This summer, we (mostly me) undertook a big kitchen project. We took down all the cupboard doors, cleared out the cupboards and two pantries and then got to work priming and painting. Our kitchen had been a darkish tan color, with dark cupboards that looked great when it was freshly painted but that was 16 years ago. Time for a refresh.
I went with white everywhere, with black for trim and pantry shelves and new black hardware for the doors and cupboard handles (and let’s be honest – I could not have done that with a houseful of little kids). I love, love, love the look. We’re not done, but there is visible progress. Hooray!
While we were undertaking that big facelift, though, my kitchen and great room were disasters. DI.SAS.TERS. We had food and pans and spices and my good china and cake decorating stuff and plastic bags and you name it, all over the place. Some in boxes, lots piled on the table. It was not pretty.
In fact, it was pretty much the epitome of the messy middle. I don’t mind telling you it was overwhelming some days. I thought the project might never end (of course it did) and I wanted to cut it short, shove everything back in the cupboards and pantries and shut the doors. It felt like it would be easier, you know? And it would have been – in the short term. In the long-term, though, it would not have brought about the needed change I wanted.
Does this sound like a life lesson? I think so. How often have you been in the middle of some deep work and thought – “I really don’t want to do this” or “I really don’t want to go through this.” Life is messy. Sometimes the mess is really painful and it just seems so attractive to shove it all in the metaphoric cupboard and go on our way, thinking – or at least pretending – that we’ve actually done the work of cleaning out old gunk and making room for some needed changes and improvements.
I’ve kind of hated the quotes that go “there’s purpose in the pain” because in the middle of the pain, it makes me sweary and stabby. As it turns out, there can be purpose. But, just like really clearing away the old and gunky from my cabinets, scrubbing, repairing, priming, painting and paying attention to tiny details, the work has to be done. It can’t be circumvented, skipped over or just done on a surface level.
I’ve been in the messy middle of grief and trauma. The messy middle of children with mental, emotional and/or physical health challenges. The messy middle of my own “growing pains” as I deliberately move outside my comfort zone to tackle new and intimidating challenges (like getting a PhD – what was I thinking?!) I’ve been in the messy middle of multiple kids in diapers and tantrums and the inability to dress themselves.
Making it through the messy middle is worth it, though, for the results on the other side are beautiful. Those results are won through hard work, resilience and going back at it again and again, day after day.
If you find yourself in the messy middle right now, I want to encourage you to keep at it. You’ll get through it and the result will be worth the mess. Really.