For Those of Us Who Don’t Have Our Sh*t Together


I just had a mid-life crisis in the middle of my kitchen.

It only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough of a sucker punch to the gut to temporarily knock the breath from me and send the room spinning.

I’d been sitting there in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day, when with great terror I realized that I’m nearing fifty—and I don’t have any of my sh*t together.

Like, none of it.

Oh sure, I have a house and a family and a pretty decent career and all that, but that stuff’s all just window dressing; a fancy new slip cover concealing decades of stains and holes and discoloration hidden underneath. The ugly truth is, I don’t feel I’m much better at this Life thing than I was twenty-five years ago—and that really ticks me off.

When I was younger, I was always looking ahead to a day somewhere off in the distance when I would be a proper, fully formed adult; when my many insecurities wouldn’t be such a regular hindrance, when my nagging flaws wouldn’t show up so often to gloriously sabotage my day, when I didn’t drop the freakin’ ball with such stunning consistency.

That day was supposed to be this day.
That adult was supposed to be me.
This was going to be the part of the story when the sh*t would be together.

Back then, I imagined that the me I am today would be a whole lot more refined and well-adjusted and mature than I am—and this mornings’ realization was an existential dirty bomb going off in my psyche. It was a brief moment of pulse-raising, disorienting panic.

But almost immediately, a question popped into my head, like a cool, fresh breeze clearing out the thick, toxic air surrounding me:

What if the sh*t isn’t supposed to be together?

I’d honestly never considered that.

In my constant, desperate, sweaty striving to get and keep it all together, I never stopped to ask myself whether this was ever a promise or a requirement. The more I thought about it, no one ever told me that this was an aspiration or an expectation. Somewhere along the line I just assumed it. I placed that impossible burden upon my own shoulders and have lived perpetually underperforming ever since.

But when I look at the people I admire, those I adore, those whose lives have paved a path for me worth walking in, most of them were and are a fairly chaotic, cluttered, disheveled mess. In fact, get close enough to anyone and you’ll see it. You’ll realize just how riddled everyone is with the ever-recycled junk that they can’t seem to discard.

We’re all rightly soiled.

Maybe that filthy mess is where the sweet spot of living is. Maybe the point of this journey is to revel in it all; to embrace every unfinished, rough edged, stinking, sloppy part of ourselves, because that is where our distinct and specific beauty lies. Maybe wisdom or enlightenment or wholeness are a whole lot grittier and a whole lot less grand than we once believed. Maybe success is simply about moving through the middle of the mess, knowing that we can only be where and who we are right now.

Truthfully, there is no finishing of ourselves to be done here. The only time we’re finished is when the last breath leaves us and our heart ceases its beating. Until then, the illusion of perfection might be the greatest barrier to joy that any of us has. Maybe we should toss it and flush it, and be okay with something a little less perfect from ourselves and from other people.

Friend, the bad news is that you probably don’t have your sh*t together and you likely never will. 

The better news—is that you’re in really good company.

Be encouraged.








44 thoughts on “For Those of Us Who Don’t Have Our Sh*t Together

  1. Based on the evidence that is solely restricted to my own life, I have to say, yeah, pretty much true.

    As one who is somewhat past fifty, I can say I rest easier without my stuff altogether because in this life it is how we walk the journey that counts, not arriving at the destination, which is the fooot of the Throne of the Lamb. At least, is we are Christians.

  2. Breathe in, breathe out. There are no neat and tidy answers, if one asks sincerely. No final conclusion. We interact with our lives as best we can, never really knowing what’s ahead, never truly comprehending what came before. Thinking we do is the greatest of tragedies because it robs us of the ability to recognize the magnificence in every brilliant detail of creation, even the mundane and ugly. Afterall, it is in the shadows of life that we come to know the depth of our love for light. One cannot exist without the other.

  3. SLOW DOWN, John, – life isn’t made to be looking back and bad mouthing what we’ve done or not done. Life is for living each moment – the only moment we ever have – to the fullest which includes the occasional ‘oops’ but it all is good and can be fun depending on how one views the messy parts.
    We can worry ourselves into ‘hell’ or rejoice ourselves into ‘heaven’ regardless of the circumstances. I chose Heaven today and every day because the alternative is hellish!

    • Amen! And we know that in all things (not just the pleasant ones) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

  4. God-in-us touches others even when we are a mess, and even a cracked pot can water flowers. Whether in the twinkling of an eye as we pass into glory, and/or, in a succession of lives ordained by God, I am convinced Christ will ultimately redeem everything about us, drawing us into the embrace of his healing, restoring love. The cross and resurrection reveal that all shall be made new!

  5. “Maybe success is simply about moving through the middle of the mess, knowing that we can only be where and who we are right now.”

    I loved this comment! Sometimes I want nothing more than to just sit down in the middle of the mess and refuse to budge. But taking even one small step through it does feel like success.

    Thank you for this post!

