That's why the Bible verse is so encouraging. It says, in effect, that messy mangers are OK, even necessary.
Similarly, the clutter in our lives is often a sign of productivity, especially the kind of untidiness that comes from relationships with those we love.
Whether it's fruitful fields or fruitful people, success doesn't come without a degree of messiness.
It's one of my favorite Bible verses: "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean. But much increase comes by the strength of the ox" (Proverbs 14:4).
Is your manger messy? Mine is. Whether it's my office at school or my room at home, or the cab of my Toyota pickup truck, clutter seems as natural to my environment as dirty straw to a stable.
And the problem doesn't stop with messy places. My schedule is cluttered, as are my commitments and my relationships. Ditto for my mind and emotions. Nothing about me seems to stay neat and orderly for long.
Actually, I'm not a messy person. Really. (OK. I'm not unusually messy) I don't like clutter. I work hard to put things in order (as my grandmother used to say "A place for every thing and everything in its place"). It's just that I'm rarely successful, and even when I am--when I get my manger clean--it doesn't stay that way.
My problem is I have too many oxen. I read too many books to have a clean office. We have too many children to keep an immaculate house. My work, friends, and family are all too important to me to maintain an uncluttered schedule.
That's why the Bible verse is so encouraging. It says, in effect, that messy mangers are OK, even necessary. If a farmer wants an uncluttered barn, the solution is easy enough. Just don't keep any oxen (or trucks, or tractors).
The problem is, however, that uncluttered barns are unproductive barns. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but it doesn't pay the bills. If a farmer wants crops, he has to get his barn dirty, and his hands, and his feet, and . . . well, just about everything (here's biblical justification for you guys with dirty pickup trucks).
Similarly, the clutter in our lives is often a sign of productivity, especially the kind of untidiness that comes from relationships with those we love. While writing these words, I have been interrupted twice by phone calls. A daughter in California wants to know what to do about an overdue bill, and a daughter closer to home wants advice about a college class.
Of course, both girls want more than yes or no answers. They want their daddy to listen and empathize with their problems. They want understanding, encouragement, affirmation, things that take time.
But I have a column to write, student papers to grade, my own homework to do. Frankly, choosing to talk on the phone means more messiness in my barn.
I take on the extra clutter because, like the farmer, I think it's worth it. More specifically, I think the result is worth it. Whether it's fruitful fields or fruitful people, success doesn't come without a degree of messiness.
I'm not advocating sloppiness or laziness, just realism and a commitment to the truly important. For my family will tell you that I'm actually a recovering perfectionist, someone who once took great pride in his spotless "finished," accomplishments.
What my patient family and friends have taught me in recent years is that barns or lives that are always clean and tidy may have the appearance of success, but, in reality, they are empty, lonely places.
I'd rather put up with a messy manger. Wouldn't you?
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