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What a Mess

Updated on December 2, 2008

What a Mess

     There was an artist at our church recently. She painted during the sermon and the experience led me to rethink some of the ways I’ve been viewing my life lately. At first, I viewed her presence as an easy subject to observe for this assignment. It was a unique offering that went along with the message, but I ended up with a completely different take on the event. To properly set up the conclusions of my observations, it would help to be aware of my current situation.

     This past Sunday began like many others in recent times for my family; with me at home with the kids and my wife in the hospital. Being that this was the fourth time in as many months that she has been admitted, I wondered aloud how much more of this my family will need to endure. Our triplets are five years old and they are growing accustomed to their mother being in a hospital. There wasn’t much time to think about it, so I hastily got myself and the kids ready for church. When it came time to leave the house, the sun was out, the air was warm, birds were singing, yet I was feeling quite overwhelmed with life.

     Inside the church, the parishioners shuffled about with the regular handshakes and greetings. I hustled the kids downstairs and then made my way to my usual seat in the sanctuary. As people continued to greet one another inside, a guitar was strummed, drums were beaten, the choir raised their voices, and music filled the room. The notes found every nook and cranny as they pushed the void out of hearts, minds, and souls. As usual, the music began to clear my mind and tenderized my heart for worship.

     As the Pastor took to the pulpit, I noticed behind him was a large, square, white canvas. It was set up on an easel, blankly anticipating a skillful brush. Around the easel, drop cloths strewn about the floor became the carpet for a young lady as she approached the absence. The pastor introduced her as music once again became the background of the morning.

     She reached for her brush and began transferring paint from palette to canvas. She worked with a perceived goal in spite of the way she slathered the paint on with seemingly reckless abandon. Although her pace was hurried, it was apparent the artist was deliberate in the placement of her strokes. Still it would take some patience on our part to make sense of the developing art.

     Sometimes she would use the side of her fist to smear part of the picture. Other times, she would use a crumpled rag to blot the still wet paint. There was a few times I wondered if she was making mistake after mistake, then trying to work the errors into some kind of logic. At this point, I wasn’t sure if the point of her exhibition was to make a picture or a mess. There was paint on her hands, a few smears on her face, some on the drop cloths, and it all didn’t look much different than what was on the canvas. In fact, if I had to describe it with any logic at this point, I would have called it nothing more than meticulously placed black smears.

     She worked much like this during the sermon. She went about her project as if she were unaware of the congregation watching her spectacle while trying to listen to the message. More blotting, more smearing, more paint being manipulated into some artistic nothingness. Quite frankly, it still made little sense to me. 

     She had to of known, but she didn’t lead on as if she did. She didn’t seem frustrated or confounded. In fact, she continued to work quite diligently while a spotlight illuminated her disaster. She remained focused to a fault. Somehow, she must have felt that there was some redeeming value within this attempt, and she was determined to find it. At this point, I was wondering if she could salvage this work before she ran out of paint.

     The pastor was nearing the end of his message as the artist continued to make a mess of what started that morning as bright, white potential. I found it ironic that this young lady had so much focus for a painting that had none itself. It had been about forty-five minutes since she quietly began whatever this was supposed to be. Whispers were heard as patience among the worshipping body began to fade. Soon, closing music signaled the last few remaining moments of the service.

     Then something changed. Towards the end of the last song, something in the picture began to pull it all together. A final few additions began to define the work. We could now see clearly a distant Jesus with His hand outstretched towards us. In fact, now that she had finished, it was quite clear what it was becoming all along. It was stunning, and I never saw it coming. As I marveled at how she was able to make something so incredible from such a mess, something poignant occurred to me. The truth is that this same concept often works in our own lives.

      I imagined an artist’s loft. Paint-speckled drop cloths crumpled up here, laid out there… paintings started, paintings finished… maybe some evidence of an accidental spill or two. The beginnings of art often start this way; with a mess. Then, a skillful artist manipulates the resources and great paintings are born.

     Consider the building of a house. At first the ground is churned up, concrete is poured, and the framework begins to be assembled. Sawdust, trash, mud, and other debris litter the work site. Trucks and tractors belch black smoke into the sky, and there is noise of all sorts as the workers do their parts. In the end, an inhabitable structure is created and becomes a comfortable home for a family.

     Even our own lives begin with quite the mess. Anyone who has witnessed the birth of a child knows all about that scene. Agony and controlled chaos often accompany this natural moment. At the same time, a human life sees the world outside the womb for the first time.

     I sat in my seat as the crowd made their way out, and I thought about what I had just learned. The entire time I watched her paint, I did not understand what the picture was. Therefore, I assumed she was making mistakes and that there was nothing of value being created. Not once did I think that she may already have it planned out the way she did. What if she would have stopped midway through and stepped back? What if all she saw was the mess that I saw? She could have easily walked away at that point and we’d have missed something spectacular. She didn’t. She remained focused.

     I then applied these same concepts to my current situation. I have a sink full of dishes, a table full of mail, and piles of laundry needing to be cleaned. I have to work full time, and go to school part time. I have three small children to get off to school each morning, and a wife in the hospital. At best, my current situation is defined as controlled chaos. After Sunday, I now see it as my mess. It is a mess that I need not understand right now. I only need to stay focused and see the situation through.

     When we get ourselves into a jam, we can get discouraged. Addictive behaviors, bad habits, suffering consequences of wrong decisions, losing a job, bankruptcy, marital issues… 

     There are many reasons why we might look at our lives and feel that we are a mess. In these times of self-pity and anger, we must remember what can be done with our mess. We are shown in every day works, from great accomplishments to mundane tasks, great things begin with a big mess. When the artist, the builder, or the doctor is performing their work, we trust them with their skill. However, their skills are useless without the proper focus. Should we forget that in our own situations, adversity will consume us. 


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      Nick Gerace 9 years ago from Warren MI

      I am happy to have spelling and grammatical errors pointed out. Overall, your constructive criticism is most appreciated.