Treasure Valley Prays

Ironing a Messy Life


This spring, I purchased a new linen shirt to wear as the weather warmed. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing quite like linen in the summer. The fabric breathes and stays cool in the hottest weather. That was true even in Northern Virginia, where we lived for over thirty years. The summers there are hot but the worst part is the humidity, which is overwhelming. But my linen clothing stayed comfortable.

There is one drawback, however. Linen wrinkles. It requires ironing, although for me, ironing is not a problem. I actually love to iron. So imagine my surprise when I saw a tag on my new shirt that read: “‘I love to iron,’ said no woman ever. Wash it, wear it, and forget it. Our ultra-comfy, travel-ready fabric lets you leave the iron behind.” Needless to say, my new shirt gets ironed because when it comes out of the washer it does not have that crisp, neat appearance that I find so appealing.

Why do I love to iron? I suspect it’s because it gives me the feeling, illusory as it may be, that I am in control. I take a clean article of clothing that’s full of wrinkles and in a few minutes, it’s a thing of beauty. Crisp seams. Pleats that are neat and sharp. Fabric that is as flat and smooth as one could possibly imagine. Putting that shirt on is a moment of joy. But then, in just a short time, the wrinkles re-appear, and I am reminded that not only laundry, but life, can be pretty messy.

The desire to be fully in control of our lives is, at best, a never-ending, frantic search for perfection and, at worst, a denial of who we are. Although overused a bit, I think, by appearing everywhere on plaques and jewelry and pillowcases, God speaks to us through the Psalmist by reminding us to “be still” and know that God is God. Psalm 46:10. This is a quiet, yet forceful, statement. God is the creator of the universe, the One who set in motion all the wondrous forces that have brought us to where we are today and where our descendants will be eons from now. I’m not in charge. God is.

So, if I can’t permanently iron out all of the wrinkles in my life (and, truth be told, I’d really like to iron out the wrinkles of a few other people’s lives, as well), what am I to do? In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus relates the Parable of the Weeds. In a well-tended field of wheat, someone breaks in and sows weeds. When the workers asked the owner whether they should pull the weeds, the response was to let the weeds and wheat grow together. The weeds will be removed at the time of the harvest because if the weeds were to be removed now, the wheat would be disturbed and might be thrown out instead.

Pastor Meagan McLaughlin of Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Grove, Missouri, put it this way:

. . . Being human is not a clean, neat, clear venture but really . . . complicated at times. . . In Luther’s language, we are all sinner and saint. We all have weeds and wheat. I think of it as living through a really messy middle, certainly in the process, but not there yet.

In doing a quick Google search of belief statements of Lutheran congregations in the United States, I found that there are a surprising number of them that specifically point to the messiness of our lives. Faith Lutheran Church in Marshfield, Wisconsin starts by inviting people to gather together:
We have imperfect, messy lives, but we are pursuing and experiencing a transforming relationship with Jesus and with each other. Everybody is welcome here, whatever your story, questions, or struggles.

Christ the King Lutheran Church in West Chester, Ohio, has six core beliefs, one of which is that they believe in a “God who accepts us as messy and imperfect.” The campus ministry congregation at the University of South Carolina, named Gamecock Lutheran in recognition of USC’s nickname, looks at the messiness not only of individual lives but also of the congregation as a whole. It states that the congregation’s calling is to “live out God’s mission of love on earth.” which is acknowledged as:

. . . an exciting, messy, challenging, rewarding, and grace-filled (even if not always graceful ) calling that leads us into worship, service, and fellowship with one another, our community, and the world.

In reading through these various statements, I realized that these congregations simply present themselves as who they are – a group of imperfect, but dearly loved, children of God. They bring health and healing to each other and the world around them without taking themselves too seriously. And I suspect that they might have some fun, to boot.

Perhaps it is time that I give up the notion that I am in control of my life, which, of course, was never true, and embrace the reality of who I am – a beloved child of God who tries too hard, who needs to back off a bit and who should be OK with having the laundry in the basket a bit longer. Does that mean I will not iron my linen shirts anymore? No – I still love to iron. But I will know that being in control is not at the heart of my life. And for that I say, “Thanks be to God.”

Let us pray...

Dear Creator of us all, help us realize that you are God and that we are not in charge. Let us embrace the messiness in our lives, knowing that through these lives, we are striving to serve You and all of your children. Let us live out your mission of love to all of our siblings, reflecting Your love for each of us. Amen.

Picture of Kathryn Baerwald

Kathryn Baerwald

Member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Boise ID

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