I was searching for one of my kids’ electronic devices as per usual. We returned to the place he’d been sitting that morning to see if it fell on the ground or if he’d simply overlooked it in his angst filled search. When our superficial review of the sofa did not produce results, I yanked the couch cushions off. I gasped. And not because I’d suddenly found the iPad.
It was disgusting. Let’s just say it’d been a while since I’d cleaned under the cushions. Popsicle wrappers, Legos, coins, popcorn, dirt, socks, three remote controls, and dog hair were scattered over the surface and wedged in the crevices. I sighed and started scooping up the trash while picking out the small toys and money. When I stood up, I noticed that the iPad had fallen onto the window ledge behind the couch. At least the mystery of the missing device was solved. I retrieved the vacuum in order to finish cleaning up the mess.
I shouldn’t have been shocked about the dirty state of the couch. This is not one of those sitting areas reserved for company in a front parlor of days gone by. My boys eat, sit, play, and sleep there all the time, and the dogs do as well. My daughter prefers the floor, so she can’t be blamed for this mess at least, but the rest of us are guilty. We literally live our days on this sofa.
Every time I pull the cushions back, the gunk awaits just below the surface. We don’t intend to collect the debris under the cushions, it just happens. When we don’t tend to it often, it gets worse and worse, which is like life, of course. On the surface, everything seems fine. We go through our daily routines, post our best moments on social media, and hope our lives appear neat and tidy from the outside.
But often, just below our carefully constructed veneers, our inner lives are in shambles. We are barely hanging on, dealing with a litany of problems, both our own and those of the people we love. We beat ourselves up, believe we are worthless, and hang on to the remnants of shame. The pressure underneath builds as we avoid dealing with the crumbs of broken dreams and the leftovers from damaged relationships. We do not dare peer underneath because as long as we cover up, we can pretend the hard stuff doesn’t exist. That is, if we even realize the turmoil is growing. Some of us have become so good at ignoring our emotional health, we are in danger of being suddenly overcome by the rubbish.
Even worse, we think we’re the only ones to struggle to handle the issues threatening us. We feel out of the loop while everyone else appears to know how to easily manage their lives. Unfortunately, the effort to stay above the fray only reinforces the distance between us. We fear that if we are real about what’s going on inside, we won’t be met with understanding and compassion, but rather ridicule and criticism. So, we keep quiet and further isolated.
God knows though. He is not surprised by the emotional clutter in our lives or the dirt we try to hide. In fact, he wants to help us deal with the undercurrent tugging at us. One of the ways in which he offers that help is through community. Instead of withdrawing due to the fear of being found out, God wants us to find a group of like-minded believers with whom we can share our lives. Trying to find our tribes may sound daunting and time consuming or even impossible, but it is well worth the challenge when we finally find communities that are welcoming and warm. I’m not discounting that this may be difficult, but I think we can all find our people eventually if we keep up the effort.
What may begin as superficial acquaintances has the potential to grow and deepen. Mutually supportive relationships can be born out of these communities. The more we invest in others, the better equipped we are to reveal our own foibles to them and depend on them when we need help.
I was a part of a small group at my church for eight years. During that time, members came and went, and spanned the generations from about 35 years old to over 70. We read a variety of spiritual books and shared prayer requests, and in so doing, we learned a lot about one another. Over time, we earned one another’s trust and became comfortable discussing the challenging aspects of our lives that we usually hide. We dove deep into our issues and those of our families, including illnesses, deaths, divorces, pregnancies, miscarriages, addictions, and the hard parts of caring for elderly parents and young children. Eventually, our group dissolved as folks’ time commitments changed and they could no longer attend.
But when one woman from our group died after a short bout with cancer, we gathered at the funeral and cried and laughed as the pastor shared stories about her in his eulogy. Despite our collective grief, I felt blessed that we had genuinely known her and had been known by her based on the relationships we formed in that group.
God intends for us to live in community. When we find our people, no matter how long the search may take, we can choose to be vulnerable and seek their help to deal with the dirt that may lie below the surface of our lives. God wants us to move away from hiding our emotional debris and move toward the people he brings into our lives. It’s okay to pull the cushions off the couch and ask for help in cleaning up the mess.