Beautiful Messes (and Not-So-Beautiful Ones, Too)

Once upon a time, I wrote about how I gave birth to a miniature version […]

Carrie Willard / 1.14.19

Once upon a time, I wrote about how I gave birth to a miniature version of myself. My worst fear about motherhood is that the world would have another version of me in it. That fear came true, but not really, because as I wrote before, my son is a slightly improved version of me. Or so I thought.

Recently, my parents brought out the old home movies, which they’ve had converted from VHS to DVD because, children, I’m old. I watched the permed (ugh) version of me in a yellow Benetton sweatshirt (ugh ugh) play the recorder (ugh ugh ugh) on film. I watched my adoring grandparents appear on film, which made the agony of watching myself worthwhile. They were genuinely thrilled with my recorder performance, which I can tell because they weren’t that great at acting. But what I really noticed is how much everything about me then mirrors everything about my youngest son now. Not just our appearance, but our mannerisms, the way we roll our eyes, and the way we don’t know quite what to do with ourselves when someone compliments us, even when it secretly thrills us. Until now, he hasn’t seen this younger version of me, and yet he’s stepped right into whatever combination of nature and nurture has created him. He is all mine.

A week later, we sent the kids back to school after winter break, and gave them the new-to-them ability to text us. One would think that the almost-eleven-year-old would be thrilled about this ability, but he’s been cool and calm about the whole thing. My little seven-year-old mini-me, though, is ALL OVER IT. Within minutes, I felt like I knew exactly what it must be like to be married to me.

If you cover up the names, I would be hard-pressed to tell you if this was a message from Ben to me, or me to my husband. I LOVE YOU. I MISS YOU. WHEN WILL YOU BE HOME. HI. HELLO. I’M STILL HERE. I’M GOING TO NEED YOU TO RESPOND IN KIND.

We’re…very affectionate. Some might say needy. We’re kind of a mess.

Just this week, I read an article in The Atlantic titled, “Beautiful Messes: Your Flaws Are Probably More Attractive Than You Think They Are.” The subtitle: “‘Beautiful messes’ have a certain allure.”

The article talks about how we (the collective “we”) like to see others’ vulnerabilities, even if we’re scared to show vulnerability ourselves. Big surprise there. You show me yours, but I’ll keep mine in my pocket, thanks so much. It went on to say that people respond especially well to being shown others’ vulnerability if that person has established themselves as competent first. In other words, there are rules to this game. You can trip, but you’d better be the CEO first. If you trip on your first day as an intern, you’re fresh out of luck. There is apparently law about how you show up and show yourself to be an endearing jackass. Too soon, and you’re just a jackass. Too late or not at all, and you’re not endearing. THIS IS HARD.

This is especially hard for people like my mini-me and me. Our mess is all out there for all the world to see. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we tend not to wait for an invitation. We’re a little (a lot) needy. We give a lot, and we expect a lot in return. We can barely keep up with each other, much less the less affectionate (cold weirdo) people in our lives. This is impossibly hard, and maybe even harder for those poor souls who are expected to respond to our beautiful messiness.

Life is hard.

But with apologies to The Atlantic and with all due respect to the hardworking people publishing those studies, I have good news.

I believe that God gives not one lick for studies about vulnerability. Jesus came into the world completely vulnerable, a baby born to a teenager. God didn’t wait for him to climb the corporate ladder, establish some street cred, and then show up in the middle of some livestock. He broke all of the rules of popularity by showing his awkward side early on. The genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that He didn’t even have the decency to be born into a family without scandal. (But, um. Who has, really?)

And while the world might eventually come to love a beautiful mess, Jesus knows and loves us as the ugly messes we can sometimes be, whether we show that side to others or not.

The Psalmist reminds us that God has known us since He knit us together in our mother’s womb (and probably even through that awful perm and screechy recorder phase). Nature or nurture, beautiful mess or ugly spectacle, He knows us and loves us. He loves us so much that he gave his only-begotten Son for us. God created all of the beautiful messes and the ugly ones, too, and loves us in spite of, and probably also because of, our frailty and our mess.

My response to all of this is not to try to be less of a mess, or a more gracious mess, or a more likable mess. I mean, I’ll probably try, because insecurity is the hallmark of my particular brand of heart-on-my-sleeve. But my first response is gratitude that I am loved in spite of, and maybe even because of, my messiness. After all, I can’t imagine loving my little texting child any less because he shows me how much he loves and needs me. If anything, it makes him even more precious to me for his complete lack of chill, and his bold fashion choice of wearing his whole heart on his sleeve. My loving him reminds me that I am loved, too, even when I still feel like the permed yellow-sweater-wearing kid who doesn’t know what to do with her face when someone gives her a compliment.