It was a mess.
And, as messes often do, it presented itself in front of witnesses. My daughter-in-law Jenny and I were in my kitchen, preparing food for a cookout. I opened my refrigerator door to retrieve a jar of pickles and noticed a bright red, wet line oozing down the back wall of the refrigerator. It was blood.
A day earlier, I had used half a package of ground beef, covered the remaining half with plastic wrap, and stuck it into the refrigerator. The plastic wrap undid itself, blood oozed from the raw meat, and now Jenny and I were witnessing the result of the whole nasty process.
Everything else I had planned to do in preparation for the cookout was put on hold. First, I removed the sloppy meat mess and carried it to the sink. Then I wiped away the blood that was running down the refrigerator’s wall. Ultimately I unloaded every shelf and both crisper drawers, washed, dried, and replaced them, and cleaned up the mess that had pooled on the floor of the refrigerator.
Nobody enjoys cleaning up a mess but all of us run headlong into one occasionally. Usually, the quicker a mess is addressed, the easier it is to clean up. And some messes can teach you useful lessons, once you get past the initial fury you feel when you come upon one. I won’t place plastic-wrapped ground beef directly onto a refrigerator shelf again.
An observant person may learn lessons by witnessing messes other people make. I am sure my daughter-in-law is more careful when storing raw meat now than she was before she observed my mess.
Once a friend of mine, intending to shorten a pair of pants by two inches, cut two inches off the same pants leg twice. Another friend received minor burns when she tossed an empty aerosol can into a barrel of burning trash. I neither hem pants nor burn trash but if I ever do, I will be extra careful because of experiences my friends had.
I wish there were a book entitled Every Mistake that Has Ever Been Made and How to Avoid Making the Same Mistake Yourself. Reading that book would save people a lot of grief.
Or would it?
A certain Book with which I am familiar urges me to avoid comparing myself to others, rushing to judgment, flying off the handle, and putting my own desires above the desires of others. It even cites examples of messes created by people who failed to adhere to those guidelines. Yet, I continue to make those same messes myself.
Fortunately, most messes can be cleaned up. Icky refrigerators can be made clean. Ruined pants can be replaced. Minor burns eventually heal. And best of all, there is a remedy for the messes I make when I disregard instructions given in that Book I mentioned. I will be eternally thankful for that remedy. It is called grace.
Beatrice Smith delivers copies of The Upper Room daily devotional guide to a retirement home in Cape Town, South Africa. "Residents are delighted to receive the magazine," she says of a recent visit. Learn more about the international editions of The Upper Room here.