My husband Michael shared with me recently a series of photos of geniuses and their desks. People like Mark Twain, Steve Jobs, and others with extremely messy desks (my husband included.) It was a powerful visual reminder of a lesson I have been learning lately (and a gentle encouragement from my husband.)
When my house is neat, clean and pristine I feel whole. I breath more deeply and I find a peace that is absent in the mess. In fact, the mess that sits around me right now is silently pulling on me, making the waters beneath the surface of my life start to roll and I can sense a swell coming. Order gives my mind and my heart rest. It makes me feel complete, content, and hopeful. When my house is all cleaned up for company, I feel acceptable and proud. But on days when the floor is cluttered, the windows are dirty and the dishes aren’t clean I dread a knock on the door announcing visitors. How could they love me in my mess? What would they think? Yes, order is always better. Cleanliness is next to godliness after all.
Or is it? This well-known and often repeated mantra is not a bible verse: it is a worldly verse in Bible clothing. And it has perverted many a faithful heart from their first love. As I consider my desire for order and my discontentment with the mess, I see something more insidious at work under the waves of my life, an obsession, or as the Bible reveals, an idol. An idol is anything or anyone that we go to for the things God promises us. And in my obsession, I see the pursuit of hope, peace, acceptance, contentment, and even completeness taking the place of the very one meant to be my hope, peace, acceptance, contentment and completion.
For a long time I thought that my discontentment and even stress over a messy house pointed to the purpose of my life, the need for order. And so I. like millions before me, embraced the idea that cleanliness was next to godliness, even if I didn’t voice it. Even though I knew this was not a biblical concept, I still believed that if my heart craved order it must be because order was a part of my soul’s DNA. But checking this belief against God’s Word which reminds me that ‘the heart is deceitful above all else,’ (Jeremiah 17:9) scripture proves the error of my ways. Rather than being a part of my soul’s DNA, this desire for a clean house is a part of my flesh’s DNA, my deceitful heart. The part of me that wars against the Spirit as I read in Romans 8:5. “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5–6, NIV) When my mind screams about the mess of my unkempt house it is set on what my flesh desires. But I am meant to live with my mind set on the Spirit.
Jesus made it clear what that the single most important commandment wasn’t to keep a clean house, but to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. I consider the word neighbor to include the members of my household. Many would use this as an argument for good housekeeping, but let’s be honest with ourselves, the majority of men and children in this world would much rather have a happy, playful, present mom who considers time with them more important than order, than to have a woman obsessed with the standard of cleanliness she requires in her home.
As I remind myself that the fruit of the Spirit should be what I desire over the fruit of my own flesh, I look around at the mess on my table and on my floors and I breathe easy. My relationship with my family has never been better, my stress never lower, and my heart never focused more on the one who makes it all possible. So thank God for the mess and the ability to see it not as a stressor but as a reminder of my true purpose here on earth; to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love this messy life because it proves my obsession isn’t me, but Him.