I recently had to attempt a repair on our sofa; it’s one of those things that lets you stretch out the seat and have a foot-rest pop out. A La-z-boy, but not that specific brand.
A sofa is a clean thing, I thought. It might get crumbs and the odd beverage spilled on it, but mechanically I expected it to be grease free. After all, looking at the thing, even under a bright light, didn’t reveal any oily or grease spots. There must be some lubrication in order for it to operate smoothly and quietly, but, it’s not a messy old car leaking oil, grease, fuel or coolant everywhere
I thought incorrectly. By the time I had finished diagnosing the problem, attempting a few different ways to solve it, and concluding that there was nothing I could do, my hands were more messy that I had thought. I wasn’t covered in grease up to my elbows and my T-shirt was unmarked, but I was still unfit to handle anything I wanted to remain clean.
Despite the fact that no grease or oil were evident to my eyes, there was nevertheless enough to soil my hands quite thoroughly. And, of course, since I was dealing with oil and grease, it took a lot of soap and scrubbing before my hands were clean enough to resume handling things that I wanted to remain unsoiled. Don’t even ask what the sink looked like after washing my hands.
It didn’t take much grease and oil to make a right-royal mess of my hands. Had I not been diligent in washing them immediately after finishing my task I would have made an even bigger mess of our house. Greasy fingerprints are not a suggested decorating option.
In the same way, our little sins and boo-boos can often make a far bigger mess of us than we might expect. A truth stretched a tiny bit can lead to other truths having to be stretched even more. A quietly muttered unkind word can not only hurt the person it’s directed to, it can do untold damage to our reputations. A wee selfish denial, “just-this-once!” might not just deprive someone of needed help, it might lead to a pattern of holding back the gifts we’re meant to share.
There is no magic bullet to avoiding mistakes or unkind actions. We’re frail and failing human beings, after all. The trick is dealing with them right away. Own up to whatever we’ve done. Seek forgiveness. Make amends. Clean up the mess as soon as we realize it’s happened. And where we fall short, Jesus takes up the slack. He won’t clean up our mess for us, but He’ll be the first to forgive us, and he’ll support us all the way as we try to set things straight.
The mechanical bits of my sofa didn’t seem that messy, but that didn’t mean I didn’t get dirty. It’s the same with life. Even our kindest, most thoughtful, loving and well-intentioned efforts can go wrong. When they do, things can get messy, but that’s simply part of life. I know that some folks say “cleanliness is next to Godliness”, but to me it can be a sign that we’re too worried about the mess, and not worried enough about doing our best.
Published previously, May 2, as part of my weekly “Thoughts” for my congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Coldwater.