A Harvest of Joy from the Hardest of Days

landon_fussySeptember was a landmark month for me.  On September 1st, after a nearly two year break, I stood in front of a group of women, opened my Bible, and taught again.

I’ve started a lot of Bible studies, but this one has been the sweetest by far. The mad rush to keep my boys alive AND get my lesson done in time, a dining room table perpetually covered with notes and commentaries and coffee cups, the sheer exhaustion of 4:30 a.m. study sessions – it’s all been so very satisfying. I’m just really, truly grateful. More so than I’ve ever been. I seem to have stumbled upon a wellspring of joy-in-ministry unlike anything I’ve known before. Teaching Bible study has always made me happy, but this time I’m simply overwhelmed in the best way imaginable.

I keep asking myself why it’s so different. If anything, I expected this one to be the hardest. I expected to lack enthusiasm, creativity, and desire.  I thought for sure the struggle of the last couple years would cast an unwelcomed shadow on my sincere attempt to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Don’t get me wrong, not once did I doubt that God would be faithful to do His part in transforming hearts through the power of His word. I just figured that instead of working through me, He’d have to work around me this time.

Trials come in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes the bottom completely falls out: a spouse loses a job, a loved one is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, a rebellious child begins to self-destruct, a husband cheats, a beloved family home goes into foreclosure. . . these are “big” trials. They are the kind we can’t image being able to endure until that moment when we find ourselves smack in the middle of one and realize that God’s grace really is sufficient.

But more often than not, the trials we face aren’t the bottom-falling-out “big” kind. They are the never-letting-up “little” kind. By themselves, these kinds of trials aren’t all that hard to deal with. But have you ever noticed that they rarely ever happen by themselves?

IMG_0242About a year and a half ago my sweet Landon was born. The birth of a child automatically brings about a whole slew of seemingly never-letting-up “small” trials: sleep deprivation, crazy hormone fluctuations, nursing challenges, body image issues, and the paralyzing stress of a perpetually unfinished “to do” list. And that’s if you have a perfectly healthy, happy baby. God didn’t see fit to give us one of those.

I’ve spent a year and a half trying to keep a generally unhappy, sickly child from driving us all crazy. After tubes, an adenoidectomy (which did nothing), a bronchoscopy (he has an artery compressing his trachea and surgery scheduled in November, but that’s  another story), and a sedated MRI of his chest and sinuses doctors finally concluded that our incredibly adorable “Mr. Grumpy Pants” has basically had a sinus infection for most of his life. Some kids take a daily vitamin. Ours takes a daily dose of penicillin.

Turns out spending several months consoling a child who rarely feels good can be pretty depressing. It can make you feel isolated and lonely and sad. It can make you feel trapped and suffocated by your own life. It can make you wonder if you’re cut out for this while painfully exposing your most profound insecurities as a mother. “Why am I the only mom who isn’t loving this?” Comparison. Perceived failure. Guilt. Frustration. Anger. Depression. All woven in and out of this incredibly blessed life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the whole world.

landon_fussy_2In many ways life shrinks when a baby comes along, and even more so if that baby is harder than average. I wish I could say that I embraced the “shrinking” with acceptance and joy. That’s not quite how it went down. But I’m getting there. And I’m realizing once again that it’s in the shrinking that we experience the most growth. If I want Jesus to increase in my life, I have to decrease. (Jn. 3:30) There’s simply no other way. I’m not so sure “decreasing” is something we can do all by ourselves no matter how much we think we want it. In my experience, pride inevitably wins out. But God graciously fights for our whole hearts, for our complete surrender, for our sincere self-giving. He graciously labors for our humility. That’s what motherhood has been for me – a knock-down-drag-out with my incredibly selfish heart. And we wonder why it’s so hard…

Needless to say, right now my life is not the ideal “setting” for a Bible teacher to do her thing. BUT….I’m finding out that it’s the perfect setting for God to do His. Turns out those little trials, all strung together and woven throughout my everyday life in the last year or so have forever altered the fabric of my heart. This thing we call “motherhood” – with all of its small, everyday “never-letting-up” challenges – has proven to be the most profound and sacred pathway to an ever deepening dependence on the Lord. It’s ruined me . . . in the best way imaginable.

