Deep Cleaning

I decided today as I scrubbed my countertop in the midst of a “deep cleaning” session that arose out of utter frustration and dismay at the state of affairs of my household that my housecleaning is deeply metaphorical to the state of my life in general.  

I don’t love cleaning my house, but I love having a clean house.  I’m sure there are women who would agree. I find satisfaction in the completed tasks, and I have picked favorites: vacuuming the floor and cleaning off the kitchen island; and least favorites: scraping forgotten cereal out of bowls left next to the sink and organizing clothes to be put away (all the pink of the three girls just melds together into a big, hormonally-charged Pepto-Bismol blur). But when it comes right down to it, nothing really excites me about cleaning.  I find many tasks to keep me from addressing the reality of unnamed leftovers in the fridge or toys left under the couch.  Then, all at once, usually in a surge of anger at myself (and honestly, the other 4 occupants of this house), I delve into the cleaning job.  

This is where my weakness as a housecleaner begins to truly shine through.  Because I am usually in a self-imposed rush, I like to focus on the parts of the house that people notice when they stop in.  I start in the living room, because it is open to the foyer and evident to any potentially judgmental neighbor who pops her head in.  I make sure the counters are cleaned off, even if clutter is stuffed into drawers to be sorted later.  I clean the guest sink and guest toilet, and, if I know company is coming, I throw up a clean white towel that I then forbid the children (and husband) from using.  My laundry hallway is the pathway to the guest bath, so out of necessity, I try to maintain some sanity in there, although I’ve been known to throw things in the dryer (clean/dirty/unsure?) if someone surprises me at the door.  

I have a large number of closets, which is a blessing and a curse.  Having moved from a home with small closets, I love all of the options to store coats, shoes, and the many this-and-thats that show up with my kids.  But I’m even strategic about my closets.  The front hall closet is for guests.  It is almost empty and would seem impressive to people who don’t know my true cleaning issues.  But the back hallway is for all of us who actually live here.  Currently, it has a pile of mismatched shoes to organize, a mix of winter-spring-fall jackets, and a few miscellaneous Halloween decorations.  I might be horrified if my mother opened it today.  

All of these deep-seated cleaning issues had me on this stream-of-consciousness thought process today that led to this:  I clean my house like I live my life.  I don’t like to “clean” my life, but I like having a “clean” life. I find satisfaction in the completed tasks, and I have picked favorites: reading devotionals and singing worship music in the car; and least favorites: recognizing my judgmental spirit and being flexible with time and finances in order to meet the needs of others. (This is a very cursory list: I could go, but those of you who know me could probably fill my list of bests and worsts better than I can!). I find many tasks that keep me from addressing the reality of my spiritual situation, like focusing on helping someone else or volunteering to bring cupcakes to church (again!). Then, all at once, in a surge of anger at myself, I delve into the reality I’ve been avoiding.

Because I am in a self-imposed rush, I like to focus on the parts of my life that people notice when they see me. I make sure that I make it to church with kids in tow, preferably all dressed in some semblance of appropriate church wear.  I find ways to show kindness to friends and coworkers and make sure that I do so with a “joyful heart”. I take three deep breaths before picking up the kids, then congratulate myself if I make it through the homework-dinner-bedtime routine without losing my cool. If someone surprises me in the midst of a mommy temper-tantrum, I am a pro at turning it off and plastering on an ever-patient smile.  

I have a large number of closets, which is a blessing and a curse. I have many hiding places in my soul for the leftover regrets and guilt of past choices, a pile of negativity that I haven’t gotten around to taking to Goodwill, and some forgiveness that has fallen behind the current season’s issues that I need to pull out and extend to someone who has hurt me. I keep these closets far removed from the guest closet that I graciously open when company comes.  I am a fairly open book with friends and relatives, and I have no problem talking about my fears and certain failures, but I would be embarrassed and uncomfortable if an unexpected guest opened the wrong closet.

I don’t think that I am alone in these feelings, although I hope that I am.  I want to live in the full spirit of authenticity with Christ and my fellow women.  In fact, as I have woven in and out of different aspects of women’s ministry, this string stays tied around me, a nagging thought about the real reason women feel alone and unable to fully connect.  I blame myself, and people like me, who make up the Church.   We have become pros at surface cleaning for company, but we have failed in two major ways:

  1. We have convinced ourselves that somehow God overlooks some of the messes we avoid in our hearts.  
  2. We believe that we will be more attractive to the world if we show only those parts of us that we have prepared for company.

Let’s just talk about issue number 1 for now. Matthew 23:25-28 proclaims, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also…For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Yikes.  I have some pretty clean cups on display, but am I full of uncleanness?  This reminded me of a phrase from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that I have always found haunting, when the narrator refers to Europe as a “whited sepulchre”.  I don’t want to be that, yet I am a pro at cleaning around the real mess, leaving the “dead men’s bones” rotting inside.  I’m not even certain what it would look like to start that spring cleaning job, but I do know from the experience of housekeeping that if I got into the nitty-gritty heart issues and really took care of them, I would feel relief and peace when it was over.  I could lie on the metaphorical couch in complete satisfaction of a job well done.  Since I have already admitted that I am not the best cleaner, though, I’d have to hire some help, and I know just the Guy.  1 Samuel reminds me that God “ does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart”.  He not only looks at it, He created it, and He can clean it, even when I can’t.  I’m going to imagine He will clean it like my husband cleans the junk drawer.  Clear off the counter, dump the junk drawer out, pick out piles of this and that, throw away the dusty, undefinable junk, and clean and organize what is left over. I’m going to start there, believing that within my deep-seated issues is a soul salvageable for a higher purpose, and that with a little proper cleaning guidance, I can dust off what is good, throw away what is bad, and rest in the reassurance that God will see it all and pronounce it good.