My daughter’s space–her bedroom, her study area, her play area, whatever–will never be a picture of tranquility or order. Her imagination and interior world are so engaged at any given moment that whether or not her clothes are on the floor is her very last thought–and nowhere near as important as whatever she is creating or processing or dreaming up in her head. Truth be told, she’s just messy. And this has been true since she was a small child, leaving a trail of “projects” or half-dressed dolls or artwork everywhere she went, piles left here and there like little altars to all that is holy about childhood.
I, on the other hand, need my space to be, if not clean, at least everything-in-its-spot. If you’ve ever seen me adjust a piece of furniture or a bookshelf trinket just so, or been privy to my constant room-rearranging, you know–my outward need for my personal space to be in order is generally directly proportional to how disordered I am feeling inside. And because I am a deep feeler, and have a brain full of thoughts and words at any given moment, and also tend to absorb the feelings of those around me…well, let’s just say my insides are almost always a wreck.
Needless to say, the girl and I, we’re different. And, I’m learning to settle for the happy place of “Mom’s mostly satisfied,” and “CG feels not too oppressed” when it comes to her space and my space.
Mostly because I feel like her approach is more honest. The reality is that life is messy. Living is messy. And this mostly terrifies us–because somewhere early on we often get the message that order is supreme and that presenting a good front is paramount.
Don’t get me wrong–there’s a time and place for putting your best foot forward even if that means cramming a week’s worth of laundry into the hall closet and out of sight, while praying the pantry doors don’t fly open from the strain of the disorganization behind them. There are even moments that must be gotten through by smiling when you don’t feel like it. I’m grateful for the years of my childhood spent in South that taught me that grace-under-pressure-or-anger-or-sadness can be a good thing. A survival tool.
But the deeper thing that matters is that very little is as it appears. And most of us are walking around without our insides and matching our insides.
And mostly we’d rather no one know it.
How much better would it be if we could just name the messiness and then move on with growing into our best selves anyway? To be sure, boundaries and discretion are both important things to learn to use, and use wisely and well…but not if we’re trying to hide who we are in the process.
Life is messy.
Relationships are complicated. Marriage is hard work. Sometimes we don’t do our best at our jobs. Sometimes people we love and admire let us down–tremendously. Sometimes we get betrayed. Sometimes we let our own selfish desire blow up. Sometimes our children disappoint us and sometimes we disappoint them. Sometimes the world is a terrifying place and it’s literally all we can do to face another day. Sometimes our emotions riot. And sometimes we fail. Fail hard. And sometimes we feel so miserable, full of so much self-doubt and anxiety, that we cannot even imagine how revealing our real self those around us would be good for anyone.
Because life is messy. And many, many people do not like, and are supremely uncomfortable with, messy.
The key is finding balance–which can seem impossible. Finding the joyful place of knowing you aren’t perfect and agreeing to stop trying to be. Of not letting someone else’s box be what you’re trying to fit into. Of finding your own truth and living in it. Of sometimes leaving your shoes by the door, just where you kicked them off when you came in, and definitely leaving the dishes in the sink overnight, because spending that half hour curled up with your kid on the couch is way more soul-satisfying.
Life can utterly shatter us, y’all, leaving messes beyond what we ever thought was possible to live through. This is just how it is. It happens to all of us. And it seems to me that sharing this mess, maybe even braving our own painful mess to help another person through theirs, is a far better route to gratitude and joy than is pushing it all away, to the dark and cold places of our souls where we can pretend it doesn’t exist.
It’s complicated. All of it. I know. But I think probably owning that is what’s important.
And then loving each other through it.