Real life is a little muddy.
I remember picking up one of my sons from camp one morning, and his jeans and coat were streaked with mud. It was clear that he had been engaging in outdoor activities, and not sitting on the sidelines just to keep his clothes clean.
Sometimes, though, I think that we forget that getting things done often requires us to step into the fray. Self-help books are written by those who suggest that success (or life change) can be found in just “7 easy steps”. While these can be inspirational, they sometimes also feel a little detached from reality.
Even in the Bible, stories may be painted in bright colors for children’s books, but these events took place in real life, and some of them were likely just as messy as the disasters that we face today.
The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. While their clothes didn’t wear out (see Deuteronomy 8:4), I’m certain that they didn’t get the opportunity for daily showers, and were probably hot, sweaty, and tired of sand at the end of each day.
Paul got shipwrecked (read Acts 27). He, Luke, and the rest of the passengers were probably a mess when they landed on Malta, soaked with salty water from their swim, and possibly covered with whatever detritus the sea and the shipwreck had created in the storm. (At least they had just gotten a bath, I guess.)
John the Baptist wore clothes made out of camel hair and ate locusts and honey (Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6). This was no Armani suit, or even a Brooks Brothers shirt1. The locusts were probably just captured in the wild, and the honey didn’t come in a little plastic bottle shaped like a bear.
The good news is that God was with these people in the Bible, and even if things were a little dirty (or downright disastrous), He helped His people through the bad times as well as the good. In the end, the Israelite people (albeit the second generation of freed slaves from Egypt) got to the Promised Land. Paul proclaimed the good news about Jesus in countries throughout the north Mediterranean. John the Baptist got to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
The picture at the top of this article was taken the year after Hurricane Katrina tore up the Gulf Coast in 2005, and reminds us that God’s presence isn’t limited to situations where people are all happy and smiling (whether in a children’s Bible Story book, or just putting on a good face at church). Consider the following message to the Israelite people, as well as Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19-20.
Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
Deuteronomy 31:7-8 NLT
God is not just the God of good times and staged portraits. He is also the God of dirt and grime (in the physical world, that is), as well as blood, sweat, and tears. He is ready and able to walk with you, comfort you, and guide you when you are up to your knees in muddy water, or when you are covered with soot and ash. He cares for you when the pain seems unbearable, and when the wound has not yet healed.
Maybe we need more books where children see that God is powerful and present in the muddy times, and walks with people when they are suffering. Perhaps children who grow up realizing that God isn’t limited to a freshly-cleaned church building, with everyone wearing their good clothes and having their hair combed, will remember later that God is with them when they are dirty, bruised, and hurt.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that this principle isn’t limited to children. Although there is more material for adults to learn about God’s help in the good and the bad of life, all of which He is present for, we could all use regular reminders of that. As a start, I pray that this article reassures you that God is with you, no matter what yesterday, today, or tomorrow brings to your life. And, I hope that you will take the opportunity to tell others the same.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- No, I’m not endorsing these brands. Most of my clothes come from chain department stores. ↩