Mess is not my favorite thing; in fact, it is something that I actively seek to avoid. My kids must hear me say, “Don’t make a mess” or “Don’t do that! It will make a mess!” at least a dozen times every day. However, clutter, spills, dust and pet residue are not the only messes I clean up every day. ‘Messy’ is one of my favorite adjectives for life because it neatly sums up the unfinished to-do list, the rearranged schedule, the misunderstandings in relationships, the stuttered conversations and the scrambled emotions of my regular weeks. ‘Mess,’ ‘messy,’ and ‘messier’ are frequent guests in my home these days, but they are rarely welcome ones.
Contentment, for me, is the opposite of messy. When I think of being content, I think of myself relaxing with a glass of tea or iced coffee, my feet up and a good book in hand while I survey my sparkling home, my completed to-do list and my napping children. Contentment is a long-term vision in my mind. It is something that I am working towards and plan to achieve when all of my ducks are in a row, all of my wrinkles are smoothed out and all of my weaknesses have been transformed into strengths. My mental reflex is to assume I’ll be content when I have that last home item purchased, my wardrobe fitted exactly to my taste and my kids are only playing with handmade toys. The catch, unfortunately, lies in the chase. I am pursuing contentment and therefore it will always elude my grasp. Contentment cannot be obtained; it must be learned.
The thought recently occurred to me that contentment is not a human quality; it is a spiritual one. It can only come when I am less affected by circumstances and more aware of what is lasting. If I can manage my expectations for daily living in such a way that I can accept that mess happens (a lived-in home, unpredictable kids, unfinished lists, upturned plans, etc.), my heart will remain peaceful and so will my demeanor. The joy and peace which come from being content are more lasting than the satisfaction I feel from getting what I want. In the biblical book of Philippians, chapter four, the Apostle Paul declared that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstance he found himself. What was his secret? Only this: finding strength in Christ.
You see, I become dissatisfied with life when it leaves me wanting something more or something different. I am weak with the wanting. But if I learn to experience Christ’s strength sustaining me through the trial of want (or need), I will discover peace and contentment. Practically speaking, what changes am I implementing as I learn contentment? Rejoicing in what I do have rather than groaning about what is not mine. Purposefully recognizing how I am growing in strength and character as I endure hardship. Replying with gentle tones to difficult circumstances when I would rather cry or yell. Resurrecting buried dreams and desires and making time to live them.
The truth is that mess can be a beautiful thing if it reminds you of your priorities. It can be a pathway to better things, in fact, when schedules have to be unexpectedly rearranged or time has to be taken to rest and relax. I do know that the tone in my home has changed for the better since I have embraced learning to be content in the mess.