I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
So far, I have mentioned some of the highlights of our vacation: the beautiful scenery of the Lakes Region, the fun times with family, the peacefulness of communing with nature. Yet in the midst of this, I have also been challenged by my own clandestine fear of dirtiness. Honestly, this week has been the closest to camping that I ever want to get. On one hand, I was deeply thankful that the house has laundry facilities; our towels may have grown mold without the aid of the electric dryer. I felt comfortable bathing the boys in the bathtub that did not seem gross, and I certainly appreciated that there was hot running water for showers, though in limited quantity. I even enjoyed the woodsy charm of the cabin's knotty pine walls and ceilings. On the other hand, my inner dirtophobe went into a state of alert over the sandy floors, the stairs that smelled like wet dog, the potential germs in someone else’s bathroom, the leaky toilet, the questionably clean dishes in the musty cupboards, the damp sheets, and the ants crawling across the kitchen table. I survived for the week, but it is difficult for me to imagine living like this all the time; I have been counting down the days until I get home to my own bed, shower, and kitchen in our newer, cleaner, drier apartment.
I have to say, I love being clean. If I were to compose a song about my favorite things, the chorus would certainly mention warm showers, clean sheets, freshly vacuumed rugs, and orderly closets. My love of the the clean, the tidy, and the organized is helpful to my homemaking career, and I do believe that our Lord is a God of order, not of chaos. But sometimes my fondness for all things neat and clean threatens to turn into a bizarre sort of idol worship, where my peace is destroyed until I achieve the comfortable level of cleanliness I seek. Don’t get me wrong; my home is far from spotless. I don’t follow guests around with a Dustbuster, nor do I carry Lysol spray in my pocketbook. Really, my issues are not so much about my actions, but more about the inward struggle I go through when I feel like I or my surroundings are dirty, unsanitary, or overly messy.
I suspect that my struggles are fueled by our ultra-sanitary American culture. I need to remember that people throughout history have lived happy and Godly lives without the luxuries of disposable plastic wrappers or self-flushing toilets. Before vacuum cleaners and indoor plumbing, women kept home with dirt floors and dirty feet. Bugs and rodents were everyday occurrences. Today, we react over a large insect the way pioneer women must have reacted to an angry grizzly outside the cabin door. People bathed once a week and wore the same clothes every day to do physical labor, yet I insist on washing shirts that the children have worn for just a few hours. My mental standards of cleanliness seem almost ridiculous in comparison.
Yes, times have changed since pioneer days. But what if someday God calls me to a third world country, and I have to live in a place where even clean drinking water is scarce? Thinking less extreme, what if I have to live in a home that smells musty or looks dirty or is (I shudder as I type this) infested with pests? Can I truly be a joyful keeper of my home if I am ever faced with such challenges? In the midst of the shabby, the old, and the unwashed, could I truly boast contentment in Christ alone, or would my longing for something better cast a shadow over my home?
Just to be clear about the intent of this post, I am not in any way trying to denounce personal hygiene, cleanliness, or sanitary conditions. However, I am denouncing the false god who tempts me by setting up cleanliness as an idol to be worshipped. Absolutely, I will continue to strive for a clean home; I will continue to wash my floors, dishes, clothing, and children with faithful regularity. But I will also pray for an attitude of love that sees past dirty floors and dirty feet. If I am really to love others, I must be willing to get dirty – even if I can’t wash my hands right away, even if I don’t have my favorite pink dishwashing gloves to protect my delicate skin. Lord, may I pour out at your feet my obsession with a germ-free, dirt-free life. May I rise above whatever muck and mire and dust and dirt I find myself in, to look in your face and know that You are the only one who can truly make me clean.