Cleanliness & Godlessness

Words by Lexy Sauvé // Image by Elizabeth Ferguson

It’s the New Year and I’m having to put aside the strong desire that always accompanies this time of year to organize closets, purge toys and old clothes, and paint a few rooms. It’s particularly tempting to me this year as we are anticipating the arrival of our third child in our new (to us) home.

Sometimes there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these pursuits and desires. These are simply the tasks meted out to many of us as we go about domestic life. But to others, myself included more often than not, these tasks become our rulers, the altars we sacrifice our time, energy, good moods, and family on in order to maintain our curated kingdoms.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” But as I recently made my way through the book of Matthew, I realized that Jesus almost exclusively tied outer cleanliness to godlessness and inner neglect of the heart. He’d say things that would annoy the Pharisees like, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27–28). Another time Jesus received complaints that his disciples were not following the traditions of ritual cleanliness the Pharisees deemed necessary (Matt. 15:2). Everywhere in the book of Matthew Jesus condemns these clean freaks for their decorations, their extravagant dress, and their neglect of the true things of God (Matt. 25).

This is offensive to the clean freaks out there. Even Martha, the sister who chose to stay with the work in the kitchen, was chastised by Jesus for not having chosen the better portion that her sister did when she began to complain about the work that others left for her to do.

As a mom and wife, I so often fall into the trap Martha did. I complain when a plate is spilled at dinner within minutes of sitting down, ruining the twenty minutes of slaving I put in to cleaning the dining room wood floors. I am irritated when I see toothpaste smeared across the bathroom sink that was clean just this morning. I fear mess. I resent those in my home who make messes.

I think there are a few problems with these thoughts. The first is that outward cleanliness in my home can be a heavy weight that I put on others to bear. The problem is that nobody is meant to carry these tasks. My one-year-old who absolutely loves painting simply won’t be able to hold up under that burden. He will be crushed by my anger when he decides to curiously paint his bare belly and the table instead of the paper. My husband will be crushed under ungodly expectations when my love and affection for him are tied directly to his remembrance of taking his shoes off, putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, or his offering to help with the dishes after dinner. Our neighbor will not feel loved and cared for if I am cold the entire time they are over for dinner, calculating the extra minutes I will have to stay up tonight in order to clean up after more hands and mouths.

The second problem is that cleaning the house is the easy and lazy task. It's easy to clean out the fridge while neglecting pastoral care of your grumpy toddler who is having a bad day. It's easy to put on eye shadow and lipstick for a date all the while harboring bitterness and unforgiveness towards your husband. It’s easy to curate a home worthy of being pinned online that you enjoy showing off to friends, all the while hiding the anger and screaming that happens too often within the walls of your home. These are what the bones of dead men do. The hard work is heart work.

As keepers of the home, we also must remember a few things about those living and visiting under our roofs:

They are creatures. Creatures do better in environments prepared for them by loving hands. This is what the Lord did in creating a garden for Adam and Eve. With a heart bent on glorifying God and loving others, cleaning up the bathroom and lighting some candles in anticipation of your spouse's return home or a visit from a few friends is not wrong.

But, creatures do not do well under constant criticism. Failures in God’s kingdom are covered by grace. Love overlooks offenses. Too often in our sterile kingdoms and homes, failures (messes) do not get grace, but harsh responses and unending reminders of failure. Love must seek to cover over these messes.

So, I offer you a better resolution this year before you dive in to all the New Year’s cleaning and organizing your friends will be discussing online. Declutter your heart first. Is it going to take away too much time from your family to complete the task? Simply put, you probably shouldn’t do it. You can’t do everything, so you must complete the essential tasks. You want to see the mountain of laundry disappear, but you could spend a few extra minutes beside your husband during a busy day when you know it would serve him. Wait for a better season of life.

Is the work you want to accomplish going to make you view your family members and their needs as obstacles? If so, then absolutely know God is not calling you to organize your shoes by color or clean out your medicine cabinet. With him, there is only one thing that counts, and that’s faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6).

“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:36–40)



7 Responses

Karri
Karri

January 07, 2017

Oh thank you for this post. I so forgot what really matters.I was so wrapped up in the looking good for others. When I do make the cleaning/ organizing list I well do it to make my life easy and it well be done in small amounts of time. Thanks for bringing God’s word into my big issue and hitting me over the head with the real solution. Loving God’s word.

Esther
Esther

January 06, 2017

Oh! I’m about to weep over this post. Thank you because I really needed these words of truth. I’ve been slowly “giving up” on the idea of a perfectly clean home but still find frustration to cling to. God bless you for this and pray for us wives and mamas as we pray for you to keep what’s eternally important above what’s temporarily nice or convenient.

Ruth
Ruth

January 06, 2017

I thoroughly enjoyed this article because it is expressing so well what the Lord has been teaching me for a long time , ( even the Scriptures she used ) however part of what the Lord calls me to do is please and submit to my husband , so it is quite the balancing act but I think your dead on about this. The only thing that I probably would change is perhaps I would say that Cleanliness is NOT next to godliness! It may not be godlessness either, however in this control driven society many times it is.. when our desire to have a clean house comes above loving the people around us and loving them well , yes I believe it is godlessness!

Jenneane Miles
Jenneane Miles

January 05, 2017

Great article, but I feel like there needs to be a balance. I’ve seen some that ran the roads all day while their kids ran wild and called that homeschooling. Their homes were FILTHY, their children were ignorant (no fault of their own) and their homes literally stank when you stepped in the door. I don’t want to be harsh with my children but I want them to know that cleanliness and hard work is important.

Brooke Jeffrey
Brooke Jeffrey

January 05, 2017

I absolutely resonate with this! Lately I’ve been wrestling through valuing time spent with people more than time spent cleaning up the tangible messy things in my life. So good to be encouraged in the fact that hearts are what will last into eternity.

Sarah
Sarah

January 04, 2017

It is no coincidence that i literally just sat down after clearing the living room floor and thought “why am i even doing this, itll just be the same tomorrow and the night after…” Thank you Jesus for my kids which I never should have been blessed with and a Godly husband that is faithful and a very hard worker. For the dogs that protect our farm and the old cat that brings my husband and son so much joy. I am blessed …so blessed. Thankful is just the tip of the iceberg.

Abigail Delgado
Abigail Delgado

January 04, 2017

Wow! I never thought of it like this. I always feel like I’m buried under a pile of housework that I can never manage to get done. EVER.

Grace is good. :)

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