In the book of James we are commanded to rejoice in the various trials we face because they test our faith and in doing so produce the invaluable qualities of endurance and spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4). While I would have loved to spend the last couple of years enjoying a happy baby, writing blog posts, and pouring God’s Word into the lives of women, I am fully aware that not a single millisecond of this stuck-at-home-with-a-fussy-kid season has been a waste. James 1:4 is coming alive right before my very eyes . . . on the canvas of my own heart! The somber grey hues of this challenging season have only served to enhance the stunning brilliance of His grace. As any artist knows, depth cannot be achieved without some darkness.

From a ministry standpoint, nothing has really changed. I’m teaching at the same church to a lot of the same women. This study isn’t any different. But I am.

That’s why it’s sweeter. That’s why it’s so much more fun. Through this incredibly challenging season of motherhood, God has shrunk my pride and in turn enlarged my capacity for joy. He’s fought hard for that which I didn’t even know I was missing. I’m confident He’s doing the same thing for you!

So today let’s choose to thank God for the bitter-sweet providence of faith refined in those really hard seasons of motherhood. We may be overworked, overwhelmed, overtired, or just plain OVER IT.  But because He is good and gracious and oh-so-faithful, the hardest of days can and will produce a harvest of joy. “Oh Lord . . . we wait in expectation” (Ps. 5:3).

When It’s Been Too Long and You’re Bone Dry

Surviving a Spiritual Funk ImageThis morning was the first morning in two months that I have gotten up before my family, sat in my big green chair and spent time with the Lord. That’s right – the girl who has a blog called “marinate”, whose passion in life is to help believers live Bible-saturated lives, who is scheduled to teach an eight-week Bible study to 200+ women in less than a month, who regularly gets messages and emails from people seeking insight into God’s Word, who believes with all of her heart and soul that time spent with Jesus is the most important part of any day . . . that girl has gone almost an entire summer without any meaningful time in the Word.

I’d like to tell you that this morning when my alarm went off I was eager to get back to it. The truth is the only thing I was “hungry” for was more sleep. Well, a donut then more sleep. Some say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Perhaps that is true in human relationships but it has never rung true in my relationship with the Lord. Absence from Him always makes my heart grow colder, dryer, and numb. That’s where I was at 5:30 this morning. Cold. Dry. Spiritually numb.

I suppose there are an infinite number of things that can lead to such “leanness of soul.” Sin is obviously first on that list. There have been many times when I have caused my own dry spell as I have willfully chosen my will over God’s. Repentance is always a part of getting our hearts back where they need to be. In most cases it’s the main part.

But this time my dry spell didn’t start with sin. It started with sickness – pregnancy sickness. Nearly two whole months of all day nausea, regular migraines, extreme fatigue, volatile emotions, and an all-around feeling of “I think I might die today.” If I were to write an essay on what I did this summer it would read: “I laid on the couch, dry heaved, ate carbs, and kept my 4 year old alive (which mainly consisted of feeding him processed food and changing the channel back and forth between Disney Jr. and Nick Jr.). The end.”

Please know that I am not beating myself up for failing to maintain a vibrant devotional life for the past several weeks. You can’t feel that badly for that long and it not impact your spiritual life. The One who made me certainly understands that! I’m not writing out of a sense of shame. If anything, I am more aware than ever of God’s grace which has indeed proven sufficient each and every day of this first trimester. Yes, even the days when I dry heaved so violently that I full-on wet my pants. True story.

You may find yourself right where I am today. Don’t worry – you’re probably not pregnant. 🙂 But maybe your summer has been crazy busy. Maybe you’re walking through a really hard trial. Maybe there is strife in your family that has made it feel impossible to get quiet before the Lord. Maybe you are dealing with depression. When we find ourselves in in a place of spiritual dryness, the most important thing is not analyzing how we got there. What matters most is taking those first steps to get out. Regardless of how we got there, we can’t be okay with staying there. In light of that, I thought I’d share what I’m doing to rekindle my passion for God and His Word.

1)      I’m asking people to pray for me.

A few weeks ago I sat and cried my eyes out at a dear friend’s kitchen table. In between sobs I shared how hollow I felt. How hard the past few weeks had been. How unprepared I feel to teach Bible study this Fall.  Then, she prayed for me. Like, really really prayed for me. The kind of prayer that leaves you with a nice mixture of snot and mascara all over your face. In that moment I was reminded how much I needed that. Since then I am trying to be more intentional about asking others to pray for God to restore my joy and it has made such a difference. It amazes me how God leads these prayer warriors of mine to send me little notes of encouragement just when I need it most. He’s so good like that!

