We’re having Vacation Bible School at my church this week. Around 240 kids and volunteers are in the building every day. We serve breakfast to about a third of them and snacks to all of them. Yesterday we made snow cones for every single one of them and the whole staff too. Things are getting a little messy. Some of our crafts are using sand, so there’s a little bit of gritty stuff here and there. One group was beading and left lots of little snips of string behind. Every glass door is festooned with fingerprints and on any flat surface you should be prepared to find a nametag, a newsletter, a used band-aid or an empty cup. All our regular weeknight meetings have been moved to different spaces to accommodate the fun. In short – it’s really messy.
It’s messy, and it’s real. Life is not something to be watched; it should be experienced. And experience is generally messy. Learning to ride a bike almost always draws a little blood. Getting experience in the kitchen means having to wash some dishes. Most new drivers have to have a fender bender. Real is messy.
Being a parent is messy too. I remember seeing a family getting their pictures taken for the church’s photo directory a few years ago. They were dressed to perfection and dad was wearing a white shirt so clean it nearly shimmered in the light. As they waited their turn with the photographer the youngest child, a boy of about 2, threw up over dad’s shoulder and down the back of the perfect white shirt. The photo turned out fine but I laugh every time I see it, knowing what the back of the shirt looked like.
Vomit over the shoulder is easily cleaned up. Another family might have two perfect children nearly ready to leave home when a surprise pregnancy delivers a child with Down’s syndrome. Still other families survive divorces, deaths, job losses, arrests, failing grades and a host of other unplanned events. These messes aren’t so easily cleaned up.
Today at Bible School we asked the big question: “How can Jesus help me when I mess up?” And we answered it: “Jesus forgives me and helps me make a fresh start.” So parents, when you mess up (and you will), take it to the Lord. Let forgiveness clean up the mess between you and your child. Recognize the lessons in the mess. When your child messes up, do the same: forgive and make a fresh start. Like riding that bike or cooking that meal, you’ll probably have both blood and laundry messes as you experience parenthood. It’s ok – love is messy.