagers now, this is still true in a lot of ways. Because our family is not perfect. If you were ever to visit us or get to know us, you’d discover this quickly enough. If you drop by, the house might not be perfectly clean, but you’re welcome at our dining room table for a cup of tea, coffee, or your beverage of choice.

Sad to say that for a long time I felt guilty about this. We were a pastor’s family, after all. Shouldn’t everything be neat, tidy, dust-free, and uncluttered? There was a time when I felt self-conscious about someone coming into our house, afraid of what they’d think. Heck, technically no house we’ve lived in is actually ours. We’ve always lived in what’s called a parsonage.

Here’s the thing: I’ve had to learn to accept mess and imperfection. We still have areas of clutter. We have too much stuff. We don’t dust enough. Some rooms qualify for housework emergency status. And we often don’t have time to do all the chores that could use doing.

Not only is our home imperfect, so are we. We have our share of struggles and quirks, stresses and annoyances. We’ve dealt with mental health issues, financial stress, and uncertain situations. There’s always something. And since I’m nearly 50 years old, it’s probably safe to say that this will always be true one way or another.

And yet in the middle of all of this mess and imperfection is also where we find joy and experience love. In our house, we sometimes cry. But we also laugh a great deal. There are moments of seriousness and silliness.

So when it comes to being a family, even a Christian family—and even more so, a pastor’s family—it’s not about being perfect. It certainly isn’t about being problem free. Or even having the appearance of being problem free.

Thinking so is to deny reality. More, it’s to deny the reality of grace. Indeed, if my family or yours was perfect, then where would our need for grace be? And even if while knowing we’re not perfect, we try and project some image of problem-free perfection, we also deny grace. We become unable to receive the very thing we need: the gracious presence and power of God smack dab in the middle of our mess. Whether the mess is in our house or our hearts.

Like when our twin sons were toddlers and we were trying to train our new puppy, our lives are sometimes filled with a lot of poop. In case you hadn’t noticed, poop is messy. There’s no use pretending otherwise. So isn’t it amazing—not to mention reassuring—that Christ was born in a stable among animals, and had a feeding trough as his first cradle? Jesus’ intervention in our lives began in the midst of mess. Jesus, to put it simply, was familiar with surroundings that included poop. If this is so, then we can rest easy that he’s not put off by the messiness of our lives. Because it’s there that he meets us. It’s there that we encounter his grace. And it’s because of his grace that we can know the joy of being imperfectly perfect.

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