God in the Mess

mess of paintIn 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!”

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Cara Callbeck
Cara Callbeck holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree and works in the public sector as a human resources professional. Cara recently completed the Spiritual Exercises and has since felt quite drawn to Ignatian spirituality. She is now on a quest to learn more and grow and to incorporate Ignatian spirituality in her life as a professional, mother, and “woman for others.” Cara lives in the Canadian Prairies with the two greatest blessings in her life—her husband and daughter.


  1. For most of us, each day brings a mixed bag of “happenings”; good ones, not-so-good ones; happy ones, frustrating ones, etc. Whatever the day may bring, knowing that God is right there in the mess with us makes every day a good day. God bless you.

  2. Thank you. I am going through a job transition after a lay off from a job of 26 years. The transition is talking some time as I discern and try out different small opportunities. This transition has been long and quite messy. I have made several missteps as well. But I have learned that messy, long, and crooked transitions can be a source of much learning….a treasure or sorts.

  3. Thank you – and thank you especially for making two points (1) Jesus is always by our side, and (2) it is how we recover from the messes that shapes who we become. Thanks again for sharing. Love, RDJ

  4. God does not and did not put messes in your life. God doesn’t play games and “never gives us more than we can bear.” God doesn’t test us. Life happens, and a lot of life is a mess. Don’t blame God. To believe otherwise makes God the grand puppeteer and a trickster who drops bouquets on some, and tragedies on others; not a very loving visage.

  5. Wonderful reflection for the third day of this Ignatian Retreat! Not sure who to attribute this quote to, but: “If you do not transform your pain (e.g. “mess”), you will transmit it.” I don’t want to transmit my pain. I want to use my pain for good.

  6. Its quite interesting that all i planned for my life isn’t what God meant for my life and coming to think of it, its better the GOD is ordering my life. His messes for me are the best.

  7. The messes in my life – when you are a victim of someone else sin, the innocence is destroyed. What happened to me was I was numb unable to feel and trust – you exist somehow doing the right things. guided by God and along the way He sends the healers and teachers..one day He opened me to the much healing and feeling I needed to do – I did the exercises faithfully every day. One day I had to pick up that wee little girl who had been hurt and hold her while we both cried for that little child – that became for me a defining moment I had to experience that day and let it go..so as the healing and feeling move me forward He sends the teachers the healers to me.. for my priest he called me by my name and I knew then the forgiveness. I am a work in progress and I realize that God is not done with me yet. So the thing I am saying no matter use all the resources available to you and share the story, tell it and God will take and write the next chapter. Never give up – cause God never does. Thanks for listening

  8. I am not enjoying the messes in my life and I really wonder if God is really here and helping me with my problems. This is definitely not where I want to be and I don’t feel thankful.

    • Sometimes it is hard to see God when we are in the middle of the mess. Trust that He is there, holding you through the storm. Never give up. God loves us more than we could ever imagine. He will bring you through to the other side. He makes all things new.

  9. Wow – this was perfect. It sums up my life too – nothing in my life is how I envisioned it, and I have had many unpleasant messes, but they have all led me to where I am now, and for that I am so grateful. You just never know what God has in store! Thank you so much for this beautiful piece of writing.

  10. Excellent! Thank you for sharing about your mess as it speaks to me about my messes that have turned into amazing blessings from our Lord.

  11. Thank you for this terrific reminder about the messes of life and God being in the middle of it. Jesus in a messed up life he could have done without; you are right that he will surely understand what we go through. I so wish to be without the messes, too many, too often, too big. But as someone once wrote, no one gets to God without tribulations. Thank you for sharing these wise reflections.


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