Friday, February 8, 2008

Cleaning House

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10 NASB).

This week I'm cleaning house. Those who know me understand that housework is not my strong suit. I can easily abandon a stack of dirty dishes in favor of a creative project that seems much more important at the time, like adding a decorative paint treatment to the laundry room. And although I feel energized by my house when it is fresh and clean, the constant focus required to keep it up brings me down. But all around me my house seems to cry out to be picked up, swept, dusted and scrubbed.

So this week I'm cleaning, and I'm starting with my heart. First, I must banish the negative feelings of dread, boredom and frustration that often accompany housework. From Luke 10:41-42, Jesus' voice gently reminds me, "[Y]ou are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed" (NIV). If I strive to approach my housework with Martha's hands and Mary's heart, maybe I can strike a balance between work and worship. Instead of crying, "Lord, don't you care that [my family] has left me to do the work by myself?" as Martha did in verse 40, I can realize that I am never alone because God is always with me. Even while I work, I can sing hymns or talk to God. And with prayerfulness, I can replace grouchiness with thankfulness and grumbling with praise.

Next on my to-do list is tackling clutter, both in my house and in my mind. It seems that everywhere I look, there is a pile of papers to sort, a basket of clean laundry to put away, or a messy drawer to reorganize. Unfortunately for me, avoiding clutter won't make it go away. So each time I pass by or step over a mess without dealing with it, I become distracted making mental notes of yet another task that needs to be done. As I declutter my house, I must contemplate whether I am stepping over areas of worry, unforgiveness or sinfulness in my spiritual life. Just like a disorganized house, allowing negative thoughts to clutter my mind robs me of peace. But Philippians 4:8 reminds me to focus on my blessings: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (NASB).

Finally, as I clean house, I am forced to address my human frailties. My aching back reminds me often that the burdens I carry are too heavy for me to bear alone. Honest introspection reveals that I often feel overworked because I do for my family tasks they should do for themselves. In order to avoid resistance or frustration, it may seem easier in the short-term to take care of chores myself. But when I expend energy and time doing the work of others, I neglect the tasks that only I can do -- one of which is helping my children grow into responsible, helpful, mature adults. And in trying to do it all myself, I deprive my children of the blessings that come from learning to work together as a family.

This desire to be self-sufficient weighs me down spiritually, as well, as I can always think of a reason not to rely on my spiritual family when I am in need. Fearful that I might burden or inconvenience someone else, it usually seems more sensible to fill a need myself than to ask for help. But this is not God's plan. As 1 Corinthians 12:18 reminds me, "But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired." The body functions best when all the members work together, with Christ as the head. And He is always ready to carry my load. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest," He soothes in Matthew 11:28-30. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light."

So I'm cleaning house this week. Once toys, books and papers have been put away; floors have been swept, mopped and vacuumed; kitchen and bathrooms have been scrubbed and sanitized -- this house will shine! For a little while. Then little hands will scatter toys and busy feet will track in dirt. And I will find myself restoring order to our home again because this world is temporal. But when it comes to my spiritual house, how thankful I am to be cleansed with living water. The blood of Jesus washes over, purifies and transforms me, making me white as snow. Now that's a house cleaning that I can get excited about.
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