2)      I’ve recommitted to having a daily quiet time.

Spiritual checklists have a really bad reputation and rightly so. If our only motive in reading the Bible, praying, going to church, etc. is to get it done and receive some kind of gold stars on our heavenly behavior chart, we are sorely mistaken and are pretty much walking hand-in-hand with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Habits without heart are the breeding ground of hypocrisy.

There are times, however, when spiritual duty is our lifeline to a renewed sense of delight. Times when those habits are the primary means by which God will restore our hearts. Times when you have to sit in that chair and read your Bible not because you want to, not because you feel anything, not because you feel madly in love with Jesus, but because God said so – because He has ordained that the one and only way to restore a malnourished soul is to abide in Jesus (John 15).

I thought that when the pregnancy sickness started to go away my desire to have a quiet time would automatically return, but that’s not what happened. I didn’t want to get up this morning. I didn’t want to read or pray or journal. I just wanted to sleep. While my ultimate goal is a renewed sense of delight in the Lord, right now my priority has to be discipline. There are no short cuts to personal revival. I keep reminding myself of that over and over again.

I can no longer tell myself that I should get up and have a quiet time. The truth is, I must have a quiet time. If I want a heart the beats with fiery passion for the glory of my Lord and Savior and a life that puts His beauty on display a daily devotion is not an option, it’s a necessity.

Just a side note – as you get back into the Word try starting out in your favorite passages and using your favorite devotional. Even if you left off 6 months ago in the middle of Leviticus or Ezekiel, you may want to put that on hold a bit longer and start reading in John, Philippians, or some of your favorite Psalms.  Build those spiritual muscles up a bit before you get back to the heavy lifting.

3)      I’m resting in the goodness and grace of God.

It can be discouraging to walk around my church knowing  that most of the people around me assume I am having these amazing moments with God when in reality my Bible is sitting on my desk collecting dust because all I have had the energy to do for two months is glance at my Spurgeon devotional a few times. Worse than that is knowing that while others might assume I’m doing great, God sees that dusty Bible. He knows all about my prayerlessness. He’s well aware of my lack of desire for Him and His Word. Nothing is hidden from Him. But here’s the amazing thing . . .

God isn’t mad at me. In addition to being all-knowing, He is an infinitely loving, gracious, and faithful Father. I have a High Priest who sympathizes with my weaknesses and beckons me to come before His throne in order to receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need (Heb. 4:15, 16). His perfect sufficiency is more than enough to cover my lack; His strength is more than enough to cover my weakness; His faithfulness is more than enough to cover my failures; His grace is more than enough to cover my sin.

This morning as I was telling God about this barren wasteland of a place I feel like I am living in right now He spoke to my heart and reminded me that what matters most is not where I am, but where He is. And He’s right here with me. Always has been. Always will be. His presence is enough.

4)      I’m praying very specifically for personal revival.

One thing that always strikes me about the petitions of the Psalmists is how many times they ask to be revived, renewed, or restored. As I read their honest cries for deliverance, I am reminded of the truth that every day with Jesus is NOT necessarily sweeter than the day before. Some days are hard. Some weeks are grueling. Some seasons are full of nothing but one hardship after another.  While those are the times we usually grow the most, they are also the times when we feel it the least. Before long we often find that our ears don’t hear His voice as loudly, our eyes don’t see His hand as clearly, and our hearts don’t sense His presence as intensely. In those seasons we basically have two choices: we can dry up or we can cry out. Today I choose to cry out!

As I pray, several verses keep coming to mind (Ps. 119:36, Ps. 86:11; Ps. 51:10, 12; Ps. 19:1-14; Ps. 119:88), but nothing quite summarizes the desire of my heart like the words of Psalm 143 (I’ve added some of my own thoughts in italics):

“Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails;
Do not hide Your face from me,
Or I will become like those who go down to the pit. (Powerfully manifest Your presence in my life! I want to see You!)
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You; (As I seek You, continue to remind me of your faithful, steadfast love for me!)
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul. (Direct each and every step I take!)
Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
I take refuge in You. (Rescue me from selfishness, depressed emotions, shame, anxiety, laziness, etc.)
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God; (Reveal Your will to me and enable me to walk in it!)
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Fill me with Your Spirit and grant me the consistency and stability that I currently lack!)
For the sake of Your name, O LORD, revive me.
In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble. (From the inside out – REVIVE ME LORD!)

