When I was a kid, I didn’t think much about cleanliness. When we moved from New Mexico to Texas, I left food in an unpacked box in my closet that quickly became consumed with ants. My poor mom had the unpleasant encounter with the ant infestation when she went to empty the box while I was at school. Needless to say, I learned not to leave food in my room anymore.
However, that didn’t deter me from collecting junk — from figurines to magazines, I had a lot of clutter scattered everywhere.
It wasn’t until I had to start taking care of my own room, cleaning it each week, that I started to see the significance in putting things away, and especially throwing stuff out. My mom made the comment that cleaning would be much easier if I didn’t have so much stuff everywhere. I started to see just how messy I was, and I took her advice. Getting rid of stuff felt therapeutic for me, purging my belongings felt like this great release. It started to become an obsession for me.
I would have all night cleaning “benders”, staying awake to organize my room, getting rid of everything I could, and making everything else look neat and tidy, then proceed to go to school that morning. I would be overcome with this need to bring order into my life and waiting until the weekend was not an option for me. It needed to be done now, there was a sense of urgency. I had become consumed with creating order.
In fact, I had become so intent in needing things a certain way that I even spaced my hangers in a particular way, and if my mom touched it, I knew because they were no longer pristinely positioned the way I liked them (needed) them to be. I didn’t know what was driving me, I never questioned it. I just knew something had awakened within me and it felt powerful.
What I didn’t understand at the time, is that what I was really attempting to do was provide order in a household that felt like chaos to me. To provide myself with predictability in a home that felt tumultuous. To change my environment felt like it was changing me, and I wanted to be different. Maybe if I was different, then life would be different…better.
It wasn’t until I started dating this guy in high school and I met his mom that my desire to be organized and orderly was amped up a few notches. She was the epitome of precision, from her drawers being immaculate — she did NOT have a junk drawer — to even undershirts being ironed. She had a place for everything, and everything in its place. I developed an organization crush on her. She became my model for how I wanted to be.
To this day, I am not quite sure how she managed it. I have often run myself into the ground trying to be that immaculate, and getting angry in the process at my husband, three kids and two dogs that kept messing it up. I have been a terror to live with at times because I can be so consumed with the clutter that I overlook my own contribution, and I focus my attention more on the messes people have made than the people.
I can remember sitting with my girls when they were little to play with them, and becoming distracted by things I realize “needed” to be put away. I would leave my children to go clean. I distinctly remember the Holy Spirit warning me that I was missing it. I was missing what mattered, the moments I would never get back all for the sake of some dishes or toys being put away.
I wish I could tell you that I changed after that moment, that I learned how to be balanced, allowing people to take precedence over perfection.
Instead I have see-sawed between the extremes of orderliness and chaos. I have overlooked the clutter, the dirt on the floor, for as long as I can before I can’t take it any longer. When I reach this point, I go into full throttle and I don’t just clean, I have to clean every nook and cranny. I exhaust myself and then I don’t want my family to touch anything, making their lives miserable because our house has become clean but unlivable.
The truth is, that my drive for order has more to do with my inner world than my outer one. Don’t get me wrong, I will always enjoy a clean house and I think there is merit to being organized. But the fact that I don’t want people to see my house in disarray tells me that there is more to it than just having a clean house.
I choose to focus my energy on my house because I want my house to reflect me, I want it to say that I am on top of things, I have life figured out, I am in order — all is right in my world. However, there is a raging river of destruction that churns within me, a current that is pushed along by a yearning for predictability and consistency in an unpredictable and inconsistent world. It is hardest of all for me to admit that I am unpredictable and inconsistent.
The truth is that life is messy, I am messy. My thoughts and feelings bounce from rational to irrational, confused to certain, judgmental to compassionate. My inner world is not orderly or pristine, and there is a coinciding fear that people wouldn’t want to get close to me if they knew how unkempt I truly am. I live in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and revealing who I truly am — sweet and spicy, selfless and selfish, brave and fearful.
That is why Jesus has been so powerful in my life. He is aware of every dust bunny and cobweb there is, even the ones I have yet to find, and He chooses to come into that disorder and bring love. He loves me in the midst of it and in spite of it, He speaks to me with compassion rather than criticism. He stand daily at the door and knocks to be welcomed into the mayhem I so desperately want to keep hidden. I am finding that there is relief in allowing it to be seen, what stays hidden cant be healed. Healing comes from not just being seen, but also loved.
I live in a messy world, a place that is easier to point out someone else’s disarray than to acknowledge my own disheveled life. It feels powerful to point out someone else’s mess, but vulnerable to acknowledge my own. If I want to see change in the world — authenticity, acceptance, connection, love — then I have to be willing to start with me. The revolution starts within and it doesn’t mean I clean myself up. It starts by me becoming aware of my own dirtiness and allowing others to see it too. It is only when I am truly seen — dirt and all — that I feel truly loved, and it is only when I am truly loved that I am capable of truly seeing and loving other people.
Life is messy because I am messy, and pretending otherwise is only preventing me from receiving and growing in the grace that turns all my messiness into God’s message of love.