Embracing Messiness

Three times in a 24-hour cycle Romans 12:1-2 was in front of my eyes. It was the chapter heading in a book I was reading, the minister’s text in the  Sunday sermon, and again in my Monday morning devotional.


The Message version, in part, reads, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”

Embracing  - where I’m from that means welcoming with open arms. I’m from a family of huggers - the two-armed, full-frontal, Southern kind - maybe even the first time we meet you.  When I see the word ‘embrace’ on a page, I picture my people, the McKnights and the Halls, both sides that I come from, they welcome you with an embrace.  

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  

When it comes to what I deem God’s good gifts, that seems easy, but my experience of the difficult parts of my life is usually anything but embracing. It’s more like denial, maybe resigning myself to reality, or on a good day - acceptance of what is. 

Denial. Acceptance. Embracing.  There seems to be a progression here.

I have a messy life right now. 

I’m having a hard time opening my arms and my heart to it. 

I have this enormous dog who eats large quantities of food, ‘processes’ it, and eliminates it.  He has to go outside - often!  He needs to be walked.  He needs to play fetch, to chew on antlers and rawhide, to have his good training reinforced with practice.  

He loves the water.  At the lake he is in and out of the water all day long, and I’m toweling him off several times a day (hopefully) before he comes inside.  At home, he uses my backyard fountain as his personal spa and chases the water coming from the hose when I’m watering flowers.  I’m toweling him off there too, and bathing him, which then leads to me needing my own bath. I’ve yet to learn how to escape ‘the shake’ when he is water-logged.  

There are numerous towels to wash, dirty floors to mop, and carpets to vacuum. I have to go to the store for dog food again and again and again. 

My daughter is getting married in a little under three weeks. Boxes arrive daily for her. Wedding gifts to open and notate, and thank-you notes pile on the kitchen bar for the outgoing mail.  We save the cardboard boxes because she needs them to move three states away…but where do we save them?  The storage areas are already full with her furnishings from college and the new gifts arriving daily.  The calendar is full with tasks to be complete before June 16th.  We check a few things off the list but add more in place of them.   Pieces of paper, sticky notes, invitations the mailman returned that need a correction (or a stamp!) - The minutiae of planning a wedding and helping her relocate overwhelm me.

I have a messy life right now. 

I’ve been sitting with a counselor for several weeks now at the recommendation of those four beloved friends who are counselors but too close to me to take me on professionally.  I’m trying to do the work of processing trauma with someone trained in a particular type of therapy for this.  He’s good and I think it’s working, but it is another appointment on the calendar and when I leave his office my brain is exhausted from the work. 

I told him a few weeks ago I was considering writing a blog post titled, “I’m making a B in Mother-of-the-Bride.”  And then I stopped myself and asked him, “Why do I feel the need to measure myself in this? Why am I evaluating my own performance in my own life right now?” 

It’s messy. And no amount of my striving or denying earns me an A.  There is no A to earn. 

I would prefer January 6th have been an ordinary day taking a walk and not a traumatic event in my life.  I’d prefer that the last six months have been a neat, beautifully-scripted time of mother-daughter planning a wedding and making lovely Insta-stories rather than daughter seeing mom stumble through fear and anxiety, grapple with mistakes and failures and forgetfulness and lower her housekeeping standards because a dog the size of a small donkey has come to live with us. 

But that isn’t the life we have been given - to embrace.  We have not been given a script to perform or a test to take. We’ve been asked to welcome what has come our way.

In addition to Romans 12:1-2, another thing that has shown up from several directions in my life lately is “The Welcoming Prayer” by Father Thomas Keating. I’ve been trying to start my days with this prayer. 

 Welcome, welcome, welcome. 

I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. 

I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions persons, situations, and conditions. 

I let go of my desire for power and control.

I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. 

I let go of my desire to survival and security. 

I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. 

I open to the love and presence of God and God’s acton within. Amen.

To embrace the messiness, the difficult, the confusing and the seeming failure requires a deeper level of faith than I have known before. I need to believe, and I’m beginning to, that God is love.  Really. That God is love. All he is and does is love. His ontological disposition- all his movement, all his energy, all his plans, throughout all time - everything is toward us in love, even when we cannot possibly see that with natural eyes. 

The wet dog and the cardboard boxes and the wedding invitation that came back because I didn’t put a stamp on it. The bad memories and the man who approached me in the parking lot last week and sent me right back to hair-standing-up-on-my-arms fear - all of that is my “sleeping, eating, walking-around life “ that in my embracing becomes my offering.