My life feels busy—sometimes crazy busy. While homeschooling five kids who are in various activities, it feels like a lot of juggling to make it all work. And although I aspire to have a clean and organized home, the reality is that I am so not there. I can even feel the chaos creeping in—a few more dirty dishes in the sink, a few more books piled on the counter, a few more puzzle pieces left out. Then, if I’m not careful, it’s full on crazy-town house, where there is crusted play dough on the carpet, piles of dirty clothes, and don’t even ask about the kitchen. What happened? Why is it so chaotic? Because kids? Because I’m a bad house keeper? Because my hubby doesn’t pick up the slack?
It’s not really any of that. It’s that my surroundings begin to dictate my feelings, and I have let the chaos in. It enters through my perception of my circumstances. Because the truth really is that even if I had a perfect system and was on top of my schedule and my house was perfectly clean and my kids were actually tiny self-cleaning robots, these things would not guarantee my sanity—and I would not automatically have peace. Because there would always be something else. Because the enemy doesn’t play fair, and even if I had the best hand, he’d throw in the ace he’s hidden up his sleeve. He cheats by whispering: You aren’t good enough. You haven’t cleaned up enough. You are failing miserably, and it is your fault. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Because it’s not an equation. Because a clean house doesn’t equal success whereas a messy house equals failure. Because there are seven of us and we are all still learning how to live together. Because we all need grace Every. Single. Day. Grace says, I refuse to judge you for your sticky floor because I see your heart and know that making pancakes with your toddler says love so much more than a freshly mopped floor. Grace says, yes the space is cluttered but let’s work on this together as a team—without blaming or casting judgment on the sloppiest child (who also may be the most creative). Grace says, in the midst of the chaos—the whirling storm of judgment beating down on your soul—choose peace.
In the gospels, there is an account of Jesus calming a literal storm. Jesus was with his disciples late one night on a boat, and a “furious” storm broke out, where waves were actually crashing into the boat. The storm was so terrible that the disciples thought they were going to die. And in the middle of this awful storm, Jesus was sound asleep. He was at complete peace in the middle of complete chaos. The chaos was around but it was not within. “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:38-39)
I am reminded of Jesus on that boat when I think about my daily struggles. When I choose to reject those critical voices within, the storm calms and there is peace. Because there will be seasons that things don’t look perfect on the outside. There will be sticky counters and messy projects and piles of laundry. And so the storms will rage. But looking past the outward, going deep within—that is the place to find rest. And this is a reminder to me, to choose peace in the middle of my mess.
I overheard part of a conversation between two Christians. “How are you?” “Better than I deserve.” It got a bit awkward because the answer wasn’t understood and needed to be explained that being forgiven is better than is deserved. While I believe this is true, it made me angry. I had to figure out why.
I thought of Edgar Allan Poe’s, The Cask of Amontillado. In this story of revenge, Montresor lures Fortunado to his cellar in search of an elusive wine. At one point Fortunado, drunk and feeling pretty happy with himself, thinks he is in the company of a fellow Mason, and essentially does the secret sign. Montresor gives a look that says he does not know what Fortunado is doing. Asked if he is a Mason, Montresor says yes; pulling a trowel from beneath his cloak. Unfortunately for Fortunado, Montresor is about to entomb him in the cellar. It’s twisted, it’s so approPoe, and it’s an image I have never been able to forget. However God can redeem even the twisted mind of Poe.
In breaking down my “better than I deserve” anger, I realized it stemmed from the response being lazy and dishonest. The dysfunction of asking how someone is doing and not really caring aside, the answer bypassed the obligatory “Good”, but still managed to say nothing real. It was a throw away/standby answer that bought time and gave the speaker a safe distance under the guise of spiritual camaraderie.
Especially when overheard, we can go into oration mode and speak to the invisible masses instead of individuals. We take the greatest Truths and truncate them to bumper sticker cliche’s outside the application of our own lives and the things we are experiencing in an effort to remain the wizards of our own Oz. We must answer, but only in a way to keep the attention off of our true selves. I have two main issues with this.
- When we use club phrases with believers who make up the rest of the body of Christ, we take away the requirement to elaborate on our individual needs at the present. We think we are not allowed to let the inner thoughts be known and distance ourselves under the guise of connection and belonging. Only we feel disconnected, and are frightened of not truly belonging should we speak honestly.
- Too often the body of Christ communicates within a club mentality using snippets of Truth. We’ll say things unbelievers do not understand in a way to bait the conversation and wait for them to ask questions. We think saying “Better than I deserve”, and things like it, are our secret signs of belonging and an invitation for the curious to join our club. By saying weird and awkward things Jesus is lifted high because we are in the world but not of it? There is no theology of different. When the Truth of the salvation Jesus offers through his death, burial, and resurrection is known, we will be different because we cannot hold back the work of the Spirit of the living God.
These phrases have the opposite of the desired effect and become stones that we pile up to protect us from others. We wall ourselves alive from those who know Jesus and from those who don’t. The result however, is the same. We are isolated, ineffectual, and frightened. The only way out from being walled alive is to start removing the stones of verbal distance and replace them with the foundational building blocks of realness.