Stop the Glorification of Messy

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Long have I debated about whether or not to write about the concept of stewardship, defined as “the responsible planning and management of resources.” Something tells me that this, more than any other topic, has the potential to offend my women readers. (Note that nothing in this post is directed at any individual, though it is at the front of my mind after talking with a friend today).

Stewardship is about so much more than money.

It’s not just writing that tithe check.

Stewardship is bound up in recognizing that God already owns everything. We are tasked with caring for and using wisely whatever He has given us, be it much or little.

I am the last person on earth who will tell you that women must do all the housework. Nor do I believe that men should do all the yard work. The family shares the space, and so each member should contribute to its maintenance in equal measure. No kid is ever harmed by doing chores, no man will die if he does laundry and no woman will faint if she mows the lawn. Each person within the family has preferences, of course. I’ve never mowed a lawn in my life and have no interest in doing so. I also hate cooking.

So this isn’t about rigid gender roles. It’s about figuring out what works for the people living in that space. There’s no “one size fits all” cleaning schedule. There isn’t a hard-and-fast list of rules.

However (and I say that with caution), I have noticed a trend among women authors and photographers in which mess is glorified. In one sense, I get it. Women are busy. We all have jobs (and being a stay-at-home mom is a job). We have schedules to juggle. We have things that we are passionate about. We don’t want (or need) to be wrapped up in a legalistic system of house perfection. We shouldn’t be the only ones doing the housework. So, if the floor goes unvaccumed for a week, that’s fine. If the dishwasher doesn’t get unloaded the second it’s finished running, that’s fine. Nobody needs to be stressing out about having an ever-spotless house.

Neither should we revel in slovenliness. Yes, everyone is different. I don’t collect anything (other than books) because I can’t stand being surrounded by a bunch of stuff. I crave order. I couldn’t leave a kids art project strewn all over the table for more than a day if my life depended on it. But it’s perfectly normal and fine that other people collect Depression-era glassware or have easels set up 24/7. It’s normal and fine for other people to be more neurotic than me or less neurotic than me.

The whole left-brain, right-brain, creativity vs. logic stuff is at play here.

All of that being said, there’s no reason for our homes, inside and out, to be disaster areas.

There really isn’t.

We’ve swung the pendulum too far in the “did you come to see me or to see my house?” line of thinking. Again, I’m not talking about the elimination of all dust bunnies ever or never having a dirty bowl in the sink. We don’t have to strive for hospital-level cleanliness. We should, however, recognize that people feel more comfortable in a tidy home. The carpet doesn’t have to be new. The furniture doesn’t have to match. Nothing has to be fancy or expensive.

It should be inviting.

It should send a message: “I respect myself. I respect what God has given me, whatever it is. I respect you and want you to feel safe and at ease when you come over.”

My question is simple: Are we taking care of the things God gave us?

I grew up very low middle-class, maybe upper-poverty level. We lived in a single-wide trailer on two-and-a-half rented acres. Money was never plentiful. Except for the every-summer, tightly-budgeted school shopping, clothes came from thrift stores or from the hands of my mom as she pushed fabric through a sewing machine. I learned to make my own brown-bag lunches in third grade. My first car had approximately three moving parts, none of which were a heater, an air conditioner or, on one memorable occasion, windshield wipers.

Yet our home was never dirty. The yard and plants were always well-cared for. Our clothes were clean and mended when needed. We all bathed daily. My parents – who worked together and shared the load – communicated to me and my brother, without ever actually saying the words (that I can remember), that it didn’t matter how poor we were or weren’t. You took what you had, cared for it, used it wisely and made the best of it.

That’s what stewardship is.

We need to stop the glorification of messy, because it’s truly a celebration of laziness and a rejection of responsibility. I write this with real understanding that “life happens”; chronic ill health means I’ve had to sometimes redefine what “clean” means for my family and let go of a lot of little, nit-picky things. (And trust me, my husband knows that he’s just as responsible as I am in caring for our home). I know that seasons change.

