Monday, December 29, 2008

from the archives: cleanliness is (not) next to godliness

Cleaning has come up a few times in this blog - not surprising, since it is part of nearly every homemaker's (sorry, household manager's) life. Here's some thoughts on the place of cleaning in our lives.

I was frantically cleaning the house this morning before our staff team arrived, when the vacuum cleaner broke. I cleaned as well as I could to the accompaniment of some tears of frustration and tiredness (Andrew woke me at 4.30 old time last night, and didn't get back to sleep until 6.30 new time.) I was still cleaning when the staff team arrived, but at least the state of the floor wasn't going to disgust anyone any more.

Having forfeited my morning walk (& pray) to clean, my high stress levels led to some reflections on the godliness of cleaning.

When is cleaning godly? Well, it depends on our motivation, and the impact on ourselves and others (or even, like this morning, on our prayer life).

Cleaning can be an idol: I've heard of people who spend hours every day sweeping perfectly clean floors. Perhaps it makes them feel in control, I don't know, but I doubt if it helps their relationships with family and friends. But while most of us probably don't have this problem (I certainly don't!) cleaning can still be an idol or an obstacle to relationships.

Perhaps cleaning has become an idol for us:
a) if we make others uncomfortable because our house is too clean, so they and their children can't relax;
b) if we become irritable with our family and friends' children when they mess up our clean house;
c) if our obsessive cleaning makes others feel bad about their own standards of cleanliness;
d) if we don't let people into our house because we feel too ashamed of the mess.

Perhaps we could do with some more cleaning in our life:
a) if the chaos in our house reaches a point where it makes others feel uncomfortable or unwelcome (unlikely, but possible!);
b) if our partner finds it hard to relax because the house is so messy;
c) if we are failing to serve our housemates or family by keeping up our end of the housework;
d) if we don't let people into our house because we feel too ashamed of the mess.

Cleaning can be an obstacle to ministry. Our visitors are probably less concerned with the mess than we are; perhaps we need to relax a bit, and let them see what life is really like for us! Why do we feel a need to pretend we have it all together when we don't?

Cleaning can also be a way to serve and minister to others. I know one godly couple who made sure their house was relatively clean on a Sunday so they could invite people over for lunch after church.

That being said, if you're really struggling to keep the house clean and tidy, relax. There are more important things, like loving your family and friends. Remember Martha, whom Jesus rebuked because she was so "worried and anxious" about the state of the house that she was cooking and cleaning rather than listening to him (as a fellow homemaker, I've always felt a bit sorry for Martha).

Next time your house is a bit of a mess, perhaps you could remind yourself, "I'm more of a Mary, really!" and go for a walk and pray, or play with your kids and have fun making some more mess together.

If you're really struggling in this area, Fly Lady might help - some formerly chaotic and messy people swear by it.


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