Friday, July 3, 2009

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness.... Which Kind?

(Every time I proof this I change something – so, I’m forcing myself to be finished!)

Before my husband I were married he interviewed me. The questions came one by one, not all at once. One of those questions asked if I liked a clean house. I had told him, of course I do! I love a clean house. It was left at that, but he should have known better since he had helped me clean my apartment.

When I was a single mother is was not uncommon for me to go grocery shopping and only put away the perishable foods. The rest remained in the shopping bags on the floor of my apartment. If they were lucky, then someday they were put away. I remember a friend, who was raised in a disciplined military family and did not have children, chided me for being “just plain lazy” by leaving my food in their grocery bags. Years and years later, coincidentally while she was a single mom, I reminiscently brought up that conversation. She laughed and said, “Funny you should mention that…. You’ll never guess what’s on my kitchen counter!” She had non-perishable foods purchased earlier in the week still sitting comfortably in their grocery bags. I have heard it said that the success of a busy person is knowing what to leave undone. So, is it laziness or time-management? Depends who you ask. The same pattern held true with clean clothes.

Every Friday, for as long as I can remember during my single-motherhood years, I would go to my parent’s house and spend the evening washing our dirty laundry. As I took the clothes out of the dryer I folded them as I placed them into the clothes basket. I would then take my sleepy daughter and I back to the apartment where the clothes baskets would be placed on the bedroom floor. That was it. If they were ever put away, then they would have been lucky.

Kitchen duty is my least favorite and I avoid it like the plague. Dishes are the worst. I can remember that our basic menu consisted of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, hamburger helper, macaroni and cheese, and occasionally a pork chop. Every time a friend called me it seemed we were eating some sort of hamburger, so she thought all we ever ate was hamburger helper. On the other hand, my daughter thought all meat was chicken so we really must have eaten a lot more chicken than anything else. The worst part of cooking are the dishes and I would eventually clean them. It was a very, very small kitchen so it could not get too bad before I was forced to clean.

Then, my husband came along and while we were dating, he helped me clean my apartment. I am sure he justified the mess in some way, for instance how I was spending all my time with him and therefore, could not keep my apartment clean. Psyche! After we married and the house was not clean – rather the dishes were not done, he reminded me that I had claimed to like a clean house. Of course, I argued that I very much like a clean house, but I do not like getting it there! That made him wonder what other answers he had missed-interpreted.

I am much better at most things. I am still slow to put away my clean clothes. My daughter now helps me put away the groceries. She even does the dishes. Maybe it would be more accurate that I have delegated than to say I have improved. I guess I would argue that after carefully planning a menu, scrutinizing grocery prices, maneuvering through the check-out, and lugging the items into and then out of the car that I deserve a bit of help away putting the food. Despite my obvious limitations, my house is not out-of-control.

I am reminded of the old Hebrew Proverb that cleanliness is next to Godliness. Recently, I was discussing with a friend the issue of cleanliness and we laughed about how short we fall where this axiom holds true. I began thinking about God’s expectation for me regarding the cleanliness of my house. Just how clean does He really expect it to be, and at what cost? At what point am I no longer next to godliness? God is perfect and He expects us to strive toward that, even though He knows we will all fall very short.

There are many physical, emotional, physiological and spiritual benefits to a clean home. The discipline that it takes to keep a home clean is the same discipline used in other aspects of our lives. I have heard it said that those with a clean and non-cluttered home also have their finances in order.

There are scriptures related to keeping a clean home: D&C 88:124… cease to be unclean; D&C 90:18 Set in order your houses; keep slothfulness and uncleanness far from you; D&C 97:15…. Do not suffer any unclean thing to come into [your house]; and D&C 109:20…. No unclean thing shall be permitted to come into thy house to pollute it.

I wonder though, in this effort of cleanliness or perfection, if it is acceptable to have a clean house at the expense of each other. Which is more important, a clean house or the love of Christ? Is it okay to achieve a clean house through the means of a screaming banshee or biting criticism? If the purpose of a clean house is to keep ourselves and our surroundings literally physically and figuratively spiritually clean, then is this not negated when not done through non-judgmental kindness, love, patience, and long-suffering?

I have a friend who was raised with the white glove treatment. That sounds really strict and possibly harsh, but it was done with patience and love. When I have heard her talk about her mom and their relationship she expresses the deepest love and respect for her than I have ever before heard. If you were to ask her what is her favorite pastime it would be to clean. I believe that says a lot about her mother’s methods of teaching her children about cleanliness. She has an immaculate house and it is no where near cluttered in any way. Furthermore, I have never seen her lose her composure to achieve that. For those of us who are struggling to reach for the stars in keeping a clean home she provides the model to emulate. I have learned a few points from her stories regarding cleanliness.

Unlike most of us, particularly me, when it comes to cleaning a microwave, stove, or the like I wait until everything has already stained itself permanently onto the surface before I decide it is time to clean. By this time there is no way it will ever again look like new. However, my friend will clean it when it is not even dirty, yet. One day, as she was taking great care to clean her microwave, which she admitted did not need cleaned, she began to wonder how clean she was spiritually. She asked herself if she was taking more care in cleaning her microwave than she was in cleaning her heart, mind and spirit.

Because she was raised in a clean home she finds it difficult to live in anything but a clean environment. She noticed that her sister-in-law suffered from untidiness and her brother would often do the laundry in behalf of his wife. Furthermore, her brother did not complain. My friend asked her brother how he could bear that burden since he was raised so differently and she was home during the day, not him. He responded that she was such a good mother that he could not bear to change anything. For instance she would rather play one more game of Candy Land with the kids than to finish the laundry. He decided it is more important to him that she is a good mother than a good house-keeper. I thought how wonderful it would be to have someone say such a thing about me.

Then, I gave a talk at church and I revealed some of my bad house-keeping habits. My dear husband spoke after me and he let everyone know that although I had those bad habits, he would prefer to have me in the house with those habits than not have me around. My heart jumped! I was shocked. There! My husband had said the SAME thing.

Finally, when we had a new Stake President called (a Stake Presidency oversees a group of LDS wards/congregations), his mother gave a short talk. She had raised a good flock of children and some days were good and some days were not so good. She said that her husband was very supportive and would always compliment her despite the upheaval in their home, even if all he could find was that she had managed to put the lid back onto the peanut butter. Good for her for a job well done!

Although cleanliness may be next to Godliness, and we should cease to be unclean or allow any unclean thing to come into our home may be a welcomed quality when literally speaking, it is not meant to be achieved at all costs. I hope we can remember that cleanliness also figuratively represents our heart, mind and spirit. The way we treat one another with patience, forgiveness, love, charity, and long-suffering cleanses us more than fighting against good, clean, non-perishable, healthy food still sitting in their grocery bags, the clean laundry neatly folded in their baskets still unfamiliar with a hanger, or the rinsed, dirty dishes forgetting the purpose of Joy. Nothing cleanses us more than keeping our hearts in line with the love of Christ.