  6. Well Dude, just wait till your 42nd wedding anniversary. Ours was yesterday, and after all of my thank ful prayers for all that God haas provided for me/us, I had the same feeling that you did.
    I have a lot yet to learn but I guess that I am a thankful learner!

  7. I think you’ve nailed it. Having insecurities and flaws doesn’t mean you don’t have your stuff together. We load young people up with all these totally unrealistic expectations. We tell them they have to be what we wish we were. Then we wonder why they’re filled with anxiety and fear of failure.

  8. Again, Thanks, John.
    The problem and limitation is, we’re trying to get our shit together on our own. We’re not even considering the necessity of doing ‘it’ together, as did the followers of Jesus. Most of us have no idea what real Community is. Since we’re not together, the Spirit has little room to move. We stay small in our isolation and the Spirit in each of us, no matter how strong at one point, eventually dies. Only when we dare to reach out, to really risk our wealth/time/lives as did those so long ago, will be begin to LIVE, to get our shit together.

    • Yes, exactly this.

      I’m not sure what it means to have “it” all together. By whose standard is that measured? I noticed that having a home and some security were invoked but we follow One who had no permanent address of His own. But had it all together.

      It was because He emptied Himself, gave, loved, healed, and included. Before He left this world He also tried to ensure He set up community not formed by bonds of DNA and ancestry but by values and love.

      We’re supposed to continue that. We haven’t done a good job of it.

      Sometimes we have to take big risks. Yes, even at age 50. I’m typing this from a nearly empty modest home that I’ve sold. I’ve given away or sold nearly all of my possessions. I bought a small piece of raw land in a beautiful place and will construct a very small cabin adequate for my needs. There are others in this area who have done the same. A community of people who love nature and simplicity.

      Certainly, it’s not for everyone. Certainly, some people think I’ve lost “it.” But I think we all have to take a look at ourselves, our values, and the standards by which we are measuring our growth. Those standards shouldn’t be society driven. Too often, they are.

      • Txtteatime good luck and I have to admit I’m slightly jealous. I hope I never get my “it” all together as then I will be entirely ready to leave this world and I don’t really want to die yet. However I will continue to strive to progress towards that point every day in the hope that one day I might have “it” all together. I’ve never met anyone who has yet, especially the ones who insist that they have. I just follow Jesus’s examples and try to do the next right thing considering always what Jesus would of done. But the cabin sounds amazing.

        • Thank you, Ellie! Yes, you are very right. It’s a process. Step by step by step. Sometimes a giant leap into the unknown, or so it seems. But even leaps were preceded by steps. And will be followed by them, too.

          I guess I just caution against arbitrary and society-laced standards for having it together. It’s easy to fall into those traps and lose one’s values and vision because of the demands and pressures of society.

          About an hour ago, I realized that in four days I will be homeless, technically. With a beautiful piece of land 1,700 miles away, yes, and some money in the bank, but no physical structure yet to call home. The thought both exhilarated and frightened me. The journey both literally and figuratively begins.

  9. good essay JP. thanks for insight.

    My favorite people tend to be the ones that talk, live, eat, sleep, Jesus. I love their ‘messy’ lives!

    –the only thing I’m kinda good at, at age 60, is I finally got my clothes closet pared down & cleaned out. So it’s easy to pick something to wear. 🙂

  10. John. I absolutely positively love your posts. So frequently you make me step back and take a different look at stuff in my life. At age 72 I find that I have been spending way too much time reflecting on the what ifs of past decisions and for what? Thanks from the bottom of my heart for yet another defining moment. Also much gratitude for your Universal approach and not limiting or defining your readers as having to have a “Christian perspective” to grasp what you are sharing.

  11. It all boils down to one question for me. Does a benevolent God, who calls us to move and have our being in True Love, really expect us to be perfect? I think not. Jesus never said “be perfect”. He said “be lovers”, which includes loving ourselves in the midst of the mess, and loving others in the midst of theirs.
    I think there is a flaw to Christian evangelism that assumes that if we are “doing our faith right” we are going to be prosperous and happy. Jesus did not call us to be happy! He called us to be lovers. And love is messy!

    • There’s that pesky verse in Matthew that tells us to be perfect like our Father! Lol! Impossible! But it’s a bad translation, I think, that should read “grow up” or “be mature” or something like that, and I think John P nails it here in that we grow up by facing that we are a mess and life is messy, so get on with it, enjoy it, get in the mess! That’s maturity – facing the mess and not being freaked out by it.

  12. I’ve struggled for years with something Rob Bell said: we all have a Supersomething – the something that we believe we need to be perfect at. He says to take the Supersomething out back and shoot it.

    I’m a recovering, raging perfectionist, but I think I’m getting better at killing my Supersomething. I’m slowly learning that being obsessed with perfection or “arriving” distracts me from the full, wondrous joy of living.

