“What you must do is this: rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”
-From “Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry
Sometimes I approach house cleaning with excitement. The smell of the different cleaning products I’ve come to love (a big draw) . . . the soon-to-be-had satisfaction of sitting in a wonderfully clean and organized space . . .the sense of accomplishment I know that will give my day . . . Frequently when I’m done cleaning the house, I light a candle and just sit in a chair with my hands folded in my lap to soak up the goodness of my surroundings.
I’d also like to mention that our new toilet-cleaning solution smells like a breath mint. The last time I cleaned, as I scrubbed the toilet and the breath-minty scent surrounded me, I, um, well . . . well, I started to salivate. Yes, I wanted to eat the breath mint that my senses were telling me was inside our toilet. I’m starting to get a little worried here. Salivation and toilet-cleaning are two things that just shouldn’t be happening together. Thankfully our off-brand glass cleaner smells like a fresh spray of cat pee, and that just about evens things out.
Nothing like the scent of urine all over your bathroom mirror. But I’m too cheap to throw it away and let it go to waste.
Anyway, even though house cleaning can be a pleasurable experience, I’ve also have the struggle we’ve all had: I approach it with dragging steps, tempted to be resentful against something or someone for this work I have to do.
I’d like to issue a challenge for those of you who, like me, can be disgruntled house cleaners: pray your way through cleaning! There are three prayers that have helped me have a better attitude, and can make cleaning a place of peace for me when I have the discipline to switch my focus:
1. Giving thanks for the object I’m cleaning
As I spray furniture polish on our coffee table, I thank God for giving us a coffee table. I love it! I frequently put my feet up on it, or use it to make my cup of coffee readily available. Then I remember that my Dad made the coffee table and I thank God for my Dad and the fact that we have a beautiful example of his handiwork in our livingroom. As I clean the toilet, I thank God for indoor plumbing! I’m not a fan of outhouses, and I’m glad to be living in a time and place where I can go to the porcelain throne with my needs instead 0f a stinky hole in the ground. As I dust off our photographs, I thank God for the people in them–like these two young lovebirds at about 19 years of age.
As I clean the floor and windowsills, I thank God for our apartment, this structure that keeps us warm and dry in the winter and cool in the summer. I thank God that we have enough money to pay rent every month, and that we can get maintenance done for us with a simple phone call to our landlords.
2. Prayer that I will be a good steward of the things I’m cleaning
God has given us many material blessings that I am so grateful for. He can also take them away, and he will be equally loving and equally in charge of our provision. But while we have these things, I believe we are called to take care of them. God has given me carpets to keep our feet warm in the winter and to make the hardwood floors more cozy, and I want to take good care of those carpets and keep them clean. I believe he takes pleasure in order and beauty–you can see that by his design in nature–and I get to reflect those qualities by making the surroundings in my own home orderly and beautiful.
3. Prayer that I will hold on to these things lightly, and that my treasure will be in heaven
The book of Job is a prime example–God’s name is blessed whether or not he gives us comfortable, plentiful, and beautiful material goods. God could call us to sell all our things and go minister to a leper colony in the mountains somewhere–who knows. OK, maybe that’s unlikely, but we could lose our financial stability and be forced to ‘downgrade’ our lifestyle. He may ask us to increase our tithing, preventing us from buying that new bookcase we were wanting, or to start donating to a homeless shelter even though we just lost our job and simply don’t see how our funds will stretch. I don’t want my heart to cling to these things that we have. I can’t think of them as “mine”–God has chosen to share them with me at this time in our lives, and they are his to take away as well. We may not always be able to afford a nice apartment, or the luxury of using AC whenever we want in the summer. My heart needs to be free, with my hands clinging tightly to Him and not to these objects. Only then can I fully enjoy these things, when I am holding loosely. If not, they are a cage, a burden, and a necessity to me. And when desires become needs (‘I need an espresso machine’ versus ‘I would love to have an espresso machine’), the objects of our desire quickly take God’s place on the throne of our hearts. Ironically–and whether you believe in God or not–you will enjoy your material possessions much more once you let go of them in your heart.
See–I’m even cracking a smile at the stinky glass cleaning solution.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whatever your beliefs may be. I know we all come from different backgrounds and are walking different paths, and that’s part of what makes your comments so interesting! Have a great weekend everyone!