When You’re Longing for a Less Messy Life

My whole adulthood it seems like I have been fumbling to get a hold on life. The string of babies and moves and ministries have never been tame no matter how much I try to hustle. I am forever reaching for the elusive moment, just around the corner, when my library books aren’t overdue, and I’ve prepared my Sunday School lesson properly, or, in a much more serious vein, where my own sin issues aren’t overflowing and sloshing the people around me.

I’ve been reaching, straining, hustling, since I became a mom and a pastor’s wife at the tender age of 21. Thankfully I began to learn at some point that life would always be messy, and I could stop waiting to get everything ironed out and buttoned down because it never was going to happen. But still, at times frustration rises up in me, “Why does life have to be so messy?” During one of those seasons recently, I thought of the perfect word that encapsulated all of my longings in the midst of life’s messiness: Established. Yes, this is what I long for. In my home and my church, I long to be established. Being established suggests order, a firm foundation, a certain outcome, permanence. No disorder, no broken pieces or mystery, no bewildering changes that leave you staring at the ceiling at night.

A little searching led me to find that God loves the word “establish” too. In the Bible, “establish” is connected to the kingdom of Israel, God’s covenants, God’s work in creation, His throne of justice, the direction of our lives, and our position in Christ. What an amazing list of things planned and perfectly executed!  What hit me as I read all of these verses is that the establishing is always God’s work. He is the One bringing order out of chaos, setting things up to last for the long haul, and creating certain outcomes. Perhaps the reason my own efforts to establish a life lived well fall short is because it’s simply not my work? Maybe all of this failing is meant to point me to the only One who never changes and never fails.

If that wasn’t enough to upend my thinking I stumbled across more. There is one command for us to establish, and it’s in James 5:8, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” All of a sudden all of my longing and work towards being established comes into focus. Here, all this time, I have been trying to establish everything going on around me, and the only thing God calls me to establish is what is going on inside me. I’ve bought into the lie that order and certainties around me will create peace inside me, and instead God calls me to take my own heart in hand and leave the work of establishing all else to Him. This is a hard word. Always, my instinct is to lunge for control over circumstances, and instead this is my great work each and every day – a heart established on the truth of God’s Word and His ways. Being established looks like a well ordered heart with a firm foundation that knows the certain outcome of how the story ends.

The upside down reality is that an established heart can only come from releasing all the other things that I’d love to be established into God’s hands. Every morning I wake to lesson plans on spreadsheets for five children, a busy toddler, and the planned and unplanned to-dos that come with house keeping and ministry. It presses down on me hard. It’s all so important, so urgent, but I’m learning to preach to myself louder and more persistently than my to-do lists, “You must do one thing before all others!  You must rule your own heart today!”  I know that as I fight that one, huge battle God is establishing more than I could ever dream.

God’s work of creating beauty and order in this world is ongoing. He’s building our churches, and He’s building our homes.  Before we are instructed to establish our hearts, we are instructed to be patient. The verse before says, “Be patient, therefore, my brothers, until the coming of the Lord, See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains.” The farmer is waiting because the fruit needs things that the farmer can’t provide, only God can. When all we can see is the messy parts of life we forget that God is doing His work and nothing can stop Him. “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations…Our soul waits for the Lord, he is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 32:11, 20)

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About Sarah Johnson

Sarah has been a pastor's wife in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in Utah County, the center of Mormonism. She can't think of two more opposite places in the US, but each has been a special joy. She has 5 children and spends most of her time homeschooling and ministering alongside her husband at Fellowship Bible Church. Sarah loves the great outdoors and feeding people and agrees with C.S. Lewis that, "you can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

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