“A hot mess.” You’ve likely heard this phrase many times or even used it yourself, but you probably haven’t stopped to ponder where it came from. This phrase goes all the way back to the 19th century when “a hot mess” referred to food like a mess hall or a mess kit.
But in the 21st century, with the evolution of the word “hot,” a hot mess is actually defined as an attractive disaster. Somebody whose life—or some portion of their life—is in obvious disarray, and yet they remain somewhat functional and attractive. They’re in a mess but they can still show up for work and they look a lot better than their circumstances are because they clean up well. Sound familiar?
There are all kinds of messes. For some, the mess is financial—because of debt they acquired or something beyond their control. The mess might be relational—a bad marriage or complicated family dynamics. Sometimes the mess is professional—perhaps they got themselves into a sticky situation at work and now they’re trying to find a way out.
It’s always easier to see someone else’s mess than to acknowledge our own. Perhaps you’ve seen somebody making a decision and thought to yourself, You’re going to regret this, or You’re about to make a big mess of that.
But before becoming critical of people whose lives are messy, it’s important to look in the mirror at ourselves. More often than not, we’ll be silenced by the reminder that we are messy too. The reality is either we’re in a mess, we’ve just emerged from cleaning up a mess, or we’re one potential decision away from a mess.
So when it comes to the messes of others, we should practice being students rather than critics.
You see, isn’t it true that when you hear the story behind someone’s mess—when you listen to their challenges and understand their circumstances—you view them differently? Suddenly you’re more sympathetic than you are critical of them. You might even start to identify with them.
We’ve all dug holes we can’t get out of by ourselves and we’ve all made messes we can’t clean up by ourselves. It’s what brings us together. And Christians believe that the mess that brings us together is the mess that brought God near. We believe that God looked down on a messy world and decided to send his son to address the mess. And when Jesus showed up, instead of bringing criticism and judgment like everyone expected, he introduced grace and compassion.
So here’s a challenge for you. When you see someone else’s mess this week, instead of being critical and thinking, I’m better than them, or I’d never do that, try saying to yourself, I know a mess when I see one because I am one.
It’s your move.