Day 14: Near

by Meredith Gudger-Raines

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’  Luke 17:21

I have two small kids, whom I love even more than the church.  Every morning, my beloved spouse takes them to day care, and I exhale and close the door, glad to have made it through the chaos of another morning, grateful for the quiet of an empty house.  And then I turn around.  The kitchen table is invariably littered with pieces of scrambled egg, partially eaten bagels, snotty kleenexes, and cups full of milk.  They’ve left a wake of toys and paper and whatever else they found to play with during the morning from their beds to the front door.  Most mornings, my pleasure at a quiet house immediately gives way to extreme annoyance with the perpetual mess.

At this point, phrases pop into my head.  “Enjoy every minute of it!  Your kids are only small once.  One day, you’ll miss these days,” and all the other things well-meaning older folks have said to me every day since my oldest was born.  Does anybody miss sweeping up last night’s now-crunchy pasta every day?  Or the young women from the supportive mom’s group: “It’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess.”  Honestly, banana squished into a napkin and a chair and my slippers is not beautiful.  It’s just a mess.  A gross mess.  Or the voice of a previous generation: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  Which makes me think that either they were a lot better at this life stuff than I am, or they were just lying.

I think the breakfast mess bothers me so much because this is really the easiest part of my day.  From here, I deal with phone messages and sermon prep and how to build small groups and paying my car insurance and seeing someone in the hospital and prioritizing my kids and worrying about the survival of the church and wondering if what I do is relevant to anyone.  Stuff gets hard.  And I can’t even figure out breakfast.

This morning, though, as I scrubbed pasta sauce off the table, I thought about what Jesus said.  Jesus is usually a good voice to have pop into your head.  “Repent!  For the kingdom of God is at hand.”  His first public words, and so a pretty important message to keep in mind.  God is near.  God is not far off, after we die, or after we get everything nice and neat and orderly and clean.  God is not waiting for me at the end of my to do list, a location as elusive as the end of the rainbow.  God isn’t waiting until I’ve accomplished something extraordinary and valuable and worthy.  God is actually present with me while I’m standing in the mess.

The Pharisees once asked Jesus how they would know when God started running things.  When would the Messiah’s regime take control of Jerusalem?  When was God going to show up and make things right?  And Jesus told them that God’s kingdom can’t be pointed to.  It’s not a series of events, or a set of circumstances, or an admirable list of accomplishments.  God’s kingdom is among us.  It’s within us.  God is already here.  With us.

Maybe this is the wisdom hidden in those voices that play on repeat in my mind.  One day, I will realize that God has been with me all along, and the times I was bemoaning a disgusting breakfast table were times I was ignoring the beauty and grace of God right there with me.  The times I belittle myself for not crossing off 50 to do list items are times I miss thanking God for making me me.  The time I spend wishing things were easier is wasted.

is there a way I can thank God for the grace that sustains me and find peace while wiping up scrambled eggs?  I don’t know.  But I’m sure tomorrow will bring another opportunity to try.

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