Embracing the Mess
The other day, as I looked around our somehow eternally-messy kitchen, I sighed, feeling weary. Yet another mess to clean, I thought. I took in the sink full of pots and chocolate-covered mixing bowls, the kids busy at their paint-splattered table strewn with brushes and trays of paint, the counters covered with drying paintings and a cooling cake. Why is my house always a mess, I thought, about to spiral into my “What is wrong with me??” loop.
Then, suddenly it hit me: This is what a creative life looks like. Not some perfectly-styled, uncluttered scene from Pinterest, but my kitchen, with my people. Something switched in my brain and rather than just seeing the mess, I was able to see the magic: little people brimming with curiosity who love to make art, a kitchen that smells like chocolate cake, a pot of soup simmering on the stove. Kids’ drawings taped to the wall, shelves full of cookbooks, cats napping by the fireplace, fingerprints on the wall, crumbs littering the floor. This messy life - full of love and chaos and family and food - is far from perfect, but it’s beautiful.
So much of my discontentment – which often rears its ugly head – stems from thinking that I should have it all together: a perfect-looking home, with clean surfaces and clean floors and well-behaved children. (Ha!) That somehow, if I could just be more on top of things - just get up earlier! be better! - I’d be content. But here’s the deal: real life is messy. Cooking is messy (especially with kids!) and relationships are messy and art is messy and gardening is messy, but that shouldn’t stop us. If so many of the BEST things in life are messy, why is it so hard for me to accept this?!
Honestly, I think much of it comes down to the fact that I haven’t fully accepted myself - at least the messy parts of me. In my mind, I feel like I should be happy, calm, grateful, loving, and productive all the time, generously giving my time and energy to my family and friends. The type of person whose grains and spices are beautifully organized in mason jars on kitchen shelves. (Spoiler alert: that’s not me!) The reality is, I am happy and grateful and generous some of the time. And other times, I’m sad, anxious, frustrated, selfish, impatient, and unmotivated. Some days, I feel downright depressed. And other days I feel joyful and energized. All of these things are true of me. But rather than embracing the fact that I’m a deep feeler, an introverted lover of people who needs alone time, and an unorganized creative who’s really not great at housework, I expect myself to be someone I’m not. And I struggle to show myself the grace I so desperately need.
Do you all remember the kid’s book series Amelia Bedelia? The story about a maid who’s really terrible at housework? She “dusts” the living room with face powder, “dresses the chicken” in clothes, and “changes towels” by cutting them into funny shapes. She’s just following instructions (and trying to make people happy!), but she gets it all terribly wrong. What she’s really good at, however, is baking. She whips together the most incredible lemon meringue pies and cream puffs, almost as an afterthought, adding “a little bit of this, and a pinch of that.” And just when she’s about to get fired for her mishaps, the day is always saved by her homemade baked goods. I relate SO much to Amelia Bedelia. I feel like I bumble through many of the things I spend most of my time doing (housework + raising small kids) and when I feel really discouraged, I whip up some crêpes or pumpkin pancakes and hope my kids forgive me for the rest.
I don’t have the perfect 3-step solution to this. But what I do know is that trying to change myself into somebody I’m not isn’t the answer. I am reading an amazing book called Let Your Life Speak, by Parker J. Palmer. It says, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks – we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, and Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’”
I love this so much. The idea that God created us with an authentic self and a unique set of gifts and limits. We are meant to live as our true self, rather than trying to conform to some sort of cultural ideal. And I love the idea that our calling in life takes into account who we actually are, pairing “our deep gladness with the world’s deep need.” How beautiful is that?!
If there’s one thing I want out of my forties, it’s to become more me. The Anna that’s abundantly creative, with a big heart and big ideas and a sense of adventure and delight. And to embrace the messy parts as well: my big feelings and insecurities and fears. I want to let go of the endless shoulds that keep me feeling suffocated and actually LIVE the wonderful life I’ve been blessed with. I want to raise my kids to see the wonder and beauty in each day, to love others well, and to be their wild, wonderful selves. And maybe as I teach them these lessons, I’ll finally learn, too.
What about you? What keeps you feeling trapped? Are you trying to be someone you’re not? What parts of yourself feel hard to embrace? Where does your deep gladness meet the world’s deep need? So much to think about! I’d love to hear from you, if any of this resonates :)
(Photo by Abby Saunders)