After Christmas, the Christian world celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. We’re invited to reflect on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and the way they lived their lives while on earth.
Typically, the Feast focuses upon the perfection of the Holy Family. We look at them as the model of unconditional love and resilience. They show us how a family can live in the Divinity of God’s grace and guidance.
But when I look at the perfect picture—the Divinity of the Holy Three—I often forget they must’ve had a human side too. They were not just a holy family, but also a messy family.
I have to believe Mary and her mother had a few choice words when Mary announced she was pregnant.
“What? Are you kidding me? What have you done?” Mom might’ve said.
I imagine Mary’s dad felt outraged—and then horribly afraid because he assumed Mary had broken the Judaic rulebook—and the proscribed penalty was stoning to death.
And what about Joseph’s parents? Did they tell him, “Mary’s a disgrace. You need to walk away from her, so nobody gets hurt—particularly you.”
Mary herself must have felt the emotional extremes of fear and joy, doubt and faith, and mystery and certainty.
Joseph may have slammed his fist on the table when he learned his bride was pregnant. “I didn’t plan it this way. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.” But with God’s grace, he stepped into the mystery of faith and took Mary as his wife.
It was a human mess. They were perfectly human.
So much so, Mary had to get out of town for three months to her cousin Elizabeth’s house to sort things out so she could listen to her heart and God’s voice.
And after Jesus was born, did he have messy days—like most of us did as kids and now even as adults?
Our Messy Families
Today, COVID-19 has placed our families in one of the most difficult periods of our lifetimes. It has affected everyone, but especially our front-line medical professionals caring for ill patients in hospitals and nursing homes while also trying to protect their families. Those impacted by COVID-19 can and often do suffer from PTSD.
We are all doing our best to maneuver through the second year of this pandemic. And it’s messy. Fear. Anger. Despair. Blame. All those raw emotions strike at our heels and hearts much like the snake did in Eden.
The Choices We Make
And so, like the Holy Family, we’re faced with a choice. Do we let the mess—the anger, fear, and resentment—get the best of us? Do we let miscommunications and insecurities strike our families down one-by-one?
Or do we accept the Divine Chaos as part of life’s messiness like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus did? Can we step back and learn at a deeper level how love, compassion and God’s grace can guide us through this?
Allowing ourselves to look at the Divine and human parts of the Holy Family lets us live into the reality of Divine Chaos—recognizing life’s messiness as an invitation to learn unconditional love and forgiveness. Divine Chaos invites us to accept our own imperfections, as well as the shortcomings of our loved ones. We don’t have to do this life perfectly, nor can we expect others to. Instead, we’re called to live our lives with resilience and love.
Life As Our Teacher
We make mistakes along the way, sometimes repeatedly. But if we can come to the table and admit the culprit is miscommunication and not each other, maybe COVID-19 will have a unique spiritual message for each of us. Maybe it will become our wisdom teacher.
I’m working on my messiness. Working to say, “I’m sorry,” when I mess up. Working to let go and let God. Working to turn the other cheek and avoid survival as my inner compass and instead, opening my heart asking God to help me grow in life’s messy and sometimes wonderful and crazy Divine Chaos. And I know it will be a life-long practice at which I have failed and will fail often. But, as long as I keep on trying to listen and recognize how I need to grow, with God’s help I’ll make improvements bit-by-bit. That’s why they call it “practice” I guess.
Nature as Our Teacher
Maybe, like nature, Divine Chaos contains an underlying order we can find if we look. Maybe letting ourselves and others be fully human and asking God for the grace to live into the divine is how we grow. It’s how we embrace the gift of being a messy Holy Family
A New Year Prayer for Our Messy Families
This Feast Day and all year long, let’s look at the Holy Family through the lens of their human and divine natures. Instead of placing them on a pedestal like a magic icon, how about we see their Divine Chaos and reflect on how they worked through it with their siblings, parents, and extended families, and how they learned to love even better than before.
Let us not be just a messy family—disjointed, angry, frustrated others don’t love us like we think they should.
Let us be a “Messy Holy Family” just like Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and their families were.
Wrap us in the swaddling clothes of your love and safety, dear God. Continue being born in us each day.
—brian j plachta