By Sharon Gartland

Lord, Make Me Clean

Well, I’ve finally done it. After years of encouraging others to do it and being told by friends to do it, I’ve made the leap. I’ve hired someone to help clean my house. Common wisdom in the working-woman world is that if you can afford to buy cleaning services, you should. Free up your own time for the things that you want to be spending time on — kids, marriage, friends, outside-of-work interests.

My excuses are numerous for why it has taken me so long to do this. Money, of course, is the low-hanging fruit on the tree of excuses. Who has an extra chunk of money to throw at something you can do yourself? Guilt also plays a role. Shouldn’t I be able to do it all? Don’t good women clean their own homes? Don’t good mothers teach their children to help out so that all the housework gets done? What kind of spoiled woman am I to hire someone else to clean my house? My mother never did it, so neither should I!

The problem is that I love a clean house. I am more productive and less cranky when things are in order. Yet I hate to clean and don’t have good skills to organize myself. I’m not staying on top of household maintenance in addition to the basics of meals, laundry, etc. My main solution has been to keep my standards low and my closets and basement full.

A colleague heard me lamenting the state of my house with all four kids home this summer, at the same time I was beginning a new job and taking an on-line graduate class. She immediately mentioned her cleaning woman, stating that she lived near me and needed the work. The wheels were put in motion so fast my normal resistance didn’t have time to kick in.

A few days later, I had an appointment to meet with Joanie at my house to see if she wanted the job. My colleague had assured me that Joanie wouldn’t be daunted by a messy house and took pleasure in bringing order to the lives of working women. I let her in the door and immediately began apologizing for the mess.

She gave me a kind smile and patted me on the back, stating that she didn’t mind. As I babbled some more about how much needed to be done — dusting , mopping, vacuuming, etc. — she again comforted me by saying she was there to help. She was confident that over time we could get in a rhythm which would allow us to stay on top of it. I began to relax and let her tour the whole house, unmade beds, dust bunnies, Lego piles, and all.

As she left, I realized I felt hopeful. Someone who knew what they were doing was coming to help me clean up my house. She didn’t run scared or shocked from my home, but instead wondered how I had been coping for so long without help. She actually seemed to relish being given permission to bring things into order. She repeatedly mentioned her own large family (now raised) and how much of a mess they had made. She was not judging me, but offering to roll up her sleeves and help.

The spiritual analogy did not escape me. My tendency to try to clean myself up for God before I go to him for help runs pretty deep. My fear of exposure about my inadequacies as a human being keeps me struggling along, shoving things into the closets and basements of my soul.

Why do I resist letting Jesus have free rein to assess the situation himself and, along with me, come up with a plan for cleaning me up? I like the idea of forgiveness, of Christ’s death on the cross allowing me to stand pure and spotless before God, but there is this problem of ongoing sin and brokenness in my life.

I want to break the power of cancelled sin that produces such difficulty in my human interactions and puts barriers between me and God. But just like my reluctance to hire a housekeeper, I have been stubbornly insisting on managing my own sin problem.

Jesus was born into the mess of the world to bring redemption to it. It was the only way. He had to live in it himself in order to help us. He will not trespass into my messy soul unless I invite him in. Like Joanie, he is not shocked or surprised at the disarray he sees, but happy to be allowed to do what he is good at, bringing order out of chaos.

How many times had I left him standing on my soul’s unswept porch while I scurried around inside frantically cleaning enough to let him into the entry hall of my life? This is exhausting and ultimately ridiculous. My stubbornness keeps me from both a clean home and a clean soul.

I am hoping that the addition of a housecleaner in my life will bear good fruit in many ways. As I scrutinize my budget for ways I can cut back to pay for this service, I realize it is worth it to me to give up new work clothes or meals out and to drive that old car a little longer.

Having someone who has a plan, who can help me do what I can’t do for myself, feels like a great gift. As I invite Joanie in to my home, I hope I am simultaneously inviting Jesus in to do the same kind of work in my heart.

Lord, make me clean.

About the Author

Sharon Gartland, OTD, OTR, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at UW-Madison where her specialty is in developmental disabilities.  She enjoys the combination of teaching, administrative and clinical responsibilities that makes up her job. She is the former national director of Women in the Academy & Professions and continues to participate in the ministry as a volunteer and frequent contributor. She is married to Craig Gartland, a local church pastor and former long-term InterVarsity staff and leader. Together they have four children who are gradually getting launched into the world as functional adults but continue to store a lot of their stuff in the basement. She believes strong prayer practices and a supportive faith community are key to flourishing in career and family life. 

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