I’ve often said that love is messy. Navigating the muddy waters of relationships rarely leaves us unmarked or unaffected. Having been married for nearly 2 decades and being the mother of 3 children, I can tell you that, for me, love has not always been a clean process.
But a few days ago, while sitting on a plane headed home from Merida, Mexico, the idea of messy love took on a whole new meaning. Last week, I spent my days and evenings ministering to a community of believers and it was anything but clean. It was messy. Not in terms of relationships, but actual physical mess. We hauled concrete and cinder blocks and found ourselves coated in cement by end of the day. We painted classrooms and went to bed still spattered in residual green and white paint. We sat in circles with local kids and made tie-dye shirts, resulting in hands that stayed colored for days. We played soccer on dirt fields and made cross necklaces on unswept floors. It was dusty, it was dirty, it was messy. But it was perfect.
There was something incredibly satisfying about laying in bed and seeing stains on my hands and paint under my fingernails. The mess was an indication that I had been fully present. It was a sign that I had engaged. It was a sign that I hadn’t skimped or held back. It was a sign that I had loved.
On our last night of Vacation Bible School, held at a small church in the poorest part of Merida, I struggled to hold in my emotions while I encountered a more familiar emotional mess. It was time to leave and the separation was anything but clean. Torn between missing my family and a fresh, pure connection with the people I had served, the lines blurred, tears welled and I found myself in murky territory.
Just about that time, I looked up and was struck speechless by the sky above the church. Amidst primitive concrete dwellings and makeshift homes, the sky radiated blood red. I immediately thought of the cross, of the sacrifice made for us, and I heard a quiet whisper that nearly brought me to my knees. “Love is messy. In fact, it is one big bloody mess.”
Who better than Christ knows exactly how messy, how complicated, how muddled and untidy love is? Who better than Christ understands the sacrifice? Christ came clean and perfect from heaven. He arrived on our dusty planet and after 33 years of wearing our dirt, he left caked in blood. To show love in its purest form, Christ became absolutely filthy.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,and renew a right spirit within me”
I find it so ironic that when my hands are messy from ministering, my heart feels clean. That when I choose to enter into the often muddy waters of sacrificial love and service, my spirit comes alive and aligns gloriously with my God.
We were made to love and sometimes love demands that we get our hands dirty so our hearts can be clean. Sometimes, God wants to know just how willing we are to abandon our tidy lives and splash joyfully in the mud puddles. You see, God knows an important truth that I’m afraid we frequently forget. It’s fairly easy to clean our hands. The external dirt is temporary and quickly washed away. But the changes to our hearts stick. The shift that happens in our spirits when we love well and get dirty remains and draws us back.
All too often we spend way too much time trying to keep our hands and lives clean. We waste valuable energy maintaining a neat and tidy life while ignoring God’s beckoning to love amidst the clutter and chaos. If we look around us, we can find a mess anywhere. It’s certainly not unique to Mexico. There are messes in our homes and our neighborhoods. There are messes in our hallways and cars, next door and across the street. Loving our spouses is messy. Loving our children is messy. Loving our neighbor is messy.
Love is messy. As Christ knows all too well, love is, in fact, one big bloody mess.