Pep Talk #4: Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Recently Organized
Recently Re-organized Laundry Area

Jay and I recently read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It has not yet changed our lives, but it has motivated us to lighten our load, clean out lockers, throw/give things away that we have been storing for no apparent reason, and enjoy a less-cluttered living space. Now that we’re suddenly all at home all the time, we’re continuing to tidy and clean, to see dirt and clutter that we had learned to ignore.

Since we came back to the United States last July, we have been so busy that we could barely keep up with household chores. The three oldest kids were taking in-seat college classes and working at new jobs, the youngest two were playing basketball, everyone was enjoying social activities, and in between pick-ups and drop-offs, I was trying to write a book in one-hour increments in various coffee shops around town. All that came to a screeching halt a few weeks ago, and we realized that, as my friend Amy so eloquently put it, “we have been wallowing in our own dirt.” Perhaps you too have been wallowing, and suddenly find yourself with time and motivation to clean house.

Cleaning is important right now especially—for disease prevention. Between disinfecting surfaces, wiping down things brought into homes, and vigilant hand-washing, people are more focused on cleanliness than ever before. Beyond the physical, cleaning also makes humans feel better mentally and emotionally. As we clear our space, we clear our minds. I need a clean kitchen before I can cook. I need a clean workspace before I can paint. I need a clean desk before I can write. Maybe that makes me neurotic, but there is something freeing about a tidy area. It allows me to fill the physical and creative space with something new.

And since I’m talking about deep-cleaning, I’m going to peel back another layer, look under the rug in my soul where I’m apt to sweep the dirt. No amount of obsessive cleaning can scrub away the imperfections in my own human nature. I am daily faced with the consequences of my mistakes past and present, and sometimes I suffer the negative effects of the mistakes of others. The more time I have on my hands and the fewer the distractions, the more I am aware of my own failures. The more time I spend with my family, the more I realize how imperfectly I show my love for the people closest to me.

So now is as good a time as any, while I’m cleaning all the nooks and crannies, to get my heart right with God, too. These are the words that come to mind when I need a fresh start (which, I’m sorry to report, is pretty much every day): “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (New King James Version of the Bible, Psalm 51, verses 10-12).

Even though I “come clean” about my faults, sometimes self-condemnation remains, like a stubborn stain. Positive self-talk leaves me feeling like I only took a swipe at the surface. I need the firm reminder that because Jesus accepted the eternal consequences for humanity’s imperfection, I’m offered a guarantee: “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (New King James version of the Bible, 1 John chapter 1, verse 9). Being forgiven frees me up to forgive others.

I don’t know where you stand—whether you were raised with religion that left a bad taste in your mouth, or with authentic faith-hope-and-love, or with no faith at all. I only know that without my belief in a caring God, without hope that pain can serve a purpose, my fears and my faults would overwhelm me right now and all the cleaning in the world wouldn’t be enough to bring me peace of mind. I pray that you too will find peace amid the chaos.