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It’s OK to be a Mess

I just got back from a trip overseas. We left at 10:30 pm across the Atlantic. We flew into rough headwinds for much of the flight.   The bumpy ride filtered through to my dreams. I sat, terrified as our Airbus jet was going down in flames. I awoke with a pounding heart, realized that it w…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I just got back from a trip overseas. We left at 10:30 pm across the Atlantic. We flew into rough headwinds for much of the flight.
 
The bumpy ride filtered through to my dreams. I sat, terrified as our Airbus jet was going down in flames. I awoke with a pounding heart, realized that it was just a dream, and breathed a sigh of relief. 
 
It’s always great to return home from a trip involving a long flight. The plane environment does something to you – it dries you out and depletes you. I am allergic to something in planes and begin sneezing about seven hours in.
 
Of course the cabin pressure does a number on you. And the little kids kicking your seat from behind are a bonus that your frequent flyer club didn’t tell you about. 
 
If after your first flight, you happen to connect flights in that lower level of Dante’s hell called Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris, then God bless you. 
 
I had an hour and a half on Sunday morning to make my flight – no problem, right? Oh no, this is Paris. Frequent flyers to Europe on Delta have inevitably been traumatized multiple times by that airport. 
 
The first sign we were in trouble? It came when they emptied the plane into a couple of buses. The buses then had to drive to the other side of the airport.
 
When the buses disgorged us into a roiling mass of people stacked up in one giant, shuffling queue in front of about six Immigration windows, alarm bells were ringing in my head. We were like cattle in the Kansas City stockyards waiting to be processed.
 
There was no way I was going to make it. Hundreds of people in front of me and 15 minutes till my plane began to board. So I did what any sane person would do. I cut in line. But that only took me to the part of the queue where they take you back and forth about ten times.
 
So I cut again trailing apologies and muttering about my flight leaving. And again. And again. Finally, I darted in front of a woman who was clearly in front of me. The whole misadventure had taken less than half an hour and somehow, I was losing my grip on sanity. Inside I was thinking, “This is the last helicopter out of Viet Nam!” 
 
It was a shameful thing. Who does that? I guess certain cultures and type-A people like me excuse it, but really it’s just very rude.
 
Eventually still in panic mode, I made it to the plane and boarded. In Atlanta, an Uber driver named Khan picked me up. My head was aching from sleeplessness and I still had an hour of driving to do once he dropped me at my car.
 
I arrived at home, feeling less than human. My family was there having Sunday family dinner. Everyone was gathered around the table and the slime of my battle to get home began to melt away.
 
Yeah, we’re all a mess
 
This afternoon, in the sanity of my office, with laughter outside and the sun shining in the windows, my humanity has returned. And I’m thinking, “It’s amazing how quickly I lose my sanctification. It takes very little for my inner adolescent to manifest.
 
How many people must live like that every day? How many live under the tyranny of their own broken behavior all the time?”
 
Who doesn’t struggle with pressure and with their own brokenness? We all do, we just find ways to hide it. 
 
Our inner mess especially doesn’t show up on Sunday morning. If we’ve had a Paris Immigration experience in our week, we lock it far away out of sight.
 
And you know what? I’m done with that kind of church. I’m done with churches that are big boxes for people to bring their best selves on Sunday. I’m done trying to pretend that life should be that way.
 
The reality is that life is often a lot more like Charles DeGaulle Airport. And a lot of people respond to it like I did – just trying to get through, often at the expense of others.
 
Rest and authenticity
 
Jesus didn’t call us to that. He said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
 
I can do church with people like that. I’m starting to find it here at a small church startup here in Gainesville. I let my hair down and it’s OK. I leave my title at the door and bring my mess inside. And you know what, my mess actually encourages other people! 
 
They’ve had weeks like I had. And we lean into each other in a place of authenticity. I think this is what Jesus meant. I think this is coming to him – we come as individuals to the body of Christ. And there we are seen and validated and welcomed into the group that loves us.
 
It actually feels restful. I lay my burdens down in a place of unforced rhythms. I let out a sigh as the pressure to be anything I’m not melts away.
 
Isn’t that the church of your dreams? Isn’t that the good news of abundant life? Isn’t it the kind of community that a generation longs for? 
 
If people are sick of the judgmentalism of Christians, well so am I and so are the people I work with. If they are looking for a place where they don’t have to park their mess at the door, then welcome to the mess that is us.
 
We’re all a little sick inside by ourselves. We need to find that place that lifts us up. I may be a mess, but that’s OK. I’ve found a group of people who welcome my mess.

Comments (14)

  • Interesting. My husband and I have been talking along these lines as well. We have learned–and learned well–that it’s not safe at all to show our messes, either at the churches we’ve been in or the small group that we’re currently in. It can start to feel like there just is no place like that anywhere.

    I’m glad to hear you have found one. Meanwhile, we continue to welcome Him into our mess and rejoice over the redemption that He’s working out.

    • I pray that you find some people who you can trust yourselves to, Rhonda. You have a lot to give!

  • Hey Seth,

    The Lord put you on my heart this morning as soon as I woke up. He told me to pray for encouragement. He wants you to be encouraged in your dreams.

    God told me that you are sending people on the World Race who will be the Billy Grahams of our generation. You are also sending people who will be discipling nations. The Lord reminded me that this discipleship process will take years to bloom into the fullness of the impact it’s truly going to have.

    Be encouraged today. God is using your life in mighty ways. Continue to fight the good fight. Continue to champion this generation. You are producing an abundance of fruit and that fruit will produce an abundance of fruit.

    Please know that my team and I were specifically praying for you this morning. May God fill you with courage today!

    • Thank you, Ryan. I was in a discouraged place when I read your comment. Life is tough and sometimes you just want to call a halt to all the hard work. But your team’s prayers picked me up. Let them know I’m thankful!

  • Seth-
    Great perspective, thanks for “sharing the mess”. Many like me can connect to this message. We spend our days in the miracle of modern air travel, flying places and making impressions…hiding our mess. Sliding into less than Christian behavior in transit because getting were we are going on time is so important….Makes me wonder what things would be like if we treated every encounter and interaction on our journeys as important as the people and places we are trying
    to get to…..certainly the people in line, on the bus, in the plane aisle, flying the plane, serving the peanuts, handling the baggage, etc, etc, are every bit as important to Christ as the ones we are traveling to get to….if we shared our mess and treated them so, we would probably miss many scheduled connections…but arrive at our ultimate destination right on God’s time…

  • Paul said we have this treasure is earthen vessels; and Jeremiah said, the vessel that get marred in the hands of the Potter and He doesn’t mind making the vessel again, into something wonderful, something He calls, “good and mine”, though it may look a mess in the eyes or hearts of some.

    It’s so refreshing to read your heart Dad and reflect on how and where to find help from the mess we bear and the ones we are smeared with.

    From the lips of Brother Eugene Peterson, I hear Jesus calling, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matt 11:28-30

  • Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I love that phrase. The word Unforced jumps off the page. I think because most of what I do is try to force things to work in the way I think they should. Resting in the rhythms is difficult for some of us…haha. But I am so glad to have found a group that gets it…and isn’t afraid to show their mess. Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, Michelle. We need community to move beyond our patterns of habit and broken ways of living. It’s quite a struggle to find the community that is truly generative and life-giving. Thanks for all you bring to our community.

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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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