Friday, September 21, 2007

The muse and the mess.

The muse and the mess.

I used to think that with the right muse, I could accomplish anything. That if I found a girl hot enough, I could write a dozen books that would sell a billion copies. She’d inspire me to learn how to paint, help the homeless, get really amazing abs and so forth. She would essentially help me be the man I always wanted to be. I’d leap out of bed full of creative energy that I had gained via the osmotic experience of just sleeping next to her. And I’d never get writer’s block because of her hotness.

This was a foolish plan and I’m not sure if I believe in the concept of having a muse. There are definitely times when my wife and kids inspire me, it’s not that, but there are also times when I’ve found life inspiration spring from an entirely different source – the mess.

The mess is the opposite of the muse. This is the person in your life who is prone to making just the stupidest decisions. This is the friend or casual acquaintance who repeatedly entangles their life in colossal failure. The person who despite getting counsel upon counsel rushes into disaster as fast as their feet can carry them. This is the mess and there are three important things you need to know about this person:

1. We can all be the mess.
I’ve been the mess for other people before and that’s unfortunate. My younger brother confessed to me a year ago that when he was in the fifth grade he swore he would never be like me after he witnessed me walk home five miles from youth group because I had alienated everyone I knew with gossip. Seeing my shame was a pivotal moment in his young life and he decided to learn from the mess. A quick, smart thing to do right now would be to ask yourself, “Is there anyone in my immediate circle of friends that might be learning from my mistakes? What do they see that I don’t? Am I someone else’s mess?”

2. Missing the lessons of the mess is a tragedy.
I think the mess is in our lives to teach us. And to ignore those lessons is tragic. I’ve learned a lot from my mess over the last year. For example, words don’t mean anything. My mess is extremely well spoken. I’ve watched him manipulate and control dozens of different people with the actions he promises to accomplish. Then I’ve watched the light of reality burn away all those promises like the fog of early morning. He never follows through on his words and seeing him do that helped me understand my wife’s frustrations at my grandiose verbal promises to change. I’m just as eloquent as my mess, but words are empty. My mess has taught me that only action rings true.

3. The mess has a tremendous gravitational pull.
Right now you might be thinking, as Christians, shouldn’t we be helping our mess? Certainly. I think we need to love them in the way God has called us to love everyone, but don’t try to change your mess. Be honest. Be open, but set up some clear, firm boundaries. The average mess has the gravitational pull of a black hole, forever threatening to swallow your best intentions up in their foolishness. Learn from the mess. Love the mess. Live your life in a way that is clearly different from the mess and be honest when that difference becomes apparent to the mess, but don’t ever try to fix your mess. It’s easier to pull someone off a table than it is for someone on top of the table to pull someone up. (Old school youth group analogy). And the more you try to change a mess, the more you’ll become a mess yourself.

In addition to those three points, I think God is a big fan of the mess theory. In the Old Testament he made a mess of the Pharaoh and the Egyptians so that other people groups would fear the Israelites. He knew that the mess of Egypt would go viral and strike terror into the hearts of other tribes that might ordinarily attack the Israelites. He made a mess of Goliath to show the strength of his new king. He constantly raised up examples of failure to show us he is the one true source of success.

And then at the end of Proverbs 24 we’re told this:
30 I went past the field of the sluggard,
past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;
31 thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
32 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest-
34 and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man.

I “learned a lesson from what I saw” is really what it’s all about. So the question becomes, what are you seeing in your own world right now? What are the messes telling you and what can you do today to avoid their fate?

1 comment:

K said...

This is fantastic. I'm dealing with a situation where my elder brother is "the mess" and nobody really knows what to do anymore. Looking back now I see that the only thing we've tried to do so far is fix him (which hasn't worked at all). I like this: "Learn from the mess. Love the mess. Live your life in a way that is clearly different from the mess and be honest when that difference becomes apparent to the mess, but don’t ever try to fix your mess." It's so true!