Last October we spent three weeks visiting family in southern California and stayed with Bryan’s brother for part of the time. My sister-in-law keeps a very clean house, and I kept grilling her about her routine as if documenting an anthropological study.
“So, you sweep the floor EVERY NIGHT then?”
(Thoughtful head nod.)
“Oh, so you clean up the kitchen RIGHT AFTER dinner.”
(Rubs chin, then writes in tiny notebook.)
When I returned home from that trip I was inspired. We walked in the door around 3 in the afternoon, and by 3:30 I was scrubbing every inch of my kitchen counter tops, cabinets, and wooden floors. I dusted the entire house from ceiling to baseboards, and captured every dust bunny.
By 7:30 I was exhausted, and collapsed into bed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dust a bathroom before,” said Bryan.
For the next couple weeks I faithfully maintained my clean house, picking up clutter and cleaning the kitchen every night after dinner. But after awhile I tired of spending 3 hours a night in the kitchen – cooking, serving dinner, then cleaning up.
I was beginning to understand why my sister-in-law didn’t cook a lot of elaborate meals – it was too messy to clean up afterward!
It wasn’t long before my house went back to it’s normal dust bunny, finger smudgy, dish piled self. The daily maintenance was just too much. I’m more comfortable in a weekly sweep and vacuum routine, a monthly dusting routine, and a can’t find a mug so I’ll clean the kitchen routine.
Despite my lack of domestic skills, Bryan and I practice the Art of Hospitality on a regular basis. Weekly, for sure. Sometimes even more. This means I invite people into my home despite the dust bunnies under the table and the stack of books on the piano.
Every Thursday we host a small group from our church community. We share a meal and talk about what it means to love Jesus while living among, as Conan calls us, people of the earth. Before everyone shows up I perform some sort of cleaning task. Sometimes I am successful, other times I dim the lights to hide the dirt.
If I didn’t host this group on a regular basis, I’m scared to think what it would look like around here. In fact, the other day Thomas observed my sweeping and said to me, “Do we have community group tonight?”
“No. It’s only Tuesday.”
“Then why are you sweeping?”
In fact, even the dog knows cleaning is the trigger for company arriving, and slinks away at the sight of my hustle and bustle, knowing her time in the kennel is nigh.
Recently someone new attended our weekly group – a couple with a toddler. They came once, and we never saw them again. Later I received third-hand feedback that they thought my house wasn’t clean or safe for children.
Upon hearing this, my attitude swayed between stabby and superior. One minute I wanted to give them a piece of my mind, the next I felt so much more evolved than they were. One minute their opinion defined my reality, the next I felt there was nothing to gain from it.
Anger, pride, anger, pride… the revolving door of my heart.
The Flylady feeds this idea that no one can see my imperfection, that my incomplete self is not good enough. She calls it C.H.A.O.S – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. Obviously I’m not saying it’s bad to clean or get organized, but if we wait for perfection we’ll never do anything.
But I love the idea that Jesus calls me to hospitality despite my lackadaisical personality. I try to remember this when I filter that family’s feedback through my anger, pride, anger pride. Jesus calls me to a life of worship, not perfection. I don’t have to keep my house like a state certified day care, but sometimes worship means I mop the floor once in awhile.
It is absolutely true that I should probably work harder at cleaning my house. But I also have to triage my chaos. Sometimes when approaching a deadline, a Project Manager has to ask, What’s the least amount of shit that can be working before I ship something?
So I ask myself every Thursday afternoon, Do I vacuum the playroom or sweep the dining room? Do I clean the bathroom or the kitchen? Do I fold and put away the laundry or pile it in on the dryer? If I delayed hospitality until my house was clean from top to bottom, it would never happen.
Sometimes I need reminding that my motivation doesn’t come from another mom, or the Flylady, or even my own self-justification. It comes from Jesus. Sometimes he tells me to get my lazy ass out of the chair and clean, and sometimes he tells me to let it go and take a nap.
The epilogue to all this proves God has a sense of humor.
Last Thursday as we all sat around our living room – 10 adults and maybe 8 or 12 kids running around – Ruthie hands Bryan a flier she brought home from school, and he read it out loud:
This notice is to inform you that cases of head lice have been found at school. We are asking your assistance in order that it may be controlled and quickly eliminated.
I laughed out loud. It really doesn’t get any more imperfect than head lice.