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

Prepare Him Room

I suppose most people are a bit more organized and intentional with their Christmas decorating than I am. While I have some decorations that go in the exact same place every single year, I have others that I never know where to place, mainly because there really isn’t space for them in my home. Things like the snowman statue that looked really cute in the store, but rather large when I actually got him home. Or the pair of gold reindeer that I just knew would look amazing in my house, but take up way more shelf space than I have. And last but not least . . . the silk poinsettia plants that I feel compelled to buy more and more of every year, as if the 15 or so from the last few years aren’t enough for a relatively modest 2000 square foot home. (Nate Berkus would be SO disappointed in me!)

In order to find a home for these decorations that I have no space for (but can’t bring myself to get rid of), I wander around my house, placing and re-placing them until I finally find the “perfect” spot.  Then I move the items several MORE times before returning them to the “perfect” spot, just in case there is an even more perfect spot that I haven’t yet discovered. Which, by the way, doesn’t exist.  Every home only has a certain number of “perfect” spots and to try to find or create more is a waste of time. But somehow I forget this when I’m in the middle of Home Goods and the adorable Santa cookie jar is begging to take a ride in my cart.

Because there’s only so much space in my house, Christmas decorating requires rearranging, moving things around, and preparing room. I can’t just take the stuff out of the bins, throw it up in the air, and expect it to land in all those “perfect” spots. Wouldn’t THAT be nice?!

What is true of my home at Christmas is also true of our hearts. Keeping Christ in Christmas WILL NOT HAPPEN unless we do some rearranging of our lives, moving things around, and preparing room. December is too busy. The calendar is too full. There are too many parties to attend. Too many cookies to bake. Too many cards to address.  Too many gifts to buy. Too many people to visit. Too many needs to meet. I doubt I’m the only one who feels like she’s barely holding it together . . . and we’re only 5 days into December!

Our hearts are much like our homes in that there are only so many “perfect” spots. If we fail to fill them with Jesus FIRST, all that other stuff will crowd Him out. We’ll have the tree, the lights, the peppermint mochas, the special cookies, the presents, and the sweet family memories, but we won’t have the one thing that really matters . . . an undivided, worshipping heart for that baby in the manger, who happens to be the one and only Rescuer of our sin-soaked souls.  And if we don’t have an undivided, worshipping heart for Jesus, we really don’t have Christmas.

If you want to join me in committing to “prepare Him room” this Christmas season, I have a great resource to recommend. Desiring God Ministries has made a free e-book Advent devotional available and it’s really, really good. We’re only a few days in, so it’s NOT too late to start! It’s the perfect tool for “marinating” in the rich, life-changing truths of God’s Word in this over-the-top-crazy Christmas season. It’s available in a few different file types, so you can view it on any computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. Click here to download it. Seriously. Do it. You need this!

Because here’s the thing – Christmas doesn’t really start until Jesus is FIRST in our hearts. And as long as our Bibles remain neglected, that simply cannot happen.








Only One Thing is Necessary

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

Every night it’s the same thing: I scoop the dog food into my Boston terrier’s dish, watch him devour it in approximately 2.5 seconds, and then try to ignore the licking sounds that proceed from his part of the kitchen for the next 5-10 minutes. By the time he’s all done, he’s licked his bowl so clean that even a swab test would not be able to detect that his “Iams Small Bites” ever graced the dish.

That’s how I feel about certain passages of Scripture. You know – the ones that get preached on all the time, that show up in every devotional book under the sun, that have entire books devoted to them, etc. It’s seems as though they’ve been licked so clean that there’s nothing else I can get out of them . . . that they need to be filed away in the “been there, studied that, got the sermon notes (all 20 versions)” section of my brain. They certainly don’t need to be blogged about because, well, blog posts should contain some measure of original thought. Right? Aren’t I supposed to blow you away with a series of profound insights and “Tweetable” one-liners?

Well, I’m not. Wrong blog. I’ve actually never thought of a good one-liner, so why start now? In fact, I am about to “marinate” with you in one of the most “licked clean” passages in the entire New Testament. These truths are not new. They are not profound. They are not worthy of a status update. But they are really speaking to me right now. They are pointing my heart back to a place it really needs to be. A place so precious and dear, yet all-too-often neglected for the sake of more pressing matters.

That place is the feet of Jesus.

Sitting . . .

