In my early 20s, I had my life all planned out. I pictured living with my husband and three very well-behaved children who played the cello on an acreage out East within a short commute from work, school, and church. My best friend assured me that she would take my kids once in while to go play in the mud, because she knew I would never be able to handle that sort of mess. I have never liked messes. The plan I had was idyllic, right down to our collie named Rigby and the tire swing hanging lazily from an old tree near the porch. I can imagine that Jesus just shook his head and chuckled at my “perfect plan.”
Years have gone by, and my life has not played out according to my perfect little plan at all. We live in a city I never dreamed we would with a Cocker Spaniel named Brandy, and we have one daughter who does not play the cello, but who is growing up to be wonderful in ways I had never planned or even imagined. We moved away from my best friend when our daughter was still a baby, so the mud play dates never happened. I was left having to deal with the messes on my own.
It’s funny that when we start to plan out our lives according to our own will, there are no messes involved. Our plans are idyllic. God’s plan for me, however, has not been quite so rosy. God put some messes in my life—some challenges, some mistakes, some losses, some failures. None of them are what I would have hoped for or even wished on anyone else, but they have been, for the most part, messes from which I have grown. As I watch my daughter grow up, I see her encountering the messiness of life, too, and taking her own path to grow and learn from the mess.
I remember during my experience of the Spiritual Exercises that our director often encouraged us to let Jesus in to the mess in our lives and not to open up only “the good stuff.” Jesus comes to us where we are and touches the messes in our lives just as he touches the lepers. (Luke 17:11–19) What I am coming to learn as I grow older now, though, is that he doesn’t just come to us there, but he uses those moments to offer us opportunities to grow closer to him. After all, Jesus has plenty of his own experience with the messes of life, from being born in a messy stable right through to the horrible mess of the Cross.
When we follow our own plans, we tend to want to keep things picture-perfect. God’s plan for us is entirely different and fraught with messes of all shapes and sizes. As I slowly learn to find God in the mess, I thank God that my life is not at all as I had planned. God’s plan has brought me to the place I am today and the person I am still becoming, and it is infinitely better this way.
P.S. My husband adds thanks “that Cara’s plan never came to be, and we don’t have three kids in the house learning how to play the cello!”