 We pray for so many things but all too often we pray the least for that which matters the most – our own hearts. If there is anything we can’t “fix” on our own, it’s that! So however dry the ground beneath you, choose to kneel there and cry out to the One who made everything out of absolutely nothing. You’ll be amazed what He can do in the most desolate of places that are soaked with the tears and fervent prayers of a child who longs to once again experience fullness of joy in the presence of her Heavenly Father.

This day is almost done. The “auto brew” on the coffee pot is set. My Bible, pen, and journal are in their place. My alarm is on. A day full of new mercies is just one night’s sleep away. I may not feel like it, but tomorrow morning I will get up. I will pray. I will read.  I will be still. I will listen. I will obey. For I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that somewhere along the way my joy will be restored. My passion will be rekindled. My heart will be revived. In His presence is fullness of joy; in His right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). That means it’s flat out impossible to fervently seek Him and stay dry. I love that!

However long it’s been, it’s never been too long. However dry we feel, we’re never too dry. However far we’ve wandered, we’re never too far.

So today I choose to take those first steps. I choose a fresh start. I choose obedience. I choose joy. I sure would love for you to join me.

Cultivate my heart, Lord, so I may catch every word that falls from heaven- every syllable of encouragement, every sentence of rebuke, every paragraph of instruction, every page of warning.  Help me to catch these words as the soft, fertile soil catches seeds”.  – Ken Gire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a Weaned Child

IMG_1803O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.

Surely, I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. Psalm 131:1, 2

This is where I have been “marinating” for a few days now. Every time I have started reading the next Psalm or digging into other portions of my not-so-structured Bible reading plan, I have felt a tug back to these words. This morning the tug was stronger than ever. So I did what any self-respecting Bible teacher does when God has her sit and soak in one place for a while – I read, re-read, contemplated the words, and prayed. Then, I went and got Spurgeon.

Here’s a portion of what I read (and underlined, and highlighted, and starred, and read again) from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David this morning on what it means to quiet your soul “as a child that is weaned.” What a powerful metaphor and a much needed reminder that my battle against selfish desires can only be won as I seek and savor my all-sufficient, all-satisfying Savior:

The task [of weaning] to the mother is trying and troublesome. The infant cries and seems to sob out his heart. He thinks it very hard in her and knows not what she means by her seeming cruelty, and the mother’s fondness renders all her firmness necessary to keep her at the process; and sometimes she also weeps for the importunity of his dear looks, and big tears, and stretched-out hands. But it must be done, and therefore, though she pities, she perseveres; and after awhile he is soothed and satisfied, forgets the breast, and no longer feels even a hankering after his former pleasure.

But how is this weaning accomplished? By embittering the member to his lips; by the removal of the object in the absence and concealment of the mother; by the substitution of other food; by the influence of time.

So it is with us. We love the world, and it deceives us. We depend on creatures, and they fail us, and pierce us through with many sorrows. We enter forbidden paths, and follow after our lovers, and our way is hedged up with thorns; and then we say, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; and now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee.”

The enjoyment of a greater good subdues the relish of a less. What are the indulgences of sin, or the dissipations of the world to one who is abundantly satisfied with the goodness of God’s house, and is made to drink of the river of His pleasures? (words by William Jay, quoted in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, Volume 2)

With mouth wide open, heart bowed down, and hands lifted high this is the cry of my heart today:

“Satisfy us, Lord Jesus!”

 

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day All By Yourself

A lot of things can ruin an otherwise perfecly good day. There are those small annoyances – heavy traffic, lost keys, hair that won’t cooperate, an acne break-out, out-of-whack hormones that make you feel like a crazy person, a favorite shoe that your dog thinks is a chew toy, jeans that won’t button, spilled coffee (that you paid over $4.00 for), an empty gas tank, and a less-than-encouraging conversation with your insurance company (who put you on hold for 45 minutes before vividly reminding you why you hate your insurance company).

