15. Messages in the Mess


It was one of those projects that ever parent dreads, but every kid relishes. I was assigned the task by my 5th grade teacher of creating a display depicting the geography of the State of California. It had to include the Sierra Mountains, the San Joaquin Valley, San Francisco Bay, and Death Valley! It was a challenge that I was more than happy to take on because it meant working with modeling clay, paint, and all sorts of other messy things! There’s nothing a 5th grade boy likes better than making a mess!

I remember the look on my dad’s face when I told him what I had to do. Dutifully he found me a nice flat piece of plywood to serve as the base of my masterpiece. Carefully I pulled out my textbook and drew out the state on the board, noting the areas where I would build the mountains, paint the green valleys, and outline the various bays and inlets on the coast. I’m no artist, but Leonardo Da Vinci would have been proud of me!

Next came the modeling clay. It was not as easy to work with as I had thought. My mountains looked more like a badly misshaped hotdog than the majestic peaks of the Sierras. The SF Bay had this weird resemblance to a kidney, and the entire Southern half of the state looked a bit off kilter. Still, I did the best I could and created something that sort of looked like the maps I was using as a reference. It was not beautiful, but I thought painting would help.

It didn’t! The green of the valleys spilled over into the blue of the ocean, and the grey and white from the mountains kept dribbling down into the valley (although my dad did say that was kind of like the snow melting…). In the end I was completed covered with paint and my model looked like something a pre-school class might have thrown together. I was less than proud of the final outcome, and a bit embarrassed to bring it to class the next day! As far as I was concerned I had failed miserably!

Incredibly, my teacher did not immediately gag and excuse herself from the room when she saw my project. Rather, she actually seemed to be impressed by my efforts. “Was this women blind?” I thought to myself. She complimented me on my effort and encouraged me later to explain what I had created to the whole class. I actually got a decent grade and left that day feeling much better than I felt when I came in that morning.

It was only much later that I realized what that teacher had done for me. She had not looked at the “outcome” of my project, but rather the “effort” I had put into it. She certainly couldn’t have thought I had actually done a “good job”, but she knew I had taken the time to learn what she wanted me to learn and had tried my best to depict those things in my model. I didn’t do a very good job with the modeling clay and paints, but I had learned where the mountains, valleys, and coastal inlets were……and that was the point of the project.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s not how God looks at us. He wants us to learn things about Him, the world He’s given us, and the people we share it with. Unfortunately, at times we can make a real mess out of things….perhaps to the point of feeling like we’ll never get it right!

There have been plenty of times in my life when I have not been pleased with the outcome of my hard work.  I put the time and effort in, but the crowd didn’t show, the presentation was weak, and the reviews were mixed, at best.  Whether it was technical difficulties, a failure to fully grasp the issues at hand, opposition from the outside, or I was simply just having a bad day,  the end result is that I became  discouraged and defeated…..I just didn’t feel like I did a very good job.

At such moments we all stand before our TEACHER somewhat embarrassed by our “failure”. Our good intentions didn’t pan out as we had hoped. We were not pleased with the results and often we can do a pretty good job of beating ourselves up over them. Life had become messy, and we had to acknowledge that a lot of that mess was our fault. Such a stark realization is never a blessing…..or is it?

I tend to think that stark realization may be the start of learning how God sees us. Yes, we’re a mess and He know it!  But perhaps the secret is not in the temporary results of our efforts here! He’s working on a much bigger project in our lives…..a project where honest effort and sincerity are more important than the actual results we may achieve. If King David could be considered a “man after God’s own heart” with all the mistakes he made, then perhaps we’ve been missing a very important point.

God is not looking for “perfect people”……because there’s only been one of those and He’s securely seated next to His Father in Heaven. Don’t get me wrong…..that’s not a license to just accept our “messiness”!  Our efforts to emulate Him will look like clumsy comparisons to the real thing just like my model of California did as a 5th grader.

But like my teacher, I think God is looking to see what our effort demonstrates.  He’s looking to see if our hearts actually belong to Him, despite all the messes we make  just like King David’s did after all the messes he made. The end result of such efforts may not seem like much to us, but unless I read my Bible wrong the twinkle in God’s eye would seem to indicate that He will consider “our mess” a masterpiece.

Don’t miss the message in the mess.  God loves you…..and He’ll beam a smile if you just keep trying to do what He asks you to do……even if the “clay” droops and the “paint” runs.,  If we apply ourselves to the assignment,  He’ll look past the mess we’ve made and actually be pleased with results.