I like the expression “I’m a hot mess.” Somehow it’s better than saying, “I feel really uncomfortable.”
People going through hard times can be a hot mess and still make it. They can learn to wade through their discomfort to a new place. They can realize that though they feel messy, they may actually be OK.
In 1968 my mom was a “hot mess.” My dad had gone off to Viet Nam for a year. Death over there was a regular thing. She had us two kids (I was eight and my sister was five) and life wasn’t working too well.
One day Shirley Wratten, a friend whose husband had died in the war, shared with her about a God who loved her in spite of her shortcomings. And my mom decided to put her life as she’d lived it up for foreclosure. She decided to move from a place of stiff religion to personal faith.
And from then on, my mom was not a hot mess anymore. Now she was a crazy lady – a fanatic. She passed out tracts to parking lot attendants. She led Bible studies in the bad part of town. She got up early and prayed on her knees.
And one day her prayers were rewarded when my dad walked through our front door again. Our family would never be the same.
All my life I never wanted to be a fanatic. The life of a fanatic scared me to death. As a teenager and for a number of years thereafter, I afforded myself the luxury of not joining her in her craziness. I had never been a hot mess like her; never been wrecked. And so, I was able to follow God from a distance, like an admirer.
When my life became messy, I thought,”Hey, bad stuff happens to everyone.” I was able to hold it together as a respectable Christian for a long time.
But then I lost my job. We had five kids and our family planning efforts got shot all to hell. The coup de grace came when our marriage came under attack. I didn’t have the words, but I think I declared emotional bankruptcy. I was a hot mess indeed – a wreck. Life as I’d lived it just wasn’t going to work anymore.
When God showed up and spoke to me in the middle of that place, I said, “To heck with respectability; I can’t afford it anymore.”
It’s one thing if I’m kind of rolling along in my life with nothing in particular going wrong, but when random painful things begin to pile up in strange ways, you can’t do normal life anymore. As my mom discovered, at some point you have to get off the fence and start acting in sometimes foolish ways. I like what Jim Elliott said, “I’m a fool for Christ, whose fool are you?”
At the end of our lives, we are stripped of our dignity. We’re back in diapers, our teeth fall out, we drool. Like it or not, the lot of a fool becomes our destiny.
The writer of Ecclesiastes concluded that the really foolish thing is to live our lives with our head in the spiritual sand. Paul put it this way: “If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise.”*
Respectability is overrated. It’s a good thing to be a hot mess. But it’s a bad thing to stay that way. I learned it’s better to get wrecked and deal with the consequences.
*1 Corinthians 3:18