How to Live in the Messy Middle

I feel a pang of sadness every night as I crawl under the covers. The last thing I do before going to bed is record the day’s events in my Five Year Journal. It’s a “one line a day” journal with space for just a few sentences, so I can see at a glance what I did on this day last year, and the year before that.

Lately, this comparison has been difficult. I read last year’s entry on this same date and I’m struck by how normal life was. Dropping off the boys at school. Getting coffee with friends. Large church events for Easter activities. After school play dates. Book club.

“Oh yeah,” I tell myself, “this was life Before.”

Right now it feels like reading about ancient history. Did we ever freely exchange hugs and handshakes at church? Was there a time when our kids played together in each other’s houses? Did friends ever walk side by side or share a meal? It seems like it was a lifetime ago!

If that was Before, we are not yet in the After. This pandemic is not in our rearview mirror yet. No one is exactly sure when it will be.

No, we are in the During. We are in the messy middle, the part that we would all like to skip over. There are big feelings in the During: anxiety, fear, anger, sorrow, disappointment, and grief. We are sighing and moaning and gritting our teeth. We cry out in collective lament: “How long, O Lord?” and “Lord Jesus, have mercy.”

As seen on TV

I want to treat these During weeks like the home renovation shows on HGTV. You know the ones: you watch intently as the couple explains all the problems with their house. All the ugliness and problems of the old house are revealed. A couple shares how it’s not right for them, how it doesn’t meet their needs. Then the stars of the show enter the scene and dream big with the couple about how they can renovate and make over this house. Beautiful possibilities are everywhere. Plans are drawn.

Then comes the middle part of the show. The demolition, the rebuilding. The hard work. The unexpected problems. Weeks, sometimes months, go by in the span of twenty minutes. But still, I want to fast forward. Watching them actually do the hard work of renovation bores me. I’d rather skip to the end to see the finished product. I love when the couple tours the house, wide-eyed, and marvels at the new layout and the tasteful decor.

I want the end result without the patience, hard work, and difficult decisions it took to get there.

how to live in the messy middle

Several weeks ago when our shelter-in-place started, my husband decided that this was a good time to clean out and reorganize our garage. I was all in favor of this project and encouraged him to begin, dreaming about how nice it would be to have a clutter-free, well-organized garage.

Except, I forgot about the messy middle.

As he worked on this project for three weekends in a row, there were piles of stuff everywhere in our garage. The organizing spilled over into our kitchen, creating the need to clean out and purge our pantry and cabinet space to accommodate food items from the garage.

The kitchen was a mess: I couldn’t find anything, and the counters were crowded. Stepping over piles of stuff, living with the discomfort of a cluttered kitchen until it could all be put away, I was inconvenienced at every turn. I was eager to skip ahead to the finished product. Except there is no fast forward button on life. I had no choice but to live through it.

When it was finally finished, the payoff was more wonderful than I could have imagined. My husband cleared out so much room in our garage that we now have the space for two camping chairs and a basketball hoop for our boys, freeing up necessary indoor play-space since our townhouse has no yard.

How to live in the messy middle

I admit to being eager for the days of After this pandemic. I’d like to fast forward the hard and messy weeks and months of During. Despite the many good gifts this unexpected season may bring, a big part of me can’t wait until it’s all in the rearview mirror.

But since I have no control over the speed of time, I take stock of what I can control: my attitude, my rhythms and routines, my physical, mental, and spiritual health. And I pray each day of the During for the patience and strength to face the hard parts, the inconvenient parts, and the messy parts with grace.

Friends, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into the During days of this pandemic. Let’s rely on God’s strength to get us through to the end. Let’s focus what we can control and choose to find joy in the small things. I’m cheering you on (from a safe distance) as we all pull through this together!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

4 thoughts on “How to Live in the Messy Middle

  1. This spoke to me so much today!!! The “messy middle” is the perfect description of what I’ve been going through during quarantine. My husband and I have been Quarantine/Spring cleaning and little by little it feels like being more organized has helped us feel closer to each other (with less fighting about the clutter), and closer to God. The fruit of the spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, & Self Control) are working their way into our lives in the midst of chaos. Thank you for your beautiful writing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah, I just have to tell you I’ve been binging on your blog the past two mornings. It’s been Spirit-led. I rarely pop over to read through an entire post when I’m doing a Pinterest thread, but this has happened every day this week with your posts! I love what you are doing and saying! Thank you for being faithful to write! This one really made me smile. I have a Mom’s one-line a day journal too. I’m actually on my second one. I started my first one ten years ago when my sister gifted it to me after our first child was born, and I liked it so much that I bought another one when I’d written through five years. I totally get what you’re saying about looking back on the entries. My experience has been interesting this year. Last year I was so pregnant-sick that I didn’t write for a full 8 months. I thought I might be done forever. But I dug it back out after our little guy was born, and it’s been fun to write and look back to 2018’s entries. They are indeed very different than this year, but God is surely in it all! Thankful for that! …Praying blessing over you this very moment!


    1. Thank you Stacey for your encouragement this morning! I’m so glad that my posts have been resonating with you and I’m honored to get such generous praise from a fellow writer! I’m on my second 5 year journal too and I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing in them 🙂 I know what you mean about needing to take a break from writing when the kids are babies, but I’m so thankful you are back at it again. The world needs your writing, Stacey! I know your posts have been such a blessing to me 🙂


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