The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life. … ~from “Middlemarch” by George Eliot
Every year a well-meaning parent would send popcorn balls for our class Halloween party. But second graders are pretty tight with the Tooth Fairy, which leaves most of them a few teeth short of a successful bite. Kids always find a way, though!
They gnawed on those popcorn balls with serious commitment — gnawed, licked, nibbled, tore, picked … whatever it took. By the time snacks were done, the floor was decorated with popcorn fragments, and there were sticky streaks on everyone’s face, on both sides of that-was-the-best-thing-ever grins.
What glory, the happy mess! What profound joy, finding contentment in experiences and creations and discoveries without worrying about getting dirty in the process. (There are perks to playing in the mud!)
But messes aren’t always happy, we know. Sometimes they’re not even of our own making. Chaos and unkindness can quickly overshadow optimism and hope in this fallen world.
We agonize over and flounder through decisions, knowing that God’s foremost will for our lives is the people we become, not the circumstances we occupy, but always wondering if we made a wrong turn. Then there’s flat-out sin, to which none of us is immune. Or we trustingly reach out to grasp what we thought was a caring hand, only to be yanked down into the muck.
What then? What, then, when glory seems absent, when joy is engulfed?
Then, we remind ourselves and each other of truth: Dirt isn’t fatal, and we aren’t defined by mud puddles — not the ones we simply have to slog through, not the ones we’ve willfully or naively jumped in, not the ones we’ve been dragged through against our will.
Bri McCoy writes in Come and Eat about visiting an impoverished country and enjoying a meal with a local family. Their young daughter gave her little fingers a perfunctory swipe with a cloth, and Bri reached over to lend a hand:
Sometimes to feel safe with someone we need them to see our dirt and be gentle with us. We need them to grab a napkin and carefully help us wipe it away. We need someone to show us that the dirt isn’t permanent. It’s not who we are; it’s just something we picked up while living our story.
What glory, the truth of redemption! That if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. What profound joy, finding contentment in the Lord’s saving grace rather than worrying that our stumbles along the journey — whether because of sin within or a broken world without — have marred us permanently.
Do we realize the weight of our actions, our responses, the desperate need for our compassion? That a quiet, sincere smile can restore someone’s hope?
Every day, souls walk among us burdened by their own choices or beaten down by the thoughtlessness and narcissism of others, feeling that there’s no possibility for a clean heart, a fresh start. But those souls likely won’t ask for aid; for them, words have proven meaningless at best and devastatingly destructive at worst.
Instead, weary hearts risk wary glances to gauge whether we’ll help or hurt — whether we might offer strength because they have none left. If we’re not keeping a selfless, watchful eye, we’ll miss the pleas.
And how could we not respond to these entreaties with affirmation of our shared humanity, with honest acknowledgement that this world is hard, and none of us can go it alone?
Aren’t we all, in one way or another, at one time or another, desperate? Don’t we want to be known?
Don’t we long for the tender care of others when it comes to getting cleaned up, whether brushing away surface dust or tending down-to-the-bone, gritted, festering wounds?
Alexander McCall Smith’s brilliant Botswana-set fiction series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is led by the always-gracious protagonist Precious Ramotswe. And how Mma Ramotswe came to employ her maid is a beautiful example of having a tender, watchful eye:
Rose had worked for her from the day that she first moved in to Zebra Drive. There was a network of unemployed people, Mma Ramotswe discovered, and this sent out word of anybody who was moving into a new house and who might be expected to need a servant. Rose had arrived at the house within an hour of Mma Ramotswe herself.
“You will need a maid, Mma,” she had said. “And I am a very good maid. I will work very hard and will not be a trouble to you for the rest of your life. I am ready to start now.”
Mma Ramotswe had made an immediate judgement. She saw before her a respectable-looking woman, neatly presented, of about thirty. But she saw, too, a mother, one of whose children was waiting by the gate staring at her. And she wondered what the mother had said to her child. We shall eat tonight if this woman takes me as her maid. Let us hope. You wait here and stand on your toe. Stand on your toe. That is what one said in Setswana if one hoped that something would happen. It was the same as the expression which white people used: cross your fingers.
Mma Ramotswe glanced towards the gate and saw that the child was indeed standing on her toe, and she knew then that there was only one answer she could give.
She looked at the woman. “Yes,” she said. “I need a maid, and I will give the job to you, Mma.”
The woman clapped her hands together in gratitude and waved to the child. I am lucky, thought Mma Ramotswe. I am lucky that I can make somebody so happy just by saying something. ~Morality for Beautiful Girls
Today, maybe you’re the one standing on your toe, waiting by the gate, longing for a way out of the mess. Turn to Jesus, who never turns away anyone who comes to Him. He sees. He knows. And He will affirm His “yes” for your life if you let Him.
Or perhaps you notice another standing on their toe, anxious to be seen, known. Say something. You’re not asked to solve their every problem. Just gently help them begin to clean away the dirt. Affirm God’s “yes” for their life. Walk them to the Savior — the One who can redeem every mess and make us part of His magnificent story.