Last week at a women’s meeting at church, one of the ladies was telling “You might be Lutheran if…” jokes to break the ice before a presentation she gave. One of them struck a chord with all the women in the room and several said they needed signs with the punch line to hang on the wall in their homes. It went something like this, “You might be Lutheran if… your house is messy and you tell guests it’s because you are saved by grace, not works.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to make this sign before my mother in law’s arrival last Friday because… well, because I was too busy cleaning my house for her visit!
My husband’s mother is in no way judgmental of my (lack of) cleaning skills. The truth is that I do it out of respect for her. I want her to know that I’m taking good care of her son and her grandbabies. I want to live up to any expectations she may have about the woman her baby married. If you could see how immaculate she and her daughters keep their homes, you would likely understand my dilemma. It comes down to my desire to present myself as acceptable to her, not because of any sort of condemnation I feel from her.
Even with all this weighing on me, there are a few places that don’t get the full treatment, because I know I can keep those messes out of site with closed doors. And of course My Messy Desk is never clean, but I’ve given myself a perfectly acceptable excuse by naming it so appropriately.
Conversely, when my own mother comes to visit, I try to get the house just barely clean enough that she doesn’t feel obligated to call social services with concerns about the cleanliness of my children’s living environment. That isn’t out of any sort of disrespect for her, but she simply knows me too well to be fooled by any of my attempts to impress her.
While I was vacuuming up obscene amounts of black dog hair from our beige carpet, I thought about how similar my frantic preparations for my dear mother in law’s visit are to the way I often approach my God. I often want everything in order and to have all my messes cleaned up before I invite Him in. I try to impress Him with how well I’m handling my life. I want to appear acceptable to Him.
But even more than my own mother, He knows me all too well to be fooled. Psalm 139. There is nothing about me He doesn’t already know. And miraculously, He loves me anyway!
One of the (many) reasons I put off cleaning is that once I get down close to the dust and grime that collect in a house with a Soldier, two boys and a dog that seems to shed an entire coat’s worth of fur weekly, I keep finding more to clean. The dirt that collects in all the cracks and crevices escapes notice as I pass by casually moving through my daily routine is magnified when I get down on the floor with a sponge in hand. I always find much more in need of cleaning than I anticipated. It’s the same way with my sin. If I start with cleaning up the big ones, I’m going to find lots more filth down deep in the cracks. There is no way for me to get myself clean enough.
That is precisely why God sent Jesus to be our savior. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Right after the birth of our second son, my mother in law and one of my sisters in law came to visit us. This has been the one and only exception to my rule about cleaning prior to her visits. I was physically unable to muster the energy to get the house as clean as I thought it should be. It was a little scary to invite them in when I knew what a state our home was in. With a two day old and a toddler, I truly had no choice but to surrender, and guess what… Those two angels came in a cleaned it up for me. Sinks, tubs, faucets, floors, and counters, all shining brilliantly. So much cleaner than anything I ever achieve.
This is what Jesus does for us. He cleans us up better than new, because He knows we are completely unable to do it on our own. The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
I wish my house would stay as clean as it is the day my mother in law arrives, but alas for the same reasons I mentioned a few paragraphs above, it does not. It’s true that once it has been cleaned well, I can keep it up for a little while, but eventually I just get overwhelmed with life and if I’m being really honest, probably a little laziness, too. In the hope of improving my domestic abilities, I’ve done a little research on how to get and keep my house clean. I’ve found so many schedules out there that claim to be the secret to successfully keeping your home spic and span and they all involve just a little bit of work each day. Every. Single. Day.
I am fairly certain it isn’t just me that is often overcome by a feeling of futility where cleaning is concerned. It seems that I clean up one area and then before I’m even done in the next room, the first space is sullied again. My husband walks in with mud on his boots or the dog coughs up something unidentifiable on the newly vacuumed carpet and my kids seem to be able to make a mess just by simply existing! Or once the inside is clean and I walk outside to find that the porch needs sweeping and the yard needs weeding… It’s enough to make me want to throw my hands up in the air and scream.
Our sin can be like that, too. Just when we feel like we’re all cleaned up and have a handle on one area of transgression, another pops up or some old temptation we thought we had conquered rears its ugly head once again. Paul wrote about this feeling of futility in Romans 7:19. The good he wants to do he does not, but the evil he wants to avoid, he keeps on doing. When we are overwhelmed by our sins, He forgives our transgressions. Psalm 65:3.
I think this is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 11:28-30. The Jews of that day were saddled with a multitude of extraneous religious rules and regulations heaped upon them by the Pharisees in a supposed attempt to keep them from breaking Mosaic Law. These laws were so restrictive it was nearly impossible not to break them. If I had lived in that time, I’m certain I would have been overwhelmed. But what Jesus was trying to tell them and us today is that He is the fulfillment of the law and that all who believe in Him can rest in the blessed assurance of His sacrifice for our salvation. His yoke is easy and His burden is light so we need not become disheartened. Matthew 11:30
After a decade of living with me, I think my beloved husband has become somewhat numb to my lack of domestic cleanliness. He doesn’t even seem to mind when he goes to work with glitter on the socks he laces up inside his combat boots. We can become just as desensitized to our own sin as my family is to my messy house. Unfortunately, even just a little bit of sin can lead us down dangerous roads. When we allow sin to remain in our lives, eventually we may stop recognizing it for what it is. It might seem easier to look the other way like I do with so many dusty shelves, but when we overlook sin, the repercussions are eternal. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8.
I can try to hide random toys, books, out of season clothes and stuffed animals in my son’s closet, but in his innocence, he will most certainly call me out by begging my mother in law to check out his awesome secret hiding place. Sins we try to hide, like the messes I cram behind closed doors will come to light on judgment day. King David tried to hide his sin by having the husband of the woman with whom he had an affair killed in battle. One sin led to another and he paid for his transgressions with anguish, heartache and loss, which he wrote about in several Psalms after the prophet Nathan called him out. So, instead of keeping skeletons in our closets, we should follow his lead and acknowledge our transgressions, confess that we have sinned against God and done what is evil in His sight. God is faithful then to purge us, cleanse us and wash us whiter than snow so that we may once again hear joy and gladness, then He will hide His face from our sins and blot out our iniquities. Psalm 51:3-4, 7-9.
If you are waiting to get yourself all cleaned up before you invite God in, you are missing the point! In His infinite mercy and grace, He sent His Son to do the cleaning for us before we even knew how dirty we were. Romans 5:8 says, God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Just like those schedules for cleaning your house, He will polish us up day by day and make us shine like never before if we invite Him in each and every day. And this is what gives Christians eternal hope, that “even though our outward man is perishing, [our] inward man is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16. Although, we cannot be perfected in these earthly bodies, “I am certain that God, who began a good work within [us] will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6.
So, daily I will pray as David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10, because this is truly the only way to clean house!