  13. You are such a breath of fresh air! Thank you!

    I’m nearing 70 and my sh*t seems worse than ever. Lol! So to be told by you – you are my authority now!!! Lol! – that it’s OK, this is just how it is, is so kinda freeing and invigorating. Gives me inspiration to wade through some more sh*t and enjoy it. LMAO now. God, that feels so good! Now I have energy to face another day of sh*t and, yes, I will determine to enjoy it all. Thank you!

  14. Makes me think of the lyrics to this popular CCM song…

    “Breathe, just breathe
    Come and rest at My feet
    And be, just be
    Chaos calls but all you really need
    Is to just breathe”

    Relax and let it (sh*t) go. I think learning to do this is more the “goal” than getting it all in order.

  15. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.
    I grew up in a northern Utah mormon community- born 1953.
    I was targeted at age 8 for being a sissy. I’m an artist. I don’t care for competitive sports and I don’t present as a traditional male.
    I lived for 10 years in a state of intimidation and moved out of my parents house immediately after graduating from high school- getting on a bus to LA- where I spent the summer.
    But I walked away from my birth religion at 15- as I’d taken enough abuse.
    I made it through one year of college- then had to get a job and support myself. I was lucky. I got a creative job that seconded as a productive education.
    7+ years later I moved out of SLC UT- to Denver.
    A couple of years before that- I put myself back on my art path- winning my first Best-In-Show Award.
    5+ years down that path- working part-time- I found myself in an unbearably depressed state- due to the difficulty of an art path- and the negativity I grew up in. It was 1984/85.
    At the exact same time my friends began to get ill- some went into a hospital one day and died the next. Others lasted a few weeks or years. Some a few more than that. But I watched hundreds and hundreds of people pass over. So I had to evolve or die.
    I had to heal myself emotionally- mentally and spiritually- or I would never have made it out of that time. So I did.
    A couple of years into that healing process I awoke in bed one night with so much energy/light pouring out of me (a full-body experience that lasted for more than an hour) that I awakened to what was possible- even though I couldn’t yet explain it.
    6 months later- after working with an enlightened teacher- I did my first energy healing. And I re-committed to my art path. It was 1989.
    So- I got my shit together. But the cost was losing hundreds and hundreds of friends and acquaintances- and almost nobody on earth goes though that- and lives through that.
    I walked on- continuing my long path towards artistic recognition- while doing shamanic healing work when and where applicable.
    I can’t recommend this pathway- but it did work.
    There is only one piece of the puzzle that eludes me- and that is making enough money as a working artist to actually thrive.
    But everything else- I’ve got. Really. And I’m not a heterosexual.
    And I can explain it in common-sense terms in about 30 minutes- and then activate your Light Body. Because I am a Shaman.
    This process does- however- require going fully into your shit and clearing it out. Few- are interested…

  16. “Oh sure, I have a house and a family and a pretty decent career and all that, but that stuff’s all just window dressing”

    It’s easy to be glib about this when you *have* that “window dressing”. Those of us who *don’t* have these things… well, we don’t have the luxury of worrying about being mature or well-adjusted. #firstclassproblems

  17. When I turned 50, it wasn’t really so tough. 30 was a killer, and 60 – well, that was nearly the end. But I survived it. And you know what? Everyday, I have epiphanies. I think I’ve really gotten better since I decided to live each day as a new adventure. Since I decided that my snooty neighbors will never accept this errant creature with her Tibetan prayer flags over the door and picture of Pope Francis on the wall. And that’s ok. Because my life is MY adventure. MY life is about how I view the right way to live. And I will be someone new every day. Sartre believed that we are the sum total of our choices. That is who we are. I find this very heartening because we make new choices every day. Which means we can change our story, our reality, every day. How awesome is that?

  18. I’m going to read and re-read this until my life doesn’t feel like a disaster. The career I studied for, I dislike. I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing for a career. And yesterday I lost my job just when I had gathered the courage to ask my husband for a separation. Now I can’t ask because I can’t support myself or our kids. I am 38 and feel both simultaneously stuck and spinning out of control.

  19. Before I even got to the part when you questioned it, I was about to tell you s*** never, ever comes together. I have never seen it happen for anyone. It’s what keeps us going. Carry on.

  20. I’ve got great news for you! I felt like this, too – back when I was still on the right side of 50! And the years kept passing – always quicker and quicker. And I felt utterly overwhelmed. But I kept plugging away, trying to improve and make things better. And today I am 3 years past the wrong side of 60 and I have finally made peace with the world and my position in it. My desk is still messy most of the time, but I can find what I need on it. My home is much better now that I stopped stressing over how long the to-do list is. My job got much easier when I started seeing the humor in all of the nonsense that accompanies the day-to-day realities. I rarely get upset when something negative (outside of my control) happens because I can usually identify the source of the problem and then can appropriately deal with it . And even when I can’t fix things, I know that all I have to do is wait long enough and then everything changes (again). Nothing (positive OR negative) lasts forever. After a while you discover that all you need is patience.

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