My family knows one of my favorite sayings, “We live in a house, not a museum.” This simple phrase reminds us that everything doesn’t have to look perfect for company, nor do visitors to our house need to worry about keeping everything in its place.
Once, a few days after having some overnight guests, my wife mentioned that she was working to get the house back to where it was. I could envision her scattering toys over the floor, maybe tossing around some books or TV remotes, and essentially “dirtying up” around the house. (Instead, of course, she meant that she was washing the blankets and pillows that the guests had used, and putting things away. She works hard to keep our house in a pretty organized state, despite the forces of entropy and life.)
In the beginning, God commissioned Adam to take care of the garden.
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
GENESIS 2:15 NASB
Note that Adam wasn’t charged here with impressing other people through his gardening skills, or in keeping other people out of the garden (not that there were other people, yet). Instead, he had work to do in the garden. As farmers and gardeners know, by taking care of the land and putting some work into it, Adam could expect even better results.
In the same way, following Jesus includes an investment in other people. After all, He didn’t tell us to let our light shine in private, but instead, we are to allow others to see our good works. (Elsewhere, it’s also clear that doing so in a way that is prideful and brings attention to ourselves isn’t the right way. However, when our good deeds bring glory to God, we have found a good combination.)
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
MATTHEW 5:14-16 NASB
Like taking care of the earth and helping plants to grow, investing in other people is real work! It takes time and effort, and sometimes requires that we wait a long time before we see results. Helping others can be tiring, too – sometimes leaving us with aching bodies, minds, and hearts.
However, I don’t think that we are called to project an image of “artificial tidiness”. When Christians speak only of their blessings, and not their suffering, we imply that the life of faith doesn’t include challenges. When Christians imply that we are “more righteous” than non-Christians, rather than being thankful for the salvation that comes only from Jesus, we set ourselves up to be judged when we fail. When Christians never speak of their struggles, addictions, illnesses, pain, and failures, they block off the avenues of healing that come through sharing burdens among the body of Christ.
The Bible, after all, doesn’t whitewash history, nor the lives of many people of faith. God’s plan was implemented through the contributions (both willing and unwilling) of many fallen human beings, complete with faults, bad habits, and major life issues. Jesus prophesied trouble for His followers, along with the promise of His presence.
So, let all of us who walk with Jesus be genuine in how we present our journey. If we have pain and sorrow, let us admit it and attest to the comfort that we can find in Jesus. If we sin, let us confess it and thank God for His salvation. If we don’t have it all together, let us testify to the One who does.
It’s OK when things get messy. Walking with Jesus is a lifelong path, not a museum of static exhibits and preserved memories. Perfection doesn’t come until Heaven, but the journey to get there is pretty interesting.