People are messy.
What a cute little sentiment, right?
Right out of college, I wanted to love messy people. I wanted to dig into their lives and their stories and hold them through the difficulty and point them to Jesus in the hopelessness. I wanted to do this in the same way I wanted to have my own apartment, or go grocery shopping. It’s, like, fun at first… decorating your very own cozy space, buying whatever food you want as a grown-up. But after a little bit, you realize that even though all your pillows finally match, paying rent all alone is sorta a drag… a slow march towards poverty type of drag. After a little bit, you realize you sometimes have to go grocery shopping after work when you’re hungry and tired and don’t feel like shopping, let alone cooking, but alas, this is the third day in a row you’ve felt this way and you still don’t have food at home and if you go out to eat again your wallet will moan and your arteries will explode and so you turn into Kroger at the last minute. Yes, Kroger, not Whole Foods, because the “pay rent every month” situation has caught up with your “eat organic because of a documentary I watched once” phase.
(Also, did you know that mothers made you eat vegetables, not because they hated you and wanted you to suffer, but because they didn’t want you to grow up to be a fat cow with a bad heart? I learned that recently from a documentary I watched. Adulthood, am I right guys? So much to learn, so much to learn.)
Messy people are like that. Like grocery shopping and apartment renting, not fat cows.
I was so excited to love them well.
I still shine in some messy situations. Dealing with a break-up? I will swoop in with tabloids and chocolate, Gilmore Girls and wine, and we will talk, throw things, cry, laugh, finally make fun of him for that one horribly annoying quality he had I knew you knew about but would never admit.
Break-ups I got in the bag.
But y’all. People are messy. And sometimes you’re tired and hungry and you’ve had the same conversation four times and they’re still messy. Sometimes even Gilmore Girls and wine can’t help a situation. (Okay, no no you have a good point – Gilmore Girls and wine always help. But they, alas, do not always fix.) Ending time with a prayer and a hug sounds great… except messy people come to you again and again with the same issue and your prayers are starting to all sound the same and your hugs are losing their luster.
Someone else could handle this better? Sure. Well, maybe, except for messy people have tried a bunch of other things/places/people and so they’re with you now and, and, and…
“Okay God, what’s the deal? The prayer and hug thing is supposed to work. Why aren’t you stepping in? Why are you leaving me to deal with your mess? Your messy people?”
I work at a church in a mall. Some really messy people walk through our trendy wooden doorway. But they don’t care about trendiness. They don’t care that we have church in a movie theater or that we can text in our questions. They’re not interested in the fact that we are really friggin cool. (Just because it’s self-proclaimed does not make it untrue, okay? Hush.) They just want to be heard. They want to be helped. And they look a little dejected when at the end of it all, all I can offer is a prayer and a hug.
Why shouldn’t they look dejected?
How many messy people have gotten hugged and prayed for? We’re in the Bible belt for pete’s sake, where everything is fixed with a prayer and hug and a mound of fried food. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen God answer prayers. I’ve seen him change hearts. I’ve seen him work miracles.
But I’ve also watched him, over and over and over again, stay seemingly silent. Nothing’s changed in a heart. Nothing’s changed in a difficult situation. Or everything’s changed – in fact, it’s gotten a whole lot worse.
“We’re surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, Lord. Can’t you move just one?”
Sometimes I get dejected. Our church’s storefront is split down the middle with a curtain, separating the front from the back. Sometimes, I do my work in the back behind the curtain so messy people don’t come to me to be listened to and loved.
Yes, yes, I’m the worst.
In fact, I’ve taken something of a poll lately:
- Have people become more annoying?
- Does everyone feel this way about humanity after a certain point?
- Or am I just a horrible person?
The results have varied.
Jesus loved messy people well. He loved demon-possessed people. He loved prostitutes and thieves. He loved the asshole who was going to betray him.
He also frequently went alone to pray to His Father: “Okay God, why aren’t you stepping in? Why are you leaving me to deal with your mess? Your messy people? Can’t we move just one mountain?”
Jesus needed to sit in the back sometimes. Jesus, perfect Jesus, fully God and fully man, needed to restore and reconnect with his Father before going back to love the messy masses. So here’s one reality: it’s okay to sit in the back sometimes. It’s okay to rejuvenate and get filled up and get stuff done. It’s okay to Sabbath and go on vacation and get encouraged at conferences. Because listening and loving with a bad attitude looks a lot like slapping on a syrupy fake smile to hide my mean, bratty thoughts while I impatiently wait for messy people to finish talking. And Jesus didn’t love messy people like that.
He doesn’t love me like that.
I am such a messy person. I deal with the same sins over and over and over again. I struggle to trust God with the same issues repeatedly. He listens to me pray about the same things day after day, year after year. I. Do. Not. Learn.
Truth is, I’m pretty horrible.
And he does not give up on me.
He loves me through it. He shows me himself again, again, again. He forgives and pursues and listens and is the best.
We’re all just messy people trying to help other messy people, aren’t we? We’re all a little horrible if we let ourselves be honest for three seconds. This whole world is a mess. But God is good. God restores. And God gave us each other. So let’s listen and love and take breaks in the back when we need them. Let’s pray honest, frustrated prayers when we don’t see God work and let’s party profusely when he does.
We don’t need more people pretending to listen. We don’t need any more fake smiles or wordy, heartless prayers.
We need each other to get in the back. We need to get alone to cry out to Jesus and trust that he’s working all things for the good of those who love him. We need to rejuvenate. And then we need to march into the front with our ears and hearts open as we listen, love, pray like Mother Theresa and hug like a freaking bear as our messiness starts pooling together, blending, until it all starts looking kinda beautiful in the light of redemption.