God in the Messiness

crying baby at BaptismThe other Sunday I had the pleasure of witnessing a Baptism at Mass. It’s one of my favorite sacraments, because it joyfully welcomes a new member into our Christian community. This Baptism, however, did not seem like the most sacred moment. The baby, about a year and a half old, was crying and squirming. She wouldn’t let her parents and godparents make the Sign of the Cross on her forehead. She barely let the priest put the oil on her. The priest nearly had to shout the prayers. As pious and faithful as I like to think I am, I thought about the child’s resistance as the evil spirit trying to resist the grace of Baptism that was about to come. A scene out of The Exorcist? Perhaps, but thankfully not as violent. “Maybe once the blessed water touches the baby the demon will be driven out!” I thought. After all, Baptisms do have a Rite of Exorcism.

After the Mass the friend I was with said, “Wow”¦ God’s even in the messiness!” Despite my concern about the child’s tantrum making the sacrament feel less sacred, there was indeed sacredness! Sometimes we have to trust the invisible grace. Sacraments are not magic. Neither is prayer or faith. The promise of God exists whether something “feels” holy or not.

Saint Ignatius had a hard time finding the grace in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Scruples drove him back to confession moments after he received absolution. Something, perhaps of the evil spirit, was weighing on him, telling him that he wasn’t good enough to receive God’s forgiving grace. The truth is, God’s grace exists in times that seem perfect and put together, but it is just as present in the messiness of life, in our doubts and uncertainties, in our anxiety and sorrows.

When we proclaim in the Nicene Creed that we believe God is the creator “of all things visible and invisible,” can we acknowledge the invisible grace in the messiness of our lives? The presence of God is not always in the quiet whisper. Sometimes it’s amidst the tear-soaked cries of a cranky child.

About Andy Otto 54 Articles
Andy Otto credits his relationships for a strong and ever-growing faith in God. After spending nearly three years as a Jesuit, he came to a deep appreciation for the practical application of Ignatian spirituality. He currently lives with his wife in California, where he works as a high school theology teacher. He is the author of God Moments and holds a master’s degree in theology and ministry from Boston College.

8 Comments on God in the Messiness

  1. Yes, indeed, there is sacredness in messy situations if we only look with open eyes and listen with open ears and have an open heart. All of life is sacred.

  2. Yes we tend to think God wants us to walk around with hands folded and eyes on the hills (you get to walk into traffic that way). What he is trying to tell us is that he is with us in all of life’s daily humdrum tasks (which includes Mrs. Battlesmuch next door and the guy who climbs in and out of the dumpster with the greatest of ease) and routines just like he is with us in sacramental celebrations. God knows that life is not all pretty pretty. Life instead is, well, life. It’s real. So is a kid who does NOT feel like having water put on them right now, it would rather be doing kickadoodles on their blanket or having something good in their mouth.

  3. This past Easter Vigil I brought with me a beautiful, newly blessed rosary my husband had given me, intending to pray the beads in the darkened church while awaiting the beginning of the service. But, no, a dog barking incessantly outside sideswiped my attention, an elderly woman, moving from pew to pew, speaking to everyone in sight using her outside voice derailed my prayers. Two parishoners discussing someone’s surgery continued to drift into my range of hearing. I put the rosary away, at first with a “darn it all”, then realized this was ordinary life being lived amongst fellow believers, the buzz and anticipation itself a prayer. As Linda G in her comment above states, God is with us in all situations.

  4. Nice Article. Ya its an interesting thing this idea of messiness. Life is messy and yet there is a kind of beauty in that. When I reflect on those particular times of messiness in my own life I clearly see the many gifts that flowed from it. Can we acknowledge grace in the messiness of our lives? I think it is difficult but necessary. In some ways it allows us to more fully enter into that Paschal Mystery. We can live a deeper life with Jesus when we embrace the messiness perhaps–how appropriate for the Sacrament of Baptism. Pretty cool gift. A sort of cycle in which the end is always good if we allow it. Peace, Anthony

    • The first step to cleaning the mess, Josephine, is to admit it’s there and you just did that. Please find some help to assist you with the rest. Prayers forthcoming.

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