The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
I was working at a private college with several Catholic sisters on staff and went to a meeting to discuss the non-academic challenges faced by some students. Some of our students had serious messes in their lives.
My colleagues and I shared a few stories about the ways God’s providence was evident in the way these students managed to rise above their challenges.
One of the sisters thought for a moment, then quietly said something along these lines: “It’s in the mess where the Holy Spirit resides.”
It is in the difficulty where we are most likely to encounter God.
It was profound. Over the past several weeks I’ve encountered the truth of this statement twice.
For a couple months, I’d been praying for clarity about some possible trajectories for my life. I was drawn to bible passages about God’s providence. The message was clear: “I will provide.” I didn’t understand how this related to decisions I would face.
On New Year’s Eve, my computer crashed. Literally. It fell off a table and crashed onto the floor. The charging port dislodged, the case came apart, and a few other things happened that rendered it unusable. Big Guy schlepped it around town to quite a few computer repair places. The repair was much pricier than we could afford at the time and it would have taken several weeks—and there was still no guarantee that it would work.
It was a mess. I was a mess. I need a computer for what I do; I didn’t know how I would manage. In the midst of the mess, several people (including some whose names I don’t know) came forward with research, solutions, and ultimately a plan. I am sitting here with a replacement computer—and in another room sits a second computer that someone later decided to send me just for my podcasting work and to be sure I have a backup.
Where I began the month with nothing, I now have an abundance.
God showed up in my mess in a big way, answering not just my prayers for functioning technology but my prayers for clarity. The specifics of how the abundance was provided spoke directly to the specifics of my prayers for clarity.
God did, indeed, provide.
I have not only the technology I need, but also a renewed certainty about my path forward.
In the midst of my mess, I experienced the Holy Spirit through the kindness and gifts of others and through the very specific way that God answered my prayers.
A more recent experience involved two members of my extended family.
For several years, one of my family members (I’ll call him G) has struggled to find healthy ways to deal with a mental health problem. I have prayed so much for this person’s healing and growth. I’ve asked God to help me feel hope, even though G was making no visible change. Will he ever be okay? I would cry out in prayer.
About a year ago, G experienced something of a crisis that required my energy, time, support, and prayer for months. At this time last year, I was in shock. I struggled to feel any sense of hope about G’s future.
My prayers for hope and healing continued. For several months now, I’ve sensed some positive change—but without a clear sense of how much change.
This past weekend, another family member (R) had a difficult experience and ended up with a mess. I prayed for him to have peace, support, and comfort.
R sat with his shoulders slumped, clearly feeling distraught. And into that mess stepped G, for whom I’d been praying for hope and healing for years. His experiences over the past few years made him uniquely prepared to speak to R’s situation. One man supported and comforted the other—to the point where there was laughter, which is a sure sign that R’s heart was finding peace.
My immediate prayers for R and my long-term prayers for G were answered all at once.
Again, in the midst of one mess, the Holy Spirit was answering a whole other set of prayers, too.
God showed up in a big way, answering the prayers for R’s peace and comfort by showing me the very hope and healing I’d prayed for in someone else. He showed me growth in G, far beyond what I had hoped to see.
God didn’t just meet the needs of the immediate mess. He responded to my prayers with an abundance.
In both situations, God showed up in a big way. He responded to the immediate needs in a way that both resulted in abundance and answered other prayers that didn’t even seem to be related.
It is in the mess where the Holy Spirit resides. The Holy Spirit obviously doesn’t reside only in the messes, but in the midst of a crisis, our hearts seem the most open to acknowledging God’s providence.
When we pray to God from the depths of our mess, we discover that He is already right there with us.
The Mess That Was My Marriage
I’d always thought God didn’t really love me. Christ’s sacrifice was for other people, not really intended for me. I’d walked so far astray from God’s ways that I believed He wouldn’t want me. I was pretty sure He wouldn’t hear my prayers. I wanted Him to love me. I wanted to belong to Him. I just didn’t’ think it was possible.
I spent years denying the mess of our marriage. I was afraid that facing the mess would reveal an even bigger mess.
Big Guy and I were hurting each other. We began to grow apart. I was so mired down in the mess that I didn’t have a clue where to start or what to do.
When I finally acknowledged the mess of our marriage, I was desperate enough that I decided to try prayer even though I didn’t think God would listen.
The only prayer I could manage was, Help. To my surprise, it was enough. It turned out that the Holy Spirit had been residing in that mess all along, just waiting for me to ask for help.
God led me to readings to teach me. He introduced me to tools to ease my way. He reminded me of things I knew and showed me how to use those things to address the mess of our marriage.
It took time, but our marriage began to grow from messiness into blessedness.
God responded to my plea for help—with an abundance. He didn’t just heal our marriage. He did so much more.
The specifics of how my marriage healed involved God helping me to develop compassion, die to self, put another’s well-being before my own, and pray with my whole heart.
These are the very things that ultimately led me to experience God’s love in a deep way. I came to understand that Christ’s sacrifice was for me. I saw how much God cherished me and wanted me. I watched God show me that He hears my prayers.
He met the needs of my marriage—and in doing so, He poured out an abundance of His love for me, answering my lifelong prayers as well.
Some of you are in the midst of a mess in your own marriage. You may barely know where to start.
Wherever you are, start with prayer—even if all you have is tears without words.
No mess is bigger than God.
In the mess, you will encounter the Holy Spirit.
God will hear your prayers. He will meet your needs.
He has an abundance of love for you.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:1
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28.