How I clean my house is, I’m afraid to say, indicative of how I live my life. I often care less about whether things are actually clean than about whether they have the appearance of cleanliness. I love people coming to my house when the floor still smells like Pine-sol and you can make out the tracks of the vacuum cleaner. But if you happen to open the wrong closet door, beware of the avalanche of “yet to be filed” items that will shower down upon you. In the same way, more frequently than I care to admit, I find myself greeting people with all the visible surfaces wiped clean and the scent of pulled- togetherness hanging about my head. Upon such occasions, if you were to peek in the windows of my soul, you are more likely to be shocked by the resentful insecurity and anger that are lying about like dirty socks which missed the laundry basket than bedazzled by how pristine my heart is.
My superficial approach doesn’t stem from a desire to impress but rather a terror of disappointing people with the reality of my inner life. This is one of the reasons I love my husband and need him so desperately, both in my housekeeping and in my spiritual life. He will spend three hours cleaning our stove and can’t stand for people to see the evidence of the frenetic cleaning which took place five minutes (sometimes less) before their arrival. He is very methodical in his cleaning, just like his approach to spiritual development—slow and steady wins the race. His substance draws me back to reality and his graciousness has helped me to feel less fearful of being a disappointment to people.
Lately I have been connecting the dots as to how my fear of discovery bleeds into every area of my life including my hobbies and interests. I love Victorian literature because of the formality and restraints of the time, not in spite of them. I love going to the movies and eating out, having an experience and leaving behind all the dirty dishes and the empty popcorn boxes. I love organizing and putting things where they belong.
One of my favorite sayings of my dad’s (though I must confess to not particularly appreciating it in my younger years) is “a place for everything and everything in its place.” As I look back, I realize that this desire to be tidy has paralleled my desire to be more spiritually mature and serious. I used to be an absolute slob. My father, a methodical cleaner just like my husband, once accused me of starting a new landfill in the backseat of my car. Soon after I got married, however, when the rubber of married life was hitting the road of my need to change my selfish ways, I began to enjoy cleaning. Now that I have four kids, my standards have lowered significantly but I can spend a good hour organizing my daughter’s bookshelf by subject, size, and age appropriateness. Of course, you could be eaten alive by the dust bunnies hidden under the bookshelf. Still, I will defend my longing for order.
When you study the Bible and see all of God’s wisdom and promises fulfilled, you see we weren’t meant for this chaotic, grey world but a world revolving in perfect harmony around the God who created it with “a place for everything and everything in its place.” My penchant for categorizing everything is my longing for heaven, an attempt to make sense out of chaos. Maybe my desire for things to be orderly isn’t a desire to appear perfect so much as a reflection of my desire to be made perfect.