Listening . . .

Learning . . .

Soaking . . .

Changing . . .  from the inside out as His words cut with laser-beam precision into those “do not enter” sections of my soul; turning my thoughts, attitudes, and desires on their heads and forcing me to fix my eyes on the one thing that matters – the glory of my Savior. Boy do I need that.

The scene takes place in a village called Bethany, not too far from Jerusalem. It’s probably the one and only place that felt like home to Jesus. He was loved there. And whenever He stopped by, no expense was spared to ensure that He was well fed, well rested, and well cared for in every way. Nothing was too big or too small. If Jesus wanted it, Jesus got it. Well, even if He didn’t want it, He got it!  It was a place of lavish hospitality. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were just that way.

Especially Martha. She’s the “go big or go home” type. The “why make one side dish when I can make five?” type. The one who thinks simplicity is way over-rated. The go-getter. The work horse. The perfectionist. The kind of person   that gets it done – on time, under budget, and with the creative genius of a Pinterest addict.  And she does it all with a heart of gold. She serves because she loves.

The world could not function without “Marthas”. More importantly, the church could not “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” without “Marthas.” Nowhere in Scripture is it even remotely implied that Martha should have been any less Martha-like. If I hear one more person talk about how we should all be a “Mary” in a “Martha world,” I might scream. (Nothing against that book. I’ve heard it’s really good.) It just seems lost on far too many teachers and preachers that one of the greatest confessions of Christ’s identity came from the lips of Martha! (Check it out in John 11:27.) She wasn’t some doctrinal light-weight that spent every waking moment of her life in the kitchen. She had depth, insight, a love of truth, and a commitment to lavishly serve Jesus that may very well be unmatched to this day. It just so happens that one of Martha’s worst moments is recorded in the Scriptures for all to see. (I’m glad I can keep mine a secret! Amen?!)

Here’s my point: Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha is not about personalities. It’s about priorities. The message isn’t:

 If you’re a “type A” you need to become the “chill,” contemplative type that loves rainy days, long prayer walks on the beach, endless hours of reading “Christian living” books, pondering life’s deepest questions, and sitting in trendy coffee shops.

When Jesus told Martha, “You are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary,” He wasn’t telling her to be any less “Martha.” He was telling her to be a “type A” who made fellowship with her Savior a top priority. He was calling her away from her “distracted” (v. 40), “worried,” and “bothered” (v.41) place, to the one necessary place. The place where all Christ-honoring service must to begin.  The place where her sister was already seated . . . hanging on every word . . . MARINATING in the life-giving truth flowing from the lips of the Word Himself.

I believe the single most important word in Luke 10:38-42 is “chosen.” Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from her.” Mary and Martha lived in the same home. They were expecting the same Visitor. They had the same desire to make sure that Jesus felt at home with them. They had the same amount of hours in the day.  There was space for both of them at the feet of Jesus. As their Savior sat down and began to speak, they both had the same choice to make:

Work or worship?

Duty or delight?

Sulk or soak?

Obsess about preparations or enjoy His presence?

Martha was not reprimanded for her service. She was not asked to change her personality. She was not scolded for a lack of love for Jesus. No such thing is even implied. She was called out because of her choice to put her own selfish pursuits (in this case, making the “perfect” meal) before fellowship with her Lord. Her misplaced priorities led to a misplaced focus which led to a pretty nasty attitude. (Boy-oh-boy have I been there!)

Every morning and/or evening, we have a choice to make. Will we sit at the feet of Jesus or not? I know I teach Bible studies and blog about God’s Word, but the struggle to “choose the good part” is as fierce for me as it is for anybody else. I know what it’s like to get in my car on Sunday morning and realize my Bible has been laying on the floorboard all week. Been there. Done that. More than once. Ugh!

But that doesn’t have to be the norm. In fact, I refuse to let it be! When it comes to having a daily quiet time, I won’t be perfect. Ever. But I’m going to pour my heart and soul into being consistentone choice at a time. Mary chose the good part.” What beautiful words those are, especially when you consider who said them. What a legacy. Don’t you just long for Him to say the same of you? Priorities, girlfriend. Godliness has, is, and will always be a matter of priorities.

Well, priorities AND coffee. “Choosing the good part” cannot be accomplished without good, strong, fully-caffeinated coffee. That’s in the Bible somewhere. I promise. [wink, wink]

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