It’s OK to Be a Mess

by | Aug 24, 2015 | Humor, Spirituality

“There is nothing more touching to me than a family picture where everyone is trying to look his or her best, but you can see what a mess they all really are.”

-Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Not sad. Touching. One word shifts everything. She is touched by the fact that we all try to fix and figure our lives out and yet we never quite measure up. This mess doesn’t anger or embarrass her; it touches her, and she allows herself to love the mess. You can be a mess around Anne Lamott and she’s moved to love.

And that makes me squeamish. I don’t like it when people can see the reality that I am a mess. I spend a lot of time trying to fix that reality. I try to avoid thinking about that reality. But the mess is here to stay and while I’m getting a little better at living with it, it’s still difficult to stare that reality in the face.

That’s why I loved listening to Anne Lamott this past summer. I got a chance to sit in on an interview she did for Loyola Productions’ new series, The Jesuit Rec Room. And as amazing as the opportunity was, the entire time I was there I felt useless and stupid because I was out of my league and often didn’t have a clue when to add something or even when to speak. I really felt like a mess. To make matters worse, they recorded the whole darn thing.

In the episode, Anne and her Jesuit buddy Tom Weston share a number of stores about addiction and the spiritual life. They discuss the importance of recognizing our fundamental powerlessness while mixing in discussions about where they like to eat dinner. They seemed unfazed by the mess of life.

And most of the time I just stared and blinked. (Seriously… I hate seeing myself on video. I blink way more than a normal human being. I must have some kind of a condition. Perhaps California is just too dry… Yeah, I like that, let’s blame the drought.) But honestly I think it really just was my time to sit there. It was my time to stare and because I’m still young and I have much to learn, to blink.

To be invited to look in and stare at the inspiring and beautiful stories of two good friends who have been schooled by love, addiction, failure and weakness is a privilege. They are unafraid, unabashed and unrelenting in telling the truth as they have seen it. They don’t blink. They have a little more practice staring reality in the face. Letting go of the illusion that we will somehow fix ourselves on our own, without help, is freeing. Allowing ourselves to feel our weaknesses, whatever they may be, is liberating.

If you’ve not read Anne Lamott, you should. Check out the video to get a sense of her humor and depth. She’s good. She’s quite good. Her witness and her candor have helped many of us take a good hard look at reality. We need to face up to the intense brokenness of our world, of our country, of our families, of our own lives. We’re a mess and we need to stare at that reality and own it.

I’m trying to hold that gaze. I don’t want to blink too soon. If I keep looking intently I see love, I see tenderness and I see why there is so much healthy and honest laughter. We’re all a mess. But we are a loved mess. Honest laughter helps me to stare directly at reality. With a steady gaze, I can revel in life and all its unvarnished, unresolved and unfinished glory.


Eric Sundrup, SJ   /   @sunnydsj   /   All posts by Eric