I also know that if I have time to blog, I have five minutes to wipe down the kitchen counters. If I can read for half an hour, I can scrub the toilet if necessary. I can make the bed every day, except when I’m at my sickest. Doing little bits of cleaning or organizing throughout the week keeps the chores from getting overwhelming.

So, instead of sloughing off responsibility for our homes, let’s figure out what works. This isn’t about condemnation or comparison. Set your space up in a way that works for you. Get your people to do their part.

Let’s be thankful to God for whatever we have.

My journey to faith. (15)

Addendum, 7/14/15: A lovely friend pointed out to me that my words here can come across as condemnatory, despite my desire that they not. I failed to address the fact that there are homes without able-bodied residents, whether they are ill, elderly or dying. It is not my desire than anyone in this situation feel embarrassed or ashamed. I do not want to put pressure on those who don’t need it. My post is directed at the healthy and able-bodied (or those of us on the “high functioning” end of chronic illness) who may take a perverse sense of pride in having a chaotic home.

Church, this is where we need to step up. We need to offer help to those who need it – and keep offering. Even if, gasp!, the people needing help aren’t part of our congregations. (Or, double gasp!, aren’t Christians at all). Those who need the help, please accept it. I know that you might be gun-shy after being hurt or mocked by others. But there really are kind people who will mop your floors or pull your weeds or do anything you need in order to be supportive.

When I am at my worst, there are people who gladly offer to clean my home or cook meals. If Chris wasn’t here and my family didn’t live just around the corner, I would take them up on it. I know they are sincere and seeking to express their love. If there aren’t people in your life who are like this, if your church doesn’t have the first clue about benevolence of this fashion, then…well, I’ll be blunt: it’s probably time to raise a stink with the pastor or other leaders (who may be willing, but dense) if you are able, or to cut ties and find a new church if you’re not.

My prayer is that anyone who reads this and is not able-bodied will not feel accused. You are not the intended audience.

The Day of Small Things

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Gentle Reader,

Let’s shift our focus from the exploration of how illness and faith intersect (as in the Detox Diaries series) and onto living the abundant life Christ said He came to give us (John 10:10). Take a deep breath; I’m not about to espouse a prosperity, health-and-wealth sort of “gospel.” My husband’s truck needs a complete engine overhaul. The truck he’s only had for three months. My medical bills come with speed and abundance that I’ve not seen in any other form of mail. If I thought that a large bank account and a body in perfect working order meant that I was in right relationship with God, then I’d be seriously freaked out about my salvation right now.

But health and wealth have nothing to do with my relationship with God. While I am immensely thankful that the latest round of blood tests have ruled out chronic hepatitis and Wilson’s disease, I still have to go see a specialist because there’s still something wrong. We definitely don’t have the money in the bank to replace the engine. Grocery shopping is a week away and we’re going to be eating creatively. Yet I have no doubt that the Lord is working on my behalf to bring me good, that I might praise and glorify His name.

So, if the abundant life doesn’t mean millions of dollars and it doesn’t mean that triathlons are realistic exercise goals, what does it mean? What does it look like?

(God) answered and said to (Zechariah):

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!'”

Moreover the word of the Lord came to (Zechariah), saying:

“The hands of Zerubbabel
Have laid the foundation of this temple;
His hands shall also finish it.
Then you will know
That the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.
For who has despised the day of small things?
For these seven rejoice to see
The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,
Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” – Zechariah 4:6-10 (NKJV; emphasis mine)

The prophet Zechariah was born in Babylon, during the Exile, a time in history when God used the Babylonian Empire to discipline His people. There were several deportations from Jerusalem to Babylon, the city was completely destroyed, the Temple ruined and many people died, either by the sword or from disease. (These events are thoroughly cataloged in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the closing chapters of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles). Zechariah was part of a surprisingly small number of people who came back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and Temple as chronicled in Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai. He was a Levite and possibly a priest. Family linage alone would have meant Zechariah’s interest in the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple, but his calling as a prophet meant that he spoke directly to the people doing the work, directly into the process.

