Over the past few years I’ve noticed a trend in popular women’s theology (ie “mom blogs” and playground conversations) that goes something like this: My life is such a mess. Isn’t it great that I own that?
The trend isn’t just out there. I was taken aback recently when I found myself chastising a lawyer friend of mine for posting photos of the homemade valentines she crafted for her 4 year old son’s class. I wrote something along the lines of, “Can’t you keep the standards low for working mothers? Come on!” I can be easily overwhelmed by the charge of being a young working mother. In fact, I can be easily beleaguered by the job of being a mother on a Saturday morning. And I needed some reassurance that my friend didn’t have it all together either. Instead of giving her a “Way to Go, Lawyer Mom!” high five, I needed her to fail with me, in whatever way I had chosen to define motherhood failure.
Certainly, there is an epidemic of “enoughness” that plagues us regardless of gender. I can’t speak to where and how men encounter it. For women the conversation around motherhood competency barrages our newsfeeds and soccer fields alike. And it’s judgmental and tough. Questions about enough vegetables, academic rigor, and quality time often lead us from one anxious moment to the next. It can all feel like too much. And so we need to know that there is some valor in being the messy mom. Otherwise, we might have to face our mess head-on, and who wants to do that? And I think that’s the real concern here.
What is it about being the “messy mom” that has become so appealing? On a surface level, it’s just easier. We can throw our hands up in the air proclaiming in artsy purple marker “God bless this mess!” as we endure another graceless Bible Study on Proverbs 31:10-31. A theology of a “blessed mess” allows us to hide the very real jealousy, anger, and unresolved hurt that often lies behind the front of a failed Pintrest project. In a world where we are called in two profoundly different directions with the same horrible questions about “having it all” that our mothers unsuccessful answered, it is just easier to wave a banner of ineptitude and watch another episode of Housewives.
What about husbands? Yes, most of us have husbands and yes, they do help with the domestic duties. For me, though, as previous posts suggest, husband-related pushback is largely a red herring. This is not primarily a discussion about marriage. This is a conversation about us. About women. About motherhood. About how we think God views us and thus how we view ourselves. Do we think God loves us as sinners because he loves our sin? Do we really believe he is as excited about our ‘mess’ as we sometimes appear to be? I know that seems like a preposterous question. But it is worth asking. There is an identity to be found in our sin one upmanship, a justification in our blessed mess: “Oh, you forgot Susie’s lunch money? Well, little Thomas hasn’t had a bath in a week.” Isn’t being messy fun?
Well, if by messy you mean sinful and if by fun you mean fun, then no. Its not. Sometimes I feel like the world of motherhood blogs encourages me to stay in my sin, to hold it up and even flaunt it. Somehow in the narratives about our alleged failures and attempts at perfection we are encouraged to be (dare I say?) proud of our shortcomings. And while it can feel like we’re being “really honest about who we are,” I keep asking myself if that is actually true. I actually do not like when my house is a total wreck. I don’t find any freedom in “owning” that. And not because I feel bad about it. I just like knowing where my socks are.
The Good News in all of this, of course, is that God does love us anyway. And that happens first. That happens before we handle our sin. So I’m not worried about God’s love here. What I am worried about, and weary of, is all the language about how great it is that we fail regularly at Pintrest projects or crock pot recipes – trivialities which may indicate petty inabilities, but not our more serious sin.
When I loosely regard my sin, or worse yet, when I name things that are not at all sinful as such, I lose sight of my redemption. In a world where motherly strife and failure seems to revolve around mindless guilt, I wonder if we are hiding something much deeper and covering it up with our own shiny “mess.” Are we dealing with our own addictions or anxious tendencies? Do we address our fellow mothers with honesty and compassion? Or would that make us face ourselves in a way that might undo the “blessed mess” façade? In other words, is our own sin too real for us?
Hear me clearly here, I am not advocating for the other extreme. I’m not convinced that the answer lies in some fresh or further spiritualizing of womanhood. In fact, I’m not sure that God cares about my domestic prowess, one way or the other. Does a sense of my redemption make me vacuum more often? No. But it grounds me in an identity that does not depend on me. My identity in Christ cannot be measured in my tasks or failure to do them, but only in the freedom making realization that my failure has been recognized and converted into new life.
I had a great therapist several years back that talked about how the details of our story matter less than how we tell our story. Meaning that how you interpret your life matters more than the day to day tasks of it. I wonder what kind of damage we inflict on ourselves when our story (consciously or not) ends with sin and mess. What happens when we end on our redemption?