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Becoming a hot mess

I like the expression “I’m a hot mess.” Somehow it’s better than saying, “I feel really uncomfortable.” People going through hard times can be a hot mess and still make it. They can learn to wade through their discomfort to a new place. They can realize that though they feel messy, they may actu…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I like the expression “I’m a hot mess.” Somehow it’s better than saying, “I feel really uncomfortable.”

People going through hard times can be a hot mess and still make it. They can learn to wade through their discomfort to a new place. They can realize that though they feel messy, they may actually be OK.

In 1968 my mom was a “hot mess.” My dad had gone off to Viet Nam for a year. Death over there was a regular thing. She had us two kids (I was nine and my sister was six) and life wasn’t working too well.

One day Shirley Wratten, a friend whose husband had died in the war, shared with her about a God who loved her in spite of her shortcomings. And my mom decided to put her life as she’d lived it up for foreclosure. She decided to move from a place of stiff religion to personal faith.

And from then on, my mom was not a hot mess anymore. Now she was a crazy lady – a fanatic. She passed out tracts to parking lot attendants. She led Bible studies in the bad part of town. She got up early and prayed on her knees.

And one day her prayers were rewarded when my dad walked through our front door again. Our family would never be the same.

All my life I never wanted to be a fanatic. The life of a fanatic scared me to death. As a teenager and for a number of years thereafter, I afforded myself the luxury of not joining her in her craziness. I had never been a hot mess like her; never been wrecked. And so, I was able to follow God from a distance, like an admirer.

When my life became messy, I thought,”Hey, bad stuff happens to everyone.” I was able to hold it together as a respectable Christian for a long time.

But then I lost my job. We had five kids and our family planning efforts got shot all to hell. The coup de grace came when our marriage came under attack. I didn’t have the words, but I think I declared emotional bankruptcy. I was a hot mess indeed – a wreck. Life as I’d lived it just wasn’t going to work anymore.

When God showed up and spoke to me in the middle of that place, I said, “To heck with respectability; I can’t afford it anymore.”

It’s one thing if I’m kind of rolling along in my life with nothing in particular going wrong, but when random painful things begin to pile up in strange ways, you can’t do normal life anymore. As my mom discovered, at some point you have to get off the fence and start acting in sometimes foolish ways. I like what Jim Elliott said, “I’m a fool for Christ, whose fool are you?”

At the end of our lives, we are stripped of our dignity. We’re back in diapers, our teeth fall out, we drool. Like it or not, the lot of a fool becomes our destiny.

The writer of Ecclesiastes concluded that the really foolish thing is to live our lives with our head in the spiritual sand. Paul put it this way: “If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise.”*

Respectability is overrated. It’s a good thing to be a hot mess. But it’s a bad thing to stay that way. I learned it’s better to get wrecked and deal with the consequences.

*1 Corinthians 3:18

I’m beginning to post daily over on Wrecked. You can find this post there.

Comments (5)

  • The ONLY, and I mean the ONLY thing that gets me through my current phases of messiness and brokenness or a completely being stripped of any and everything comfortable or familiar, is knowing I am in Christ, He loves me to the uttermost, and He will not let me fall beyond recovery as I put my trust in Him. This assurance helps me rest in the mess.

  • Thank you for sharing, Seth! Great blog.

    More often than not the Biblical term “foolish” was associated with people who did not believe.

    I want to live my life as if I believe that when I meet Christ face-to-face he will not say, “Maybe you shouldn’t have trusted me so much?”

    Here’s to the journey!

  • Seth, this is such a good blog. I was just talking to a friend the other day about when I became truly and irrevocably broken at Training Camp. I knew I absolutely couldn’t live life the way I had been living it after that and I knew I had absolutely no power or resources to change myself at all. Once I dropped all my excuses and justifications, Holy Spirit came crashing into me and changed everything forever.

    But you know, hearing phrases that broken people utter, like, “I’m not sure of anything, I don’t even know if God is there anymore”, or “Everything I ever knew is just smashed to pieces in front of me and I have nothing to hold onto” used to scare me when I was laboring under squeaky clean Christianity. It did so because the answers in that world were always cut and dry and easy, and to hear people speak like this unnerved me greatly because nothing about these statements are cut or dry or easy.

    But now, I delight, I relish, I frollick in the times I hear people say this, because I know they are in the best position of their lives to experience Him as He is and not how they’ve perceived Him through their own limited paradigms of tradition and culture. But what you’ve said here is also true, that it’s bad to stay that way. I know some people who have stayed that way for years and it has serioulsy taken a toll on their hearts until they reach a deep cynicism about life and God.

    That’s why I love that the World Race and AIM’s other programs facilitates brokenness. It’s personal enough to you to know that it’s your own inner journey, but there’s enough reinforcement around you to root out the lies and build up the truth. And I love that, LOVE that.

    I think facilitating brokenness is a revolutionary concept, and I hope that we learn more, creative ways to facilitate this all over the world.

  • Seth,
    It was really cool to read this story you wrote back in 2013 after you’ve shared many of them with me throughout the past year. It continues to paint the picture of your life and the journey God was/is taking you on. I really connect with your vulnerability. The way you invite readers into your stories/failures challenges the games my ego likes to play. It’s almost like a jump start for me to move past my basic level of consciousness. I love when writers have the gift to open my mind that way. You definitely exercise that gift well. Thanks for sharing your stories and continuing our discipleship journey from afar.

    • Thanks, Mason. Truth be told, we are all a mess. The only honest thing to do is to admit it.

      Praying for you.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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