I was power walking my way through the slippery section of wet sidewalk, the least favorite part of our morning 5K walk, when I heard Jenna call from behind:
“Or you could be like Sara, powering her way through this mess.”
My two friends were trudging the treacherous path more carefully and slowly.
“I just want to get over it as quickly as possible,” I responded.
The mess and my comment to the girls brought to mind this image from my kitchen counter:
On a typical morning, I awaken to a messy kitchen. My husband and I work together to clean the dinner dishes, wipe down counters, and otherwise say goodnight to a clean kitchen. But sometime between that goodnight and my good morning, the kitchen becomes a mess. I’ll point no fingers, but let me tell you this: I sleep soundly. That’s all I’m saying.
Most days I awaken to find some combination of food and drink remnants sprinkled lavishly atop my counter and gracing my floor. Since I am disturbed by sticky surfaces and unsightly messes, I clean, even though I am fairly certain it is not me snacking in my sleep.
But this particular morning, though I was greeted with a mess, I didn’t initiate cleaning immediately. For in the middle of the mess, I saw the message, lettered with pistachio shells, “I LOVE U.”
I smiled. I grabbed my phone and shot a photo. I took some whole pistachios (accumulated in a pile because they wouldn’t open, apparently) and added “2” and then shot a photo and sent it to the phone of the presumed mess maker.
Having taken the message to heart, I then cleaned away the mess.
It struck me, then, that as I had on that morning’s walk, I tend to tromp hastily through the messes — on my kitchen counter and in my life — in an attempt to get through them, get over them, get them behind me. Out of sight and out of mind.
I wondered if (and, perhaps, how often) I’d missed part of God’s message to me because of my hurried attempt to get through the mess.
I was perusing Facebook and saw a somewhat humorous post by a former student that talked about her self-inflicted mess. Ali humbly admitted she’d had a car accident — again — and totaled her car — again. And she experienced the inconvenience of not having a car to drive to school and work and play.
“The general consensus was that I ‘needed to suffer a little,'” she wrote in her status update. “Which was understandable. As an educator, I’m all about logical consequences so that’s a pretty solid one.”
Though her parents surprised her just a week later with another car, Ali’s mother told her she “wished it had been longer so I could have suffered a little more,” my former student wrote.
“Very happy,” she concluded. “Very lucky to have parents who got me a car (that I am paying back with interest because … adult).”
Her parents let her suffer long enough to get the message: drive carefully! They bailed her out quickly enough to infuse another message — albeit without picturesque pistachio shells — “We love you.”
My messes are sometimes a result of my own mistakes and mishaps. Like Ali, I learn a lesson or pay a price because I need to act like an adult. Or so I can become an adult with better character. Sometimes a mess is also another way for me to understand that someone loves me despite my messes.
(Just as I love that mystery mess maker in my house.)
And love is a lesson worth savoring.
But. maybe, just maybe, I should leave the nightly mess for someone else to clean. After all, messes can be wonderful teachers…