Rooms get messy – desks do, too. Snowy roads are messy – but not as messy as muddy ones. The floor of my car tends to get messy when the weather is wet – and so does my backseat, no matter what it’s doing outside. However the messiest, by far, are people!
Someone recently pointed out to me that this is the reason many people prefer to text or send an email over making a phone call. It is also the reason all of the above are often used instead of face-to-face communication. People, you see, are messy.
We have facial expressions. Our voices emit varying tones. Our eyes communicate. Our hands and posture add to things, too. We have emotions – tears and fears, angers and agitations. And, of course, in person we have less time to craft our sentences and zero opportunity to change words once they have been spoken. And I have not even mentioned body fluids, odors, or excrements!
Yes, people are messy – which is exactly why it was so important for God the Son to become human. In order to save us he had to do more than just enter into the mess. He had to actually become messy … messy pants as a baby … messy hands as a child … messy feet that were washed with a woman’s tears … and one extremely messy body that was nailed to a cross.
And just think – he did it all for us … to clean up our messes … to make us clean … and to empower and equip us – we who have been washed in the waters of baptism and clothed with the clean clothes of his righteousness – to boldly step into the messy situations God places before us. I suggest you read the previous sentence – all of it – again. And then think very seriously about the messes our messy God would like you to be messied by.
I text people regularly and send multiple emails every day. Each week includes many conversations on the phone. These are fully appropriate means of communication. However, there are some things that are just done much better in person … even though – you know – those situations can get messy.
I like my desk to be clean (basically) and organized. I keep my shirt tucked in, my face shaved (most of it), and my shoes polished (as best I can). But, in many ways, I am very messy. If I could spend every day just visiting people … in their homes (no matter how they appear) … in hospitals or nursing homes … in my office or a coffee shop … you would not hear me complain – even if it meant giving up every other aspect of ministry. I don’t mind preaching. I enjoy facilitating small groups. And I do quite a bit of parish administration. But, in my mind, the real work – and the fun stuff – gets done when I am getting messy with someone one-on-one … or something similar.
I know it can feel messy visiting a family in the funeral home, however, as caring as a sympathy card is, a visit can do more, even if you do not know what to say. Introducing yourself to someone you do not recognize can be messy, but it expresses a welcoming care that is unmatched – even if it turns out you should have recognized them. I recently heard a Michigan health care official suggest we replace the term “social distancing” with “physical distancing”, because we need the social contact (we are social creatures by creation) even if it needs to be while standing six feet apart. And, I might add, even if it feels messy.
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10.23-25) Somehow, I feel like he is talking about more than just worship and FHL small groups. I think he is talking about face-to-face conversations with people … even though people are, you know, messy!