Margin for Messiness

by Abraham Cremeens

Junior High was a crazy season of life. Shivers. What a time!


It represented one of several “coming of age” points, stepping stones where I made conscious decisions about who I was, what I believed, and who I would become. We all have those moments. They are essential and valuable.


At that time in my life, I was surrounded by a great family and a great church. They did a wonderful job guiding me in my development toward pursuing God. But, for some reason, I felt paralyzed to express the doubts I was having about God, faith, and the Christian life.

It became a significant internal struggle. I never took the step toward talking with anyone about it. I didn’t think I could.


That was my fault, even as a youth. There were plenty of people around me that I could have brought the struggle up with. But I didn’t feel any margin, any space, any freedom, to express my messiness. I felt like I had to look like I had it all together.


Now, I am almost 39 years old. I am a husband, and parent two young boys. I am a disciple-maker and am paid to do so as a career. That means I come in contact with many men, women, and children on a weekly basis and connect with them at key points in their walk with God.


Junior High Abraham was messy. He was full of doubts, sin, fear, and grief. Thirty-nine-year-old Abraham is messy. He is full of doubts, sin, fear, and grief. You as a reader are full of doubts, sin, fear, and grief. I get that. My question is: How do I (and how do you) make a margin for the messy, making space to express the ugly stuff we tend to hold inside?


It doesn’t matter how old we are. We learn to put on masks and put up a false front that we are all okay and that there is nothing to be concerned about. This takes place throughout our days, in the workplace, on Sunday morning, in Care Group, and over a meal with a friend.

I want to create space for messy moments. Are there questions we can ask that give others permission to reveal their mess? Is there anything we can do that tells others we are a safe place to talk about messes with? Can our children tell us they struggle to believe in God? Can our neighbor comfortably share his struggle with pornography?


I have a lot of growing to do in this area but I want to create margin for the messy.


Here are some ideas that I have:


  1. I need to own my messiness. I struggle with doubt, depression, grief, and sin. I am not above anyone. I am no less messy than anyone else. By acknowledging that daily, I am moving into my own messiness and I believe that will fashion me into a more approachable person by default.

  2. I need to be vulnerable with my messiness. This is a scary one to me. It will backfire at times. I will share with someone who will hurt me. But my identity is in Christ and I can trust him to care for me in those moments. The grenades that go off will be far fewer than the moments of ministry that take place as my life intersects with the lives of others. By trusting others with the deep places of my heart, others will see that they can trust me with their own.

  3. I need to invite others to share their mess with me. There is a caution here. I am never entitled forsomeone to share the depths of their soul with me. Even a simple question may come across as too aggressive for someone who doesn’t want to be vulnerable. However, gentle questions and looking for opportunities, founded on humility, can pave a road toward transparency. This is not to mention budgeting time to genuinely listen to what they share.


It’s not rocket science. I have a lot of learning to do. But I invite you to create margin for messiness within your own circles of relationships.