Cleaning Up Messes | A Tool of Transformation


[This past Sunday, I had the privilege to preach at New Vida Church of God in southwest Oak Cliff.  This post is based on that sermon.  Click here for a Cleaning Up Messes worksheet.]

I make lots of messes.  Or at least that’s what I heard when Deborah recently told me that I “clean up” more messes than anyone she knows.  Thanks, Deborah.  😉  

So what’s a “mess”?  It’s shorthand for any time that we show up in ways that don’t reflect who we want to be and thus have the potential to hurt others in the process.  Messes come in all shapes and forms and vary in intensity.  For example…

  • If I don’t arrive to pick up my daughter when I said that I would – that’s a mess.  
  • When I drop the ball and don’t return a phone call promptly to a friend or colleague – another mess.
  • Anytime that I lose my temper and let anxiety and/or fear override being a calm presence.  – that’s a mess too.  

The reality is that on our journey of learning and growth, we all make messes. Therefore, I want to introduce you to a tool that will help you grow in responsibility and more fulfilling relationships.  


Messes 101

  • We all make “messes” – We show up in ways that don’t reflect who we want to be and hurt others in the process.  Unresolved, these messes lead to further anxiety, conflict, and breakdowns.  Messes create messes.  
  • Messes are an opportunity for growth – We can move from shame to learning when we recognize that our mistakes provide an opportunity to grow! Instead of beating ourselves up about what we did wrong, we can “get curious” about why we showed up the way we did.
  • Messes can be cleaned up –  When we make a habit of regularly cleaning up messes, our relationships will often be stronger than if we never made any messes in the first place.

How to Clean Up a Mess:

  1. Acknowledge that you made a mess, taking responsibility for your actions and attitudes.  “I didn’t show up the way that I wanted to.”
  2. Get present to the impact of your actions and attitudes on others.  Ask those affected, “What was the impact when I ______?”
  3. Offer a heartfelt apology.  “I recognize how my actions and attitudes impacted you.  I’m sorry.”
  4. Speak out a vision of how you would like to grow or show up in the future.

Repeat as necessary, seeking to make this process a habit in your life.

Note: The real power in this process is step two, which helps you grow in awareness, helps the other person feel heard and loved, and gives you the motivation to show up differently in the future.  If you make a habit of fully engaging this part of the process, you will begin to experience genuine and lasting transformation.

We all make messes.  If we just expect and accept that from the outset, we can spare ourselves a great deal of anxiety and shame.  I’ll own my messes and will keep working to clean them up.  Just imagine what would change if you’d do the same!


For Reflection:

  • Think of a recent example when you made a mess. Describe what happened. How did you show up?  What did you say or do that you wish you hadn’t? (Or not say/do that you wish you had?)
  • If you could go back, what would you do differently? What is your vision for this relationship going forward?
  • Take a moment and imagine going through the 4-step process to clean up the mess you described in questions #1-2.  When you think about having that conversation, what gets stirred up in you? Shame? Fear? Hope? Resistance? Anxiety? Be as authentic as you can.