This time last year, I had a notebook full of unruly notes and an awareness that the messes all around me weren’t all there is to life.
I had zero idea on how to form my unruly notebook into a book. My thoughts overflowed onto page after page without any boundaries or order. I turned to my friend, Sarah, and said, “Help me name this thing, this feeling, this truth—there are messes in life that I have very little control over. Some of it is caused by overt sin, mine, yours, everybody’s. But sometimes the mess just is. It looks like mental health challenges and other health problems, relationship struggles that have very few good answers, or earthquakes, floods, loss.”
Naming Brokenness Out Loud
Sarah helped me call brokenness by name.
And then, four days later, the beast of COVID-19 weaseled its way into all of our lives. I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about brokenness anymore. My notebooks still overflowed, albeit more organized, and now they were taunting me to open them and to start typing. But I was tired. And sad. And didn’t really want to face brokenness. I wanted it to go away. I wanted the mess cleaned up and I wanted it cleaned up yesterday.
I think this is where we all find ourselves, particularly right now— tired, wanting it all cleaned up yesterday.
We call this The Messy Middle.
The Messy Middle is not my idea. Writers and mental health professionals alike talk about this concept continuously. When you write a book, there’s the research and the draft and the submission, and then there’s the final product. The messy middle is the only road between the beginning and the birth of the book. It takes time to get there. When a family comes to my therapy office, it’s my responsibility to remind them that when we look our struggles in the face, often things get worse before they get better. Thoughts and feelings and relationships aren’t changed overnight and the process is beautiful and growth-oriented, but also is messy and can unveil messes on the way to transformation.
Scripture also recognizes The Messy Middle. Theologians call this the “Now and Not Yet.” We live after the cross of Jesus and after the resurrection of Jesus. Shouldn’t that solve things? Yes, sort of, completely, not entirely. Jesus’ death and resurrection atones for my sins and gives me a right relationship with God in all my messiness and in all the messes of this life. That’s the Now portion—the mess of sin and brokenness has been redeemed.
However, we live in the messy middle of the Not Yet as well. Satan still roams like a prowling lion and he’s in a bad mood because he lost. We stand on this broken and beautiful, challenging and captivating earth aware of the messes, grieving the mess, tired of the mess while being grateful for the smell of ocean waves, for our moms, for another birthday, and begging God, believing God, will use this time for good and for gathering soul after precious soul to Him.
God Works in the Messy Middle
The Messy Middle of life finds us on our front porch, steaming cup of green tea in hand, as we attempt to write a book in the middle of COVID-19, or as we confront family struggles, babies lost too soon, or any other challenge, asking God, “Can’t you just fix it already?”
There is value in recognizing The Messy Middle for our mental health. Being able to call a problem by a name gives us some sense that while we may not have an imminent solution, this problem is manageable and it is fixable.
Not yet is not forever.
This is hope: God is present and at work in The Messy Middle. Our brokenness and the brokenness of the whole universe isn’t the end. There is more to this story yet. The unruly notebooks of our lives are in the hands of a Holy Spirit, a loving Savior, a Creative Creator who can handle every problem, every question, and every mess.