Making Friends With Mess

I would die of shame if you came to my house right now.

But because y’all tell me that you love it when I show pictures of my dirty home and I’m feeling extra generous today, here’s a gift: photos of my crazy house. You’re welcome.

The garage looks like it threw up into my kitchen. 

Stacks of folded laundry have been patiently waiting to be put away but the boys’ closet is so full of wadded-up clothes that putting the laundry in the drawers means first clearing a path through a mountain of dirty clothes and super-hero costumes. 

Dishes and dirty pots continue to breed in the kitchen even though I run the dishwasher every day. 

The hallway is lined with stuff to put….somewhere. 

The driveway and side yard have been littered for four days with junk from the garage that my littlest guy configured into a bakery. 

{I mean, this is clearly and obviously a bakery.}

My lamp broke. Again.

And my threadbare sofa cushion finally ripped. 

Much of this mess is kind of my fault.

I decided to clean out the garage a couple of days ago and what I thought would take a few hours is actually going to take a few days. Story of my life. At 5:00 yesterday, dinner came ’round like she always does, mocking me with her demanding daily-ness. I was covered in garage dust, had not a single clear spot on my counter, and felt the weariness of the day begin to wash over me. My husband was teaching late so I was shouldering the evening’s responsibilities by myself. I considered the very messy, disorganized state of affairs and briefly contemplated running away.

Much as it pained me, I left the undone garage for the next day, rolled up my sleeves, and jumped into dinner prep. I stacked up all the dirty, soaking dishes and got busy, knowing that cooking would only add to the mess but also knowing that my kids needed dinner and that my hard-working husband would be starving when he got home. 

In the midst of so much chaos and undone-ness, I was making more mess…but I was also choosing life. Real life. 

Mess is my enemy. My Myers-Briggs type is INFJ. That “J” means that I’m a fan of order. It means my orientation to the outer world is one of structure and decidedness. Sure, I have a rogue spontaneous and creative streak that threatens to keep the order at bay on any given day but generally speaking, I “need” a certain level of environmental peace to be able think and work and breathe.

But yesterday? There was not an ounce of order to be found anywhere. I felt the familiar anxiety rise up from within and I knew I had a choice: I can give in to the freak-out and run around like a lunatic subduing my tiny world so that I can make dinner in a more peaceful environment OR I can just make the soup in the midst of too much mess, do what I can about the dirty dishes, still read to the kids before bed and know that I’ll slowly but surely catch up on the rest throughout the week. And if life interrupts and I don’t get to the rest of the mess like I want to, well, so be it. That’s why God made wine. 

As surely and quickly as I processed these thoughts and resolved to soldier on, I realized that the wildfire mess spreading throughout my home mirrored the deeper stuff of hope and perseverance and choosing life even when it’s falling apart. I considered these things as I stirred the loveliest soup in my dirty kitchen.

Mess, both the literal kind and the less tangible kind, has always felt like the worst kind of adversary. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m a recovering perfectionist, a lover of order, a pursuer of the ideal, a romantic dreamer, a chaser of expectation. When I was younger, I really thought that all of my big sparkly dreams would come true. I did. And I figured that if I just did all of the right things and worked really hard and married the right person, we’d live in the Kingdom of Perfect happily ever after.

But Mess came calling again and again. Despite my best efforts to clean him up, smother him with a cute throw pillow, deny that he existed, and fist-fight him out of my life, Mess kept walking through the back door, dirtying up my house and toying with my life and blasting my little Kingdom of Perfect to smithereens before I could even finish building it. The nerve.

Over many years and through a myriad of unbelievable circumstances I could have never predicted, I gradually befriended Mess. I’ve learned that he’s not the enemy. Without Mess, I’d still be chasing Perfect and kicking Grace to the curb.

I’d think I was better than I really am.

I’d believe that my sweet life had everything to do with my sweet effort and stellar performance.

I’d disdain addicts and squanderers and cheaters and anyone who just couldn’t get it together.

I’d have no use for those who’d made epic fails.

I’d have no reason to receive grace and forgiveness for my own epic fails. 

Mess has taught me that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between any of us. 

Mess has shown me that I can’t get it together. {And also? Why is “getting it together” the goal? I don’t even like people who have it all together.} 

Mess has reminded me that Jesus did not come for those who are well; He came to heal and befriend and live among the sick and lowly {that’s code for messy people.} And in case you’re wondering, I’m in the latter group. 

Mess has grown compassion where there used to be self-righteousness, has allowed me to enter into the dark and embarrassing places in others’ lives because I’ve been there and it takes one to know one.

Mess continues to teach me that the worst circumstances may ironically give way to a better life. Not a perfect life, but a real one. A redeemed one. 

It’s a crossroads I seem to return to time and again. I can wait until things are all better and tidied up before I really start to live. Or I can survey my very imperfect life like I survey the ridiculous disarray of my house…

And as it turns out, one can make a beautiful and delicious pot of soup in a really messy kitchen.


If your own life is looking particularly messy at the moment, here are some related posts from the last couple of years about living real in the midst of mess:


  1. says

    I can relate!!! I’m a “J” too and have struggled in early marriage with young kids to figure out how to live amid the noise and confusion and MESS. But wow, you have outlined in words things that I have also learned through it all. Thank you for this!!

  2. says

    Oh, my friend. This. THIS is exactly what I needed to read today. So much so that I’m about to tell other people about this post. I have a feeling there are lots of us who need to read it.

    I am such a mess (but you knew that already, didn’t you? It takes one to know one, for sure!) that I have never even sent you an email that I’ve been meaning to send for several weeks. And I haven’t even been cleaning out the garage!!

  3. says

    Great post, came over here from Imparting Grace. :) It’s funny how things work, I popped in on Richella’s blog, only to find your blog. It’s funny where God leads us when there’s something he wants us to hear, thank you! XO, Your newest follower

  4. says

    Found my way here from Imparting Grace. While I was reading the beginning of the post of half finished garage cleaning and torn sofas and dirty kitchens, I could feel myself tense up, stress a little. Then you so beautifully released me with words of “not being able to get it together”. So true. And so what I needed to hear. I know I am a mess, but I guess that there is always this hope that one day I won’t be. Ha! I need to kick that thought to the curb.

  5. says

    This is hilarious and inspiring! Welcome to the club! My house looks like a pack of wild animals ran through it. Sad thing is there are only two grown adults living here. Can’t blame it on the kids…they’re all grown and making messes in their own homes.

  6. says

    Boy I really needed this today. For the past couple of years living life has been getting in the way of me attempt to “keep it all together”. I too am a recovering perfectionist. I’m glad to find that I am not the only one who has this problem. I look at everyone’s nice pretty blogs and how they seem to have all the time in the world to get “it” together and I find myself having nothing together. My whole life is in a disarray but I look at it this way…at least I am living. I abhor my home most of the time anymore, but the time spent with my family is so much more important. Besides, someone said once that “a clean house is the sign of a wasted life”. That is so true. The perfectionist side of me hates that saying but in reality life is just too precious to waste. Thanks for the good read today and the reminder to embrace the mess and live life to the fullest.

  7. says

    This post is beautiful. So beautiful. I’ve walked a similar path, thinking if I did everything right everything would be perfect and I would live happily ever after. Then the Mess caught up with me. I blog about finding God IN that mess. Thank you for your transparency and your wonderful writing that makes beauty out of mess.

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