Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the fact that life is messy. People are messy. Even people who look like they’ve got it together really don’t. The fact is that most people are generally pretty good at hiding their mess and really don’t get that other people are also hiding their messes.
Do you follow?
I’ll let Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) explain it. The scene from the episode “Earshot” where Buffy was temporarily able to read people’s thoughts: Buffy is trying to talk uber-nerd Jonathan down from what she thinks is a mass shooting but is really a suicide attempt.
Buffy: “Believe it or not, Jonathan, I understand about the pain.”
Jonathon: “Oh, right. ‘Cause the burden of being beautiful and athletic, that’s a crippler.” …
Buffy: “My life happens on occasion to suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it’s not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening.”
It’s not that some people don’t have messy lives, it’s just that some people are better at hiding it than others, and everyone is more concerned about their own lives than they are your pain and heartache.
So nobody really cares about your mess, but yes, people are judging you. Because that’s what we messy people do. And we don’t judge to be discerning and wise and to protect ourselves and others from pitfalls. We judge to feel better about ourselves. We say, “Sure, I’m a hot mess, but at least I’m not that hot mess.”
Of course, there is also the “I feel judged” phenomenon. As I homeschooler, I get this a lot. “Because you homeschool, I know you judge me for sending my kids to public school!” Well, honestly, I don’t give a rats patootie about your school choices. Don’t get me wrong, I love homeschooling and am happy to tell anyone who asks why and wherefore. I love helping people who want to homeschool get started. But if you choose to send your kid to public school, or even *gasp* choose to stop homeschooling your kid in favor of public or private schools, more power to you! It’s your kid, you are responsible for their education and for your family, and I. Don’t. Care.
I don’t care what music/movies/video games you consume. I don’t care about your dietary choices. I don’t care about your feelings on vaccines, puppy dogs, or recycling. I’m a big girl and I’m going to assume you’re a big person, and we’re all going to make the best choices we can and I. Don’t. Care.
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And, oh boy, is this a big but. The bible calls me to bear the burdens of others (specifically other believers, but also all the others in my life.)
Actually, the bible is full of “one anothers” believers are called to do: accept, instruct, don’t put stumbling blocks in front of, etc. And the big one: love one another. And God calls us to do all this stuff while being our messy selves. (See Romans 7:15-24 for Paul expressing his messiness. But make sure to read verse 25, because therein lies our salvation. Literally: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.)
So I’m actually called to care about the mess of others, or rather care about others who by nature of being humans are a mess. But this is the deal: While in the abstract, I can care that people are hurting and struggling and the hot mess of people everywhere, I can’t care about the details of most people. One very simple reason I can’t care is because it ends up not being care at all, and is simply voyeurism, gossip, rank curiosity. It leads to the judging that we all engage in but know we shouldn’t. I can care that families are broken and people are dishonest or selfish or covetous. I can pray for God to move in the lives of people and that he would use his church–as broken and as messy as we are. But digging for the details on a strangers broken marriage? Gloating, er “sharing” about the fall of a businessman, a politician, or a celebrity? I can best serve those strangers by not caring.
What I can do is care for those with whom I have a relationship. I can care about my friends, pray with them over their hot messes, and love them with all the one anothers that God calls me to. And–just as importantly–I can show my hot mess to people with whom I’m in relationship. And then there’s this: Love covers a multitude of sins.
I should love those in my life by covering their sins. And part of that covering means from the vast masses who aren’t in a “one another” relationship, who don’t care about the details, but are more than happy to judge. And I can help those I’m not in relationship with by not caring about the details of your mess.
So for all of you nameless face for whom I just can’t care about the details of your mess, I’m praying for you–generically and vaguely. But for those people in my lives? With you, I’m going to be messy. Will you be messy with me?