Clean

There are strangers in my home. It was a wonderful Mother’s Day surprise from my husband—a cleaning team that is scrubbing my home from ceiling to floor—but it’s more than a little unnerving. I was fine until I went into my bedroom to put something in the nightstand drawer and saw that it had been emptied, wiped down, and filled again with meticulous organization. I crossed the room and opened another drawer—also cleaned and organized. I checked the bathroom cabinet. Same thing. I shivered, partially because my air conditioner was set 8 degrees lower than I usually have it (I gave the cleaning team ownership of the thermostat for the day)—but mostly because complete strangers now know where my journal is, what my underwear looks like, and what form of contraception I use. And now they’re whispering in the hallway while I write from the living room. I’m trying to tell myself that their hushed tones are only because my daughter is sleeping, but I can’t shake the feeling that they are quietly judging me for the dust under the bed—or plotting a return trip to steal my electronics. And my journal.

 I knew a day in advance that they were coming, and it took all my willpower not to clean in preparation. It’s like baring my soul to let someone see that I haven’t done a load of laundry in a week and that I haven’t mopped the original hardwood floors under my bed since the day before I went into labor with my youngest, six months ago. Maybe it’s harder than baring my soul—because I actually do that regularly here, but I would never let any of you look under my bed.

 They’ve dusted the master bedroom furniture three times now, because the particles in the air that emerged when they cleaned under the bed keep re-settling on the freshly polished surfaces. I keep thinking how did it get this bad? My excuse is 80-hour work weeks, but the fact is that this Mother’s Day gift leaves me feeling like a failure as a wife and mother. I don’t deserve my family. I have always made my home presentable on the surface, but the truth lies hidden under beds and in window-sill crevices covered by curtain panels. The dust in my house is malignant, and it aggressively metastasizes now on bedroom furniture that has been wiped clean three times—furniture that looked great after one polish last weekend, when I didn’t venture under the bed to stir things up. I guess it has to get worse before it can truly get better, now that I’m addressing the real issue.

 All Both of my regular readers have learned by now that I make analogies out of everything. A crossword puzzle, a spoonful of baby food, a lighthouse, a beer can—so much of what is around me could be a reflection of what is in my heart. I think that’s why it was so easy for me to be a Christian—all my life I have imagined that God spoke to me through even the most ordinary circumstances. Now I realize how biased I was. I see just as deeply into ordinary circumstances today (sometimes annoying myself—can’t something just be what it is without my mind trying to turn it into something profound?!)—but no matter how deeply I look, I can’t see Jesus any more.

 So how did it get this bad? Did doubt slowly build like dust? I remember sweeping it away in the beginning. All it would take was an hour in scripture, a prayer-filled run, or a well-chosen internet radio worship station to assuage my doubts. My faith looked pristine. I didn’t admit my doubt to anyone, and I even had myself convinced it wasn’t a problem. But somewhere, in deep unseen crevices of my heart, it accumulated. I stirred it up about eighteen months ago, when I acknowledged its presence and took steps to remove it. I read my Bible; I reached out to others for encouragement; I prayed for faith; I sought after God wholeheartedly. A layer of doubt blew away, and I uncovered my faith for a time. Then more of the dust settled. All my efforts hadn’t been enough to put a definitive stop to my doubt. I had let it go too long, and there was too much to clear out. It permeated the air and fell fresh on my faith every time I began to see hope underneath it. Does it have to get worse before it gets better? I still hope that’s all it is—that after a few more attempts, the dust will clear once and for all—that I’ll get rid of it, and that I can breathe easily and rest my heart for a while.

 The dust storm is over for my furniture—as I write now (a day after I started this post), the air is finally clear. But my heart must resort to keeping up appearances—covering the dust with a tablecloth. Today we dedicated my youngest daughter at church. I felt like I was lying under oath in a trial. This “dedication” is something I did joyfully and whole-heartedly with my oldest. Now it’s just a distraction—an attempt to make my heart’s surface look pretty so no one will peer underneath or explore its dark corners of doubt. I did it because my family and friends and pastor expected it. When my pastor read from Deuteronomy 6 and then looked me straight in the eyes and asked if we promised to raise our youngest daughter as these verses command, I lied and said “We do.” I felt a fire start in my chest, with heat rising to my face. I don’t lie. Keeping up appearances is draining me, even changing me—and there is no end in sight. I know what lies beneath the tablecloth, under the bed, behind the curtains, in shadowy, secret places in my heart. I feel like I’ve tried everything within my power, and I can’t fix this—and there’s no cleaning team I can call. All I’m left with is a weak, thus far unanswered, yet entirely sincere prayer to a God I have no reason to believe exists:

 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a 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. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Cleanse me. Renew my spirit. Restore my joy. Open my lips. Break my heart. Clear the dust.

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