There are also times when a day is derailed by something major – a car accident, a sick child, a miscarriage, a layoff, a foreclosure, a scary diagnosis, or a heart-wrenching breakup. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life can change. In a matter of seconds, a good day can become your worst day. Though we like to pretend otherwise, life is incredibly unpredictable. Needless to say, I am deeply thankful that mine is in the tight grip of a sovereign, all-wise God who is never taken by surprise.

But if I’m honest, most of the bad days I have aren’t caused by those little annoyances, major trials, or anything in between. Most of my bad days are my own fault. Regrettably, I am quite good at ruining an otherwise fabulous day all by myself – no outside influences necessary. Here’s how to do it:

1)    Foster feelings of entitlement.

By feelings of entitlement, I mean that attitude that produces thoughts such as, “I’m better than this” . . . “He/She owes me” . . . “After all I do, this is the thanks I get?” . . . and the biggest one of all – “I DESERVE ________________.”

Such thoughts are usually easy to justify. I mean, I work hard to take care of my family. I do the stuff that nobody else wants to do. I work 14+ hour days, 365 days a year – no sick days. I spend most of my time playing little boy games and having little boy conversations. I wipe mouths, noses, bottoms, bathtubs, floors, and toilets. I make sure the bills are paid on time and that there is money left in the bank account afterwards. I brave the strange smells, bad lighting and dilapidated carts at Wal-mart instead of enjoying my beloved Publix in order to spend less of my hubby’s hard-earned dollars on food. (If that’s not sacrifice, I don’t know what is!) I could go on, but you get the idea. Not a day goes by that I don’t set aside my own interests and desires for the sake of my family. I know the same can be said of you!

I wish I could say that the sacrifices I make always produce an abundance of joy in my heart as I watch them bear fruit in the lives of those I love. But all-to-often, I play the “woe-is-me” card and allow them to produce a sense of entitlement that causes me to fixate on the praise I don’t receive, the privileges I don’t possess, and the personal ambitions I am unable to pursue.

“Don’t I deserve a big fat ‘thank you,’ and shouldn’t it come in the form of gorgeous flowers and my favorite chocolates? After all I do, don’t I have the right to splurge on a designer purse regardless of whether or not we can really afford it? In light of what I feel called, trained, and gifted to do, don’t I deserve several hours a week of uninterrupted time to write Bible studies while someone else cleans my house?” When my heart answers “yes” to such questions, it automatically says “no” to joy.

Joy simply cannot flourish in the life of someone who thinks she has the right to demand what her heart selfishly craves. That kind of woman is impossible to satisfy. I know because I’ve been that woman . . .way too often.

The only person who has ever had the right to act entitled is Jesus. Interestingly enough, he never did. In fact, He is the embodiment of humble and joyful self-sacrifice. Philippians 2:5-8 makes this ever so clear: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”

If you ever want to suck all the joy out of your own heart, just foster feelings of entitlement. Instead of emptying yourself for the sake of others, demand that others fill you up. Whine and pout when they don’t. Post something depressing or nasty on Facebook about it. Make sure all the thankless, uncooperative people in your life know how you feel. Then, go buy yourself a new outfit, splurge on a spa pedicure, and treat yourself to a big slice of cheesecake. Just know that as you run hard after what you “deserve,” you are bound to ruin any chance of enjoying what you already have.

2)    Fixate on the “greener grass”.

Let me explain this one with a little story. There once was a wife who had an amazing, thoughtful, and generous husband. One Valentine’s Day, this husband planned to take her out to a fabulous restaurant, give her a beautiful necklace, write her a sweet love note, and spend the evening catching up on season 1 of Downton Abbey. The wife looked forward to her Valentine’s date for weeks. She got an overnight baby sitter. She picked out a great outfit. She even shaved her legs! The day started out great, but by the time the date actually started she was a dissatisfied, pouty, irritated woman. You see, all day she had been bombarded with pictures on Facebook of other wives’ flowers, chocolates, homemade breakfasts, and adorable lunch dates. As she looked at these pictures, she began to wonder, “Why didn’t I get my card this morning? Why don’t I have a box of chocolates to enjoy throughout the day? Why doesn’t my husband ever cook for me?” And when her husband was a little late picking her up, she convinced herself that it was because he didn’t care as much as she did, that he didn’t really want to take her out, and that all the women who were being treated to made-from-scratch romantic dinners at home were much better off. None of that was true, of course. But her eyes were so blinded by the highly edited, seemingly perfect “greener grass” of her friend’s lives that she was incapable of enjoying the beauty of her own.

