How to deal with the messes of life

The following post contains use of the word s***. I don’t use profanity prolifically or gratuitously, but in this case, it’s appropriate. If the word offends you, I’m asking that you skip this post and come back another day.

Sunday morning dawned with the hope of a new day. It was our first Sunday together as a family in our new house when we didn’t have any church responsibilities other than showing up on time and joining the rest of the congregation. We’d had pizza for supper the night before and some family time. I was full in many ways, and I had visions of easing into my day. Sipping coffee on the porch while reading the Bible. A quiet, uninterrupted communion with God. I escorted the kids to the kitchen for breakfast while my dream morning played out in my head.

And that’s when I remembered the pizza that had fallen off the stove onto the floor between the fridge and the stove.

When I looked for it, it was gone. I woke up my husband and asked if he’d remembered to thow it out after the stove cooled. He said, “no.” I went back to the kitchen and discovered mouse droppings on the stove, on the counters. I sighed and began whining internally about how unfair it was that on Sunday, the Sabbath, I had to clean my kitchen counters of mouse droppings when what I really wanted to do was commune with God while drinking coffee and reading the Bible and sitting on the porch.

My husband took care of the kids’ breakfast needs while I reluctantly immersed myself in clean-up.

***

A few weeks earlier, on another Sunday morning, my husband and I took a walk through our new neighborhood. We’d moved in the day before, the kids were visiting their grandparents, and we had plenty of time before church. We’d been wanting to explore the nearby park together, so that’s the direction we headed.

It was a warm morning, but I drank coffee anyway, because really, that’s what I do most mornings. We kept our pace leisurely and just enjoyed being together and discovering our new community. As we neared the park, I took in the greenery. I love nature, and having a park with a creek and trees and ponds and fountains nearby is like having a little bit of heaven within walking distance.

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We rounded the ponds and came upon groups of geese–mamas, papas and babies–loitering on the banks. And the path was unsurprisingly covered in goose poop.

Walking the path became less serene as we took unnatural steps to avoid stepping in it. I found myself looking down at the path instead of out at the water and the trees. The second half of our walk was more about not getting messy than enjoying the beauty around us.

***

Shit happens.

It’s a phrase that’s been around as long as I can remember. And that scene from Forrest Gump always makes me smile when Forrest unknowingly gives the guy looking for a T-shirt slogan his solid-gold idea.

And it’s true. Look at the world today and some days, that’s the only way to describe it.

Shit happens.

But that’s not the end of the story.

***

I cursed the mouse as I emptied the counters, donned gloves and began removing the droppings and vigorously washing the counters and dishes. I tried not to imagine germs and toxins and death particles invading my house. (Yes, I have an overactive imagination.) I felt tears forming as I lamented the loss of my easy Sabbath.

And then reality hit. Or maybe it was the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear.

Do you think you can’t commune with God, here in your kitchen while serving your family?

I’m reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, and I know the answer. I can commune with God anywhere.

My thoughts turned away from the task, though I still battled the whine.

Why did I think I deserved an easy start to my Sabbath? Would I become more like Christ while sipping coffee and reading the Bible on the porch, or by humbling myself, denying myself and serving my family by performing this icky task?

I didn’t want this. But this is what I got.

And as I cleaned up the droppings, I wondered how many people start every day with the equivalent of cleaning shit off the kitchen counters, with no end in sight? How many people walk through their day with shit-covered shoes because they don’t have any other choice? And how many of us are oblivious because we’re living a life of relative ease?

I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want hardship. I want an easy life. A healthy life. An all-my-bills-are-paid-and-then-some life.

But that’s not the life I’m promised in Christ.

Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

For some of us, overcoming happens here in this life. For some of us, we’ll never see it on this side of heaven.

***

The night before he died, Jesus ate a meal with his closest friends. During the meal, he got up and washed his disciples feet. I don’t always get how significant this was. The disciples’ feet would have been covered in dirt and probably shit. Think of all the animals on the roads. Sometimes I think we pretty up this story a little too much. Jesus washed away the shit. The grime. The stuff they picked up unknowingly while traveling. Then he asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”

I’d be the first to say, “No.” I still don’t get it. How God becomes man and enters the mess of humanity, takes on the worst of what humans have to offer, and redeems it.

“I’ve washed your feet. Now wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example than you should do as I have done for you. … No servant is greater than his master.”

The Gospel of John lays it out there. The example Jesus set was to get involved in people’s lives, dirty though they might be. To touch lepers. To speak to women as if they were human beings. To approach the demon-possessed unafraid.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. That’s another saying I’ve heard. But I think I’d call that bullshit.

The Psalms say the Lord is close to the broken-hearted. I think he’s also close to those whose lives are a mess, for whatever reason.

***

Weeks after our first walk through the park, we went back with the kids. We warned them about the goose poop. Our son wanted to ride in the wagon. We let him. As we rounded the bend where we first encountered the massive amounts of poop, I began to watch where I walked. I told our daughter to do the same. She took a few careful steps and then began skipping and running along the path, with no further thought to the goose poop on the path.

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Shit happens.

I can choose to walk through life carefully avoiding getting any of it on me while missing the joys of life. Or I can skip through life, enjoying the world around me, shit or no shit.

I may not have a choice about where the shit falls. Or when. Or how much.

But I can choose how I respond to it.

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7 thoughts on “How to deal with the messes of life

  1. Do you think that you will ever publish any of this stuff? it’s certainly inspiring….You could have a collection of these… short stories…or else submit this to a magazine, like Reader’s Digest, or some other magazine that publishes inspiring short stories.. a Christian magazine perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be . .. this article would fit in several different magazines…I hope you are keeping all the articles you write… i know you are thinking along the lines of “what you can do someday” as far as your writing goes… but you have a lot of people who believe that your stories are great and would encourage you to publish them and they are an inspiration to a lot of people… I especially like this one, because I remember walking around goose poop one summer in Page Park near the high school, after the geese had been on dry land for awhile…and I certainly know what it means to clean up when things have gotten messy, there is always something to clean, but you are right, we are still serving God, by cleaning up those messes… it’s a different way to communicate with God… realizing you are doing it for your family, makes it all worthwhile.. There is profound joy in everyday life, no matter how crazy or mundane it seems.. This is just so joyous knowing that someone else realizes it too…. take care.. Mary

    • Mary,
      Thank you so much for your encouragement. I have a lot of ideas for writing floating around in my head, and I believe the time is coming soon when I’ll know what direction to take. In the meantime, I keep writing what’s on my heart. Thank you for reading. 🙂

  2. I love this post, especially the part at the end about “skipping through life, shit or no shit.” I’m thankful for God meeting me in my mess, not waiting for me to get my life together. Thanks for your awesome writing!

    -Peter from the Bridge

  3. Lisa, this post is excellent. I am honestly convicted and humbled by your insight. Thank you for sharing this story and your wisdom!

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