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Fully Loving the Messy

Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. Matt. 18:25-30

In December, we got this tiny 5lb labradoodle puppy who was supposedly to become “chocolate” in color, so we named her Cocoa. At nearly 60lbs, the only brown to be found is under her chin after playing in the mud. She is the smartest dog I’ve ever had and the sweetest, most of the time, except for her tendency to be a bit like Marley. Last Sunday she pooped on our playroom carpet. Monday she ate the strap off of our visiting 5 year old friend’s brand new shoe. And she chewed through the handle strap at the top of his brand new, monogrammed back pack. Tuesday, she threw up a sock that one of our neighbor babies was missing. Wednesday I gave her a bath. Thursday she came in from outside with all of her fur crunchy and filthy, so I gave her another bath. When she drinks water, the fur under her mouth remains so wet that a trail of water is left wherever she goes afterward, which often is to nuzzle her face into one of us. Yuck. I’m reminded over and over why it is we have been dogless for our entire marriage. I’m not much of a dog person, it seems. I don’t like the mess and the smell and the hassle. As I reflected on what poor Cocoa’s observations of me as an owner must be (not wanting her smelly affection which often dirties my clothes, exasperation at her constant destruction of our small things, disdain for the way she interrupts my time and invades my space, and rejection of her attempts to warmly get my attention with her paw because it inevitably scratches my skin), I realized my mothering is not so different. I don’t want their sticky hands touching our house, or their play with clay to leave its mark on our furniture, or their excited affection to bruise or bump me, or their enthusiasm to rattle my peace, or their questions to interrupt me or their needs to disrupt me. I respond in exasperation to their sin, and sometimes not their sin but simply their freedom to be children who want to be both seen and heard. I just don’t like the mess and the noise and the hassle. It was when a third friend invaded my space yesterday and I immediately felt my anger flare up that the warning lights started to flash and the pattern began to make itself clear. Something really toxic has been given free reign in my heart. A disdain for people rather than anything that resembles genuine, selfless love is what is evident in my words, tone and countenance toward others (including my dog.) A resentment of their sin, their mess, their wills which don’t conform to mine, and even their presence interfering with my world revolving around my comfort and pleasure…all give evidence of a heart that has no idea how lavishly or unreasonably or sacrificially it has been loved. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:9-11 This isn’t simply an admonition to be better, do better, be nicer, behave or get over it. It is a reminder that I have forgotten how much of God’s stuff I break and how often I injure his people in my enthusiasm and in my recklessness. I have lost sight of my malodorous attitudes and crunchy, dirty exterior which at times scratch and break the skin of those I love and messes up their clothes and day too. I fail to remember that I almost never “obey right away”, respond with an immediate “yes ma’am” or go through a single day without protest or complaint or words spoken “in the wrong tone of voice.” I’m oblivious to how often I intrude on other people’s spaces and interrupt their time, how often I disrespect God’s space and distrust His timing. I do not honor Him with my words nor the way I use them with other people. It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” John 13:1-8

It is a given that one only comes to Jesus if he or she recognizes the problem isn’t “those people” but that the problem is me. We only finally make an appointment with a counselor when we come to the end of trying to fix ourselves alone. We only finally make an appointment with a doctor when our symptoms persist to the point of interfering with our daily responsibilities and activities. I am disdainful of others when I come to believe that they are my problem.

Jesus did not flee from the lepers but embraced them in their stink, decay and contamination…and healed them. Jesus did not (and does not) humiliate or shame the arrogant or the ignorant but it is His kindness that leads them to repentance. Jesus was never in a panic when His own followers were so self-absorbed they couldn’t even understand Who it was that stood mercifully before them. He is patient, kind, gentle and compassionate. He is more interested in loving fully and restoratively than protecting His space and keeping His robes clean. As a matter of fact, He absorbs my crunchy, scratchy, muddy, malodorous, offensive, wet, drippy and injurious mess and gives me His fresh scented, bright, peaceful, joyful and genuinely loving heart in exchange. Amazing love. May I one day begin to be more passionate about the lives of those around me than preserving my own.

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

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