I may or may not know that wife. But I can tell you that I have ruined so many days, weeks, and even months by fixating on what others have (or what I THINK they have) that I don’t. I once heard a Christian comedian say that the grass is greenest where it’s been pooped on. In other words, nobody’s life is as good as it looks on the surface. And even if it was, I shouldn’t be looking over there anyway. God has planted enough blessings on my own side of the fence to keep me occupied (and grateful!) for a lifetime. “Be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5), “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and rest in knowing that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:10). Otherwise, you might end up ruining a perfectly good Valentine’s Day. Not that I know anything about that . . .

3)    Cultivate unrealistic expectations.

I’ve already explored this one in another post, but it’s a big obstacle for me, so it bears mentioning again. I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “misery factor.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, things can get ugly. Days can be ruined.

Why is it that a husband coming home late from work, a toddler throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, or a coworker acting like a total jerk can send a perfectly good day spiraling downhill so quickly? Because our selfish hearts expect that husband to do whatever it takes –  short of getting fired or breaking any major laws – to get home when he said he would. That child is supposed to always reflect what an awesome, godly parent you are trying to be. And considering how many times you’ve covered for that coworker, you expect a little bit of respect!

Ninety percent of my bad days are rooted in my own unrealistic expectations of the people around me – expectations that are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others or God’s will for my life. When people don’t measure up or things don’t work out like I had planned, I get frustrated, defensive, and even more self-focused. The result? Yet another good-day-gone-bad.

Having a bad day? Maybe it’s the disobedient kids, the inconsiderate boss, the troubled finances, the bad haircut, or the workaholic husband.

Or, maybe it’s your own heart.

You see, we don’t need any help ruining a perfectly good day. As sinners, we are quite capable of doing that all by ourselves.  Fortunately, God’s Spirit in us is quite capable of restoring the joy that we have allowed entitlement, discontentment, and selfish expectations to drain out of our lives (Gal. 5:22).

So go ahead and ask yourself that hard question: “Is my bad day my own fault?” If the answer is yes, take it to Jesus, confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and seek to constantly weed out these subtle yet sinful attitudes.

Then, take a moment to bask in the sweet reality that tomorrow is a new day!

Clean Enough {Musings of a Recovering Clean Freak}

cleaningThe top four best days of my life are as follows:

1)      The day I placed my faith in Jesus.

2)      The day I got married.

3)      The day my son was born.

4)      The day I got a housekeeper.

Yes, you read that right. Let me explain that forth one . . .

I love a clean house. By clean, I mean clean clean. Deep down clean . . . get out the toothbrush and scrub in the crevices clean . . . take a deep breath and enjoy the glorious smell of Pine Sol, Pledge, Windex, and Ajax all mixed together clean . . .  gleaming white baseboards clean . . . absolutely no fingerprints or doggy nose marks on the sliding glass doors clean. So clean that someone could make a surprise visit to your home and the first words out of your mouth would be “I’m so glad you’re here!” instead of “I’m so sorry the house is such a mess!” You get the idea.

When the house is “dirty” (i.e. not clean clean), something happens to me. I get antsy. I can’t focus on anything. I can’t relax. I feel like a domestic failure. Worst of all, I can’t take a nap without bearing an overwhelming sense of guilt. Terrible.  Just terrible!  (Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not much.)

My husband knows this, so when I was about 6 months pregnant he said the best words a soon-to-be mommy can ever hear: “When the baby comes, we should get a housekeeper.” I’ve seriously never been more attracted to him than in that moment! Who knew my husband was so romantic? We quickly got to work making room in the budget for bi-weekly cleaning, and the week after Shep was born, Kathy entered our lives.

I vividly remember the first time I walked into my house after what I affectionately call a “Kathy clean.” It was nothing short of absolute bliss. Bliss infused with the heavenly smell of cleaning products. Bliss coupled with the anticipation of a guilt-free nap. Bliss with a side of bliss as I marveled at the sight of dusted fan blades – an incredibly rare thing in this house. And to think that it all happened without me – what a thrill!!!!

