We have a nightly routine around my house to help stay on top of the kids’ mess. About 15 minutes before their bedtime routine begins, play ends and clean-up begins. Anything that’s left out after the clean-up session ends and the bedtime routine begins, Mom picks up and takes possession of for the next 24 hours. So if the kids want to keep their toys, they’ve got to clean them up off the playroom floor. Otherwise, they’re mine.
This has been a fairly effective policy for managing the messes around my house. However, the littlest cleaner found a loophole last week. After our clean up session had ended, we moved to the bedrooms to start getting ready for bed. And what did I discover when I entered the girls’ bedroom? The floor was covered with items that had formerly been littering the playroom floor. Hannah had not actually been putting her toys away; she had just been moving the mess.
“Hannah,” I said, “moving the mess is not the same as taking care of the mess. You’ve only created more problems for yourself now, because the stuffed animals that you want for bed are not in your bed, but still all packed up in this backpack. And clean up time is over. Now we’re getting ready for bed, and you won’t have the things you need for bed.”
A resigned answer followed, “Sorry Mom.”
Yes, it was a quick fix to unpack the stuffies from the bag that she needed for bed. But a spiritual lesson hit me as we talked about moving the mess. Something I have struggled with in the past is spending too much time venting my frustrations or spreading outright negative talk when I’m upset. If you think about it, this is just like moving the mess. I’m upset about something, but instead of actually taking care of the mess, I’m just offloading it onto other people. There are certainly times where it is appropriate to discuss a problem or emotion with a close trusted friend. I have a few of those friends in my pocket, and they are more valuable than gold to me.
But what I’m talking about here is the times we unnecessarily bring negativity into an environment by being overly negative about something or someone. For example, on a recent Sunday, I was frustrated about some issues we were having with a volunteer shortage. I was venting my frustrations to a coworker when another dear volunteer greeted me. He immediately sensed my frustrations and asked me about it. I tried to grin and downplay it, but the damage was done. I had allowed my negativity, my mess, to move into two other lives, instead of simply releasing it to the Lord and trusting that he was going to take care of my volunteer situation (which he 100% did!). I had lost an opportunity to have a positive conversation with my volunteer, and I moved my mess into his space.
In other instances, we may be upset with a specific person, but instead of going to that person, we go to someone else. We move the mess of hurt or frustration from our own hearts to someone totally outside the situation. As a verbal processor, I understand that this is sometimes helpful in working through my thoughts and emotions. But the words I choose to speak into existence about others have power. And they have the power to build someone else’s perception of that person, too. Wouldn’t it be better to do my verbal processing with God, and then go directly to the person who hurt me or upset me? Otherwise, I’m not really taking care of the mess, I’m just moving it. Case in point, my kids come to me ALL. THE. TIME. when they are upset with another sibling. They want me to handle the mess. Now that my kids are 11, 8, and 5, there are a lot of messes that they can handle for themselves. They know what to do when someone hurts their feelings, or physically accosts them, or won’t share! So when they come complaining to me, I’ve started to send them directly to the person who offended them. I listen and decide for myself if they can appropriately handle the dispute, and usually they can. I’m not the one who needs to know about their hurt feelings – the one who hurt them is! How many times have I been guilty of moving my mess in the same way? Instead of going to the person who upset me, I unload on someone else. The mess isn’t taken care of because the person who upset me never even knows about it to be given the chance to fix it. Then the hurt stays in my heart and the relationship is damaged. There’s no advantage to moving messes in these situations.
Ephesians 4:29 is a verse I memorized a long time ago to help deal with this wild mouth of mine. It says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
What if we all did this? What if we did our verbal processing with God and then went directly to the person who offended us so that our relationship could be strengthened through forgiveness and grace and open communication? And what if, when circumstances disappoint us, we take those feelings to God, and speak positively, with faith, about the situation even when it doesn’t look good? Think of how uplifting our conversations would be if we quit verbally dumping all the time and instead tried to meet the checklist in Ephesians 4:29!
Helpful for building others up.
Focusing on others’ needs.
Benefitting anyone who is listening.
This is a hard list for me. But I know it’s good. If all believers put this into practice, our world would be a very different place!
Are you guilty of moving messes too? Is there a mess you can take care of today? Seek the Lord for an opportunity to clean up your messes today so they don’t cause more problems down the road.
Tablet of Her Heart