And what a process this was. Seventy years of exile meant decay, poverty and despair. When Nehemiah, the Babylonian king’s cupbearer-turned-governor of Jerusalem, arrived in 445/444 B.C., the people had worked for nearly a century and there was still much left to be done. Even at this late point, he speaks of opposition to the rebuilding on all sides. Some people had taken advantage of the ruin and made themselves rich and powerful. Haggai the prophet, who came in the first wave of 538 B.C., talks about the depression that dogged the heels of the Jewish people, who knew that their efforts would never come close to the former glory of their beloved city. Ezra the priest, part of the second wave of 458 B.C., writes about his efforts to bring the people back to the way and Law of God, something that meant a complete change of lifestyle, from attitude to action, for many.

It was into this atmosphere of struggle that Zechariah stepped. He was part of the first wave of returnees; this group saw the greatest damage and faced the biggest obstacles. They were the ones responsible for taking the first steps toward restoration.  His job was to encourage the people and to speak truth and hope into their hearts.

The first seven chapters of the book, titled in Hebew hyrzk  (“Yahweh remembers”) tell of Zechariah’s work in speaking the message God gave him. It was vital for the people to push forward in the reconstruction of the city and Temple, for “this was necessary to the fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises respecting Israel and the coming kingdom of Christ.” Certainly the Jewish people needed to rebuild for themselves, to regain a sense of purpose and place as the favored nation of God, but the extent of their work was to reach through the centuries. This was rededication on a massive, multi-generational scale, a rededication whose benefits those covered in the blood of Christ, Jew and Gentile alike, reap to this day.

Cyrus the Great (the Persian king who took over the Babylonian Empire) allowed Zerubbabel, a grandson of Jehoiachin, the penultimate king of Judah, to lead the first group of people back to Jerusalem and set him in the governor’s seat. This was clearly God’s handiwork, for He says through the prophet Haggai:

“Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,” says the Lord; “and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,” says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.  “According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!” – Haggai 2:4-5 (NKJV)

Be strong. Do not fear.

Get to work.

God Himself tasked Zerubbabel (and Joshua the high priest) with rebuilding. He would be with them and enable them to do all that He asked. Over and over God speaks to reassure His servant, as in Zechariah 4:6 referenced above. Yes, the task was big. Huge. Seemingly-insurmountable. But Zerubbabel did not have to do this work alone. He did not have to trudge along in his own strength. Neither did Joshua the high priest, the prophets Zechariah and Haggai or any other person surveying the wreckage of Jerusalem. One by one the obstacles would be removed and God’s will would be accomplished.

God saw the fear of Zerubbabel and his people. He knew how overwhelmed they were. He heard every sigh and spied every shrugged set of shoulders. He looks into their hearts and examines their lack of faith, the wrestling with the impossibility of the work. Through Zechariah, God, “reproves their ungrateful unbelief, which they felt because of the humble beginning, compared with the greatness of the undertaking; and encourages them with the assurance that their progress in the work, though small, was an earnest of great and final success.”

Again, He says, “be strong, don’t fear, get to work.” Take a step. Any step. Just do something, no matter how small. All the little things will add up in the end.

The return to Jerusalem was a blessing, but that didn’t mean that the new inhabitants got to stretch out, work on their tans and wait for God to do everything. He gave them a job, and a hard one at that. Certainly God promised to give them everything that they needed, but the city wasn’t going to rebuild itself. Food wasn’t going to spontaneously appear. The normal rhythms of life would not pulse again without their effort. Without their ownership.

These ancient people had been invited into an intimate partnership with God, one that required strength, confidence and a good work ethic. He offers that same partnership to us. The connection between their task, Jesus’ gift of abundance and our lives today is not difficult to make, and it is a connection that we will explore deeply in the weeks to come.

In the weeks, the days, of small things.

My journey to faith. (15)