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Practice the Virtue of Messiness


Brittany Randolph CC

Michael d'Esterre - published on 04/09/15

Forget about being perfectly neat -- that's no way to love

As a child I learned order and cleanliness as a way of peace and perfection. “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” my mother used to say. There is a sense of Heaven in a well-put-together room or a well-trimmed lawn. Virtue bursts forth in discipline and hard work.

Surely the good Lord is pleased when we care for His creation with such order. But of late, I have learned that to keep a house clean and a yard uncluttered is nearly impossible in the presence of little children.

Why is that, you may ask (only if you have none of your own)? Two reasons:

1. Distraction

Children are always demanding attention. They cannot help but to look cute, and so draw you into their adorable world, keeping you from your properly ordered agenda of the day.

I, all too often, find myself flat upon the carpet with my chin upon my fists making silly faces to draw more drool out with the cherubic smiles of my one-toothed nine month old. She giggles and grabs for my hair; hours pass by in such unproductive bliss.

2. Consumption

Children are the ultimate consumer. They consume food (eating some, scattering the rest). They use toys, “territorialize” them with their slobber, and in moments move on to another, until the entire household is littered with them.

They utilize diapers in bulk quantity (diapers from Costco anyone?), filling them with the most unpleasant content. And who is left in the wake to deal with all this consumption?

The parent.

While I maintain that a clean house is possible, with reflection and prayer I have learned to prudently seek a balance between cleanliness and messiness.

Perfection Can Be Prideful

Be it ever so small, there is an element of pride in a perfect home. It fills one with satisfaction. I recently heard a priest teach that the opposite of love is pride, and this I would posit is at play within the satisfaction of a clean home at the expense of being present with our children. 

Thus, we might fit messiness in as a sub-virtue under the category of love. Suffice to say messiness must be paired with prudence in that right judgment must guide the discernment of when the practice of messiness facilitates love and when it is sloth or recklessness. Here are some helpful questions to guide the process:

1. Am I a clean person by disposition, and do I feel a sense of self-discipline or self-sacrifice in letting clutter and dirt lay where it may?

2. Am I responding out of a place of affection and attention to my children, or am I merely looking for a distraction from my vocational requirements of caring for the home?

3. Do I see this as an opportunity to grow in love for God through loving my children?

When we examine our decisions as parents, we often find mixed motives. To differentiate these, it is important to keep in mind what we value most and what we want to have achieved by the end of the day. These questions help us to put things in proper perspective.

You know when you are seeking to love God and when you are trying to escape. You know where your virtuous median lies. The major obstacle we face is prioritizing all into God’s will, is it not? What does He value most?

Presence Prioritized Over Perfection = Charity

Mother Adela of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts says simply and profoundly, “Love is presence.” It’s a simple truth that the things in life which hold the most value are the ones we take for granted or are least aware of.

The gift of spending time with children can easily be lost in the day-to-day routineness of it. But the reality is that anytime we are in communion with others, especially those God has committed to our care and safekeeping, we are living the highest of virtues—charity.

For this reason alone I would argue that there is a time and a place where the habitual practice of messiness can be construed as a sub-virtue of charity, when it is done for the purpose of being focused on those we love. At the heart of our Faith is the practice of love.

What a wonderful thing to know that messiness can serve as a means to such high ends.

Michael d’Esterre blogs regularly for Patchwork Papist and his own blog Monastic Man.This article was published in Seton Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

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