My four year old son Levi has a great imagination. His trucks and trains and legos all come together to create a magical world of drama and excitement and play. And they all come together to create a huge mess. Every day. Without fail. And every night before the bedtime routine begins, he and I stand before it and survey the damage. And we inevitably end up in some variation of the same debate: Who will clean up the mess?
For a long time I was convinced that if he made the mess by himself he should be the one to clean it up. We would argue back and forth over the mess. He would declare that it was too much, he couldn’t handle the vastness of the mess. I would counter with the cliche argument of “If you made the mess, you can clean the mess up.” He would declare he was too tired. (Seriously, I know that he has picked this up from me as I feel like I declare about 20 times a day how tired I am, but for real. This kid is always conveniently tired these days.) So the argument goes back and forth, on and on, until he starts crying, I start yelling and we both have to take a minute in our separate corners.
So as of recent months I have taken a different approach. When we stand at his doorway and take in that day’s playtime damage, I take a deep breath and say, “Ok. Let’s tackle this mess together.” And we begin to clean it up, side by side. He still sometimes feels overwhelmed or still somehow manages to be too exhausted to pitch in, but for the most part, he jumps right in and begins putting things back in the right place. Even though I didn’t create the mess, I (usually) happily trudge along with him and we chip away at it together. Because life truly is better together.
A few weeks ago at church I was watching my fellow congregants take part in the sacrament of communion. It had been a particularly challenging sermon for me that day and I was finding it difficult to even stand up and partake myself. As I sat there, blankly staring ahead and contemplating all sorts of convicting thoughts, I watched as a disabled woman approached the communion table in a wheelchair. Her hands shook in such a way that she couldn’t pick up the bread and dip it into the wine herself so the pastor administering the communion, dipped the bread for her and placed it into her open mouth. As I spied on this beautiful moment, I found myself thinking, “Man, do I need someone to do that for me today. I am so stuck in this chair right now, weighed down by my own thoughts.”
Immediately God brought to mind the immense measure of ways He has been bringing friends and family to my aid lately. They have been cleaning up my mess with me. They have been dipping the bread in to the wine for me and placing it in my mouth. They have been propping me up with kind words and free childcare and sometimes, when all else fails, a sweet treat with a red wine finish. And as I look back on the last year of my life I realize that I wouldn’t have made it without them. Sure, I would be alive, but I would be a hollowed out shell, just trying to make it through another day.
We live in a culture that tells us that we should be self-sufficient. We teach our kids how to do everything on their own. We feel guilty sometimes asking for help. We feel like we should be able to do it all. And when hard times hit, we can feel the temptation to buckle down and work harder to move through the heartache on our own. The idea of being vulnerable enough to ask for some help or some prayer or a homemade dinner is not a virtue that is praised in our society. But its the only way to really live, in my opinion. Yes, its hard. And yes, the vulnerability will make you squirm so hard sometimes but the payoff is so worth it. The gratitude that you learn to feel and the love that you realize you can’t escape is so worth that crushing blow to your pride when you finally ask the people you love to help you clean up your mess. Because life was meant to be lived together.