There’s a puzzling attitude in our apartment complex that I’ve named, “apartment apathy.” Pet clean-up stations are conveniently scattered all around our campus, but on my morning walks I see lots of piles. Some of them are less than fifteen feet away from these stations! I once even picked up a bag with a mess in it. (Why would one go so far as to bag the mess, but not place it in a waste can?)
I have a new appreciation for the people I see cleaning up after their dogs. Their actions tell me that they care about others and that they take responsibility for the messes that have been made. I see them as concerned about the well-being of all, including me, as stewards of our complex and community.
And so I was thinking about the other messes in our lives. There are the messes of strained relationships and broken hearts… the messes of wounds caused by our lack of empathy, understanding, or compassion… the messes of impatient reactions and hastily spoken words… the messes of selfishness and pride. As people of faith, we try to avoid making “messes” as much as possible- but we are never going to be perfect. We will create our own messes in spite of good intentions.
Maybe our best loving witness is to acknowledge that we are imperfect, mess-making people of faith, and then begin cleaning up those messes! We are the caretakers of one another and of our world. One of our most visible and tangible ways of loving others is to sincerely, humbly work to restore wholeness and goodness for them, as much as possible.
But cleaning up is the difficult task, isn’t it? Messes are, well, messy. Uncomfortable. Unpleasant. Embarrassing. Humbling. We’d much rather walk away and let someone else deal with them. We might even acknowledge them (like putting them in bags) and tell God that we’re sorry, but then leave the clean-up unfinished. At times we may deny our responsibility: “I didn’t make that mess!” Or we try to justify ourselves, claiming that at least our mess isn’t as bad those other ones.
But when we actually DO the challenging work of restoration and healing, our genuine love is visibly revealed. When we take the extra steps to correct the wrongs we have done. When we restore a relationship by admitting we were wrong, asking for forgiveness, and repairing the damage. When we refrain from kicking back or seeking revenge. When we even clean up other messes we encounter, whether or not they belong to us. When we humbly work to restore our relationships or our world to their original beauty- or even better.
Mess happens. How we respond is our chance to demonstrate our love for humanity and for all of God’s creation.
I think it was my dad who once said, “Always leave a place better than you found it.” May this be our faithful work- in our homes, our communities and our world.