That was the day I realized that super heroes don’t always fly. Sometimes they clean!

If hiring “Super Kathy” was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced, it’s no surprise that telling her a year or so later that we needed to redirect that money elsewhere was downright awful. Since then, I’ve gone back to the “clean-it-when-I-get-a-chance” method, which basically means that at any given time only 1/8 of my house is actually clean clean. Now my only hope for walking into my house and being met with the sweet aroma of my favorite cleaning products is accidentally spilling a bottle on my way out.  Life without Kathy means that my fan blades and blinds are perpetually dusty again and that the little toys and crumbs way up under the couch will probably stay there until we either get a new couch, move, or I have an entire week all to myself to do nothing but clean – whichever comes first. (I can tell you right now, it won’t be the third one.)

Every single day, I live with a nagging sense of “should” when it comes to the state of my home. The floors should be swept and mopped more often. The laundry should be put away the same day I wash it. The slobber, nose marks, and finger prints on the sliding glass door should be scrubbed off. The shower grout should be treated. On and on it goes.

If I’m not careful, that nagging sense of “should” can turn into a nagging sense of shame, discontentment, and an unhealthy longing for better days (i.e. Kathy days!). If I’m not careful, my self-made notion of what it means for my house to be “clean clean” can become way too important. It can snuff out my joy. It can wreak havoc on my priorities. Worst of all, it can distort my perspective on the people I love most. My precious child (and his incessant mess-making) becomes a burden. My sweet husband (and his laid-back “why clean today when you can put it off for tomorrow?” attitude) becomes an irritant. As the messes grow, the pressure builds until I’m just one crusty bowl of cereal left in the kitchen sink away from snapping.

In other words, having a “clean clean” house can become a full-blown idol in my life.

On the domestic front, January has been rough. The 6 months of 2012 in which I spent every spare minute buried in the pages of 1 Corinthians are finally catching up with me. I’ve got piles of paperwork – lots of piles – to sort through. If all you saw was my spare room, you’d swear I was a recovering hoarder. Emails and book orders are coming in a whole lot faster than I can manage. I want so desperately to be genuinely thankful for every single one, but there’s a part of me that just wants it all to stop. And yes, all of my Christmas decorations are still up . . . mocking me . . . reminding me of how pathetic I am. All I have to say for myself right now is that my toilets are clean. So if you stop by, make sure you check out my toilets.

Here’s the point of all this rambling: My definition of “clean enough” is way off. I desperately need a new one – one that more accurately reflects biblical priorities. One that enables me to be a woman of joy and godly contentment regardless of how long it’s been since I vacuumed. One that frees me to genuinely enjoy and gladly serve the ones I love regardless of how messy they are. I’m not quite done thinking this through, but here’s what I have so far:

  • When I can’t clean one more thing without forsaking precious time with my Savior, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without unconsciously forcing my husband to go to bed alone . . . again, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without crushing the spirit of a little boy whose greatest thrill in life is playing on the floor with his mommy, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without ignoring dear friends whose fellowship and encouragement I desperately need, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without missing an opportunity to be a listening ear and source of comfort to someone who’s hurting, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without getting too busy to marvel at and actually participate in the work of God all around me, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without forgetting the blessing of having such precious people to clean up after, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without giving up the thrill of simply hanging out with my husband, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without my awareness of God’s grace getting swallowed up by a lengthy list of things I must scrub, dust, and/or disinfect to feel good about myself, my house is clean enough.
  • When I can’t clean one more thing without trading the minimum amount of sleep I need to effectively do the things God has planned for me, my house is clean enough.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We only have so many days here on this earth, so we must diligently seek to use them wisely. When they come to an end and we stand before the Lord, I really don’t think He’s going to care how well those blinds were dusted. In fact, I know He’s not. A clean home is a good thing. But a clean home at the expense of a content heart and compassionate attitude is not.

So put down the Windex and go play with your babies, do something fun with your teenager, call that friend back, marinate in the Scriptures, have a much needed conversation with God,  write that thank you note, connect with your husband, hang with some girlfriends, say “yes” to that ministry opportunity . . . whatever it is, just do it.

Because I’m pretty sure that your house, though perhaps not quite “clean clean”, is indeed clean enough

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