Saturday, December 26, 2009

After the chaos…

The day after Christmas, 2008, Tabitha and I went to the Mall of America. Yes, it was a gamble. Perhaps it put our lives in danger. But sometimes you just need to be bold, take risks. And praise God, we lived to tell the tale.

MoA after-Christmas was packed, as you might expect. Thousands mulled and moved about, each at their own pace. Families dashed from store-to-store eager for perfect deals, or desperate to return their gifts and escape before the masses clogged the streets. Alas, it was too late. All parking lots were jammed; the streets in and out also. What happens when too many people gather into the same space, with access to consumer goods and much too much junk food? Simply put: Chaos.

But we couldn’t complain. We spent the afternoon at the mall, on purpose. And I’m glad. Not only did I purchase great shoes for cheap, we also undertook some amateur anthropological study (aka- “people-watching”). We made a stunning discovery- Whether preparing for a big holiday, or completely absent the pressure of a looming deadline, people are relatively constant in their aptitude for chaos. It seems we like it, despite constant complaints to the contrary.

This sounds anti-intuitive, right? Usually, when faced with chaotic circumstances (exiting the stadium after a Minnesota Wild hockey game, or when fourteen people descend on the kitchen to help cook Christmas dinner), our immediate response is, “Make it stop!” Our explanation is that we hate either the stress, or the confusion, or the lack of control, or… whatever. And many times, like when a busy traffic light goes out, it’s true that chaos is undesirable. Nevertheless, for all the complaints we raise against chaos, last year’s after-Christmas excursion caused me to reevaluate.

After all, if ever the mall should be a) at diminished capacity, or at least b) moving somewhat slowly, lethargically, I’d think it would be December 26. Many don’t work that day; kids don’t return to school for another week or three. No more Christmas lists need filling, all last-minute Christmas gifts were purchased already. That there would be crowds at the mall makes sense. That they’d all be frantic and whipped into chaos doesn’t. Why would we run around the mall when no one’s holiday will suffer if we simply meander? Why shove to the front of the line if no one’s Christmas will be ruined by waiting until tomorrow to buy what’s desired? Do we hate chaos as much as we claim? Or is there something energizing about moments of crazed mayhem?

Maybe I’m reading too much into one experience. I’m told preachers can do that. But I don’t think that’s the case, nor do I think it’s only that some personalities thrive on chaos, while others don’t. Do you remember the Bible’s opening lines? “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and…the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.” In other words, Bible scholars suggest, Creation occurs by God overcoming chaos, when God brings form and order to what was (or is) chaotic. What that tells me, at least, is that while chaos is not the final, God-desired way of lfie, it’s also a necessary step on the road to creating something more beautiful and holy. Amen, parents?

I imagine that on some intuitive level we get that. Chaos and Creation go together. Good things first require some boiling before they’re ready to serve. What that means for us, then, is that I imagine we can manage a lot of uncertainty or confusion, even if we don’t necessarily like the feeling. Indeed, we can often handle more than we expect of ourselves. Look at the mall after-Christmas. All those people, complaining it’s so crazy, chose to be there. They knew they could take it.

So the next time things get stressful or chaotic, because a co-worker is hyper-active, or things are unexpectedly changing, remember our Creation. God crafted beauty and goodness from chaos. We were resiliently made. Or you can just avoid the mall. That works too…

Grace and Peace,

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