Nothing Is Wasted: On Scrubbing Toilets and Making a Difference

I don’t like to participate in the Great Internet Wars, such as they are.  And I don’t intend to enlist in the cyber army with this post.  But I will say that I felt a little piqued by an article I read today, and wanted to respond here because, well, because I can.

Tim Challies is a well-respected Christian author, blogger, thinker, and person, and rightly so.  And when I write the following, I don’t wish to disparage him in any way.  But the thing is, he’s not always right about stuff.  Today, for instance, he wrote an article called “A Clean House and a Wasted Life” that appears to pit orderly, tidy homes against those that are messy, but bursting with energy, life, and love.  One kind he clearly approves of.  The other?  Maybe not so much.

As someone who cleans my house regularly, I hated his title immediately.  But then I actually read the article because that’s just a good rule of thumb before deciding to hate a person’s written opinion.  In fairness, the article makes some good points about not letting a desire for cleanliness in your home trump everything else–to the detriment of your family, neighbors, and kids (white sofas and china figurines, anyone?).  But it also seems to hint that if you work hard to keep things tidy in your home, you might be wasting your time, or worse, your life.  In fact, he juxtaposes productivity (messy, life-producing, experience-laden!) with cold, sterile orderliness in the home.

I’m bugged by this false dichotomy.

I love a clean house.  I’m home a lot, and having order helps me to be a better mom.  Furthermore, I make my kids help me keep it tidy on a daily basis.  Yes, they hate to clean, and, no, I don’t care.  This is because I know that a clean house aids all of us in a). finding things we need when we need them, b). reducing stressful clutter and minimizing materialism, and c). being ready to receive spur-of-the-moment guests, even for overnight visits, without feeling frantic.  In short, more often than not, keeping a neat home means we are ready for life in all of its messiness.

Housework is often devalued in our culture.  It’s seen as meaningless and menial, something you do only because you don’t have 1,000 more worthwhile things to accomplish.  This attitude has developed largely because people are busier now than they’ve ever been, and the idea of wiping down the kitchen sink feels like just one more thing.

But it isn’t just one more thing.  From a Christian perspective (one I share) all work is made sacred when it’s offered to God.  Even scrubbing toilets.  On the other hand, all of our accomplishments (all of them!) will fade away someday.  We’ll go six feet into the ground and, in fifty years’ time, our names will be forgotten.  So it’s a little silly to suggest that maintaining domestic order for the sake of a peaceful home is ‘sterile’ or ‘cold’ work, while performing data entry, or even wiping a snotty nose, is of ‘noble’ value.

News:  It’s all mundane, and it’s all noble, if we’re doing it for the right reasons.

So I’m going to keep insisting that my kids take out the trash and make their beds (order).  But I’ll also invite neighbors to the house, host get-togethers with friends, and feed other people’s’ kids (life!).

Both/And.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get off here and make my own bed.

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21 thoughts on “Nothing Is Wasted: On Scrubbing Toilets and Making a Difference

  1. christina says:

    Let me start by saying, I LONG FOR A TIDY HOUSE!

    However, currently, as foster parents, we have 5 kids in our home (some biological), we are busy doing grimy, dirty ministry. We do it 24-7. At times, cleaning up toys, evening sweeping the floor comes 2nd to unexpected battles with the enemy.

    Seeing a police officer sets off a meltdown for an adolescent who thinks they will be arrested for telling the truth about the abuse in their lives. Or simple bath time, becomes a lesson on how to take a bath for a 5 yr old who has never bathed. A toddler cries all night for a missed parents, and a teen struggles to know why, at graduation, their parents have no baby pictures of them. None. No photos at all-and they will be the only one at graduation without a baby photo on display. And though I actively teach and train my children and all our foster children in cleaning and creating order in their lives, sometimes, it doesn’t happen. Healing emotional scars takes priority. Calming fears, stopping explosions, and teaching an adolescent how to use the toilet takes priority.

    My life is different and Challis was speaking to me. I love order. I love tidy. But for me, God has called me to cast away my idol of the “perfect home” so I can cherish those teachable moments. When I can teach about why the police help protect us, when I can explain why we are loved by our Heavenly Father even while our earthly parents have chosen drugs over us, that is my ministry. And the house falls to disarray. I can catch up tomorrow or the next day.

    Because even though I may have a teenager in my home, my visitors have to give me grace because they may not have ever used dishes that are not disposable (and yes, I have fished my dishes our of the trash more than once). I may be teaching why punching holes in the wall is not normal behavior, or why not to write on my walls, or why purposefully breaking all of the toys in the box out of boredom is not OK. My teen will be helpful-one day.

    I may have been up all night because the workers and lawyers just don’t believe this child, and I really don’t know if I can handle the behavior, but I don’t really feel we are released, to turn away this child-like EVERYONE ELSE THEY HAVE EVER MET. I have been weeping for hours and calling out to God and I just don’t have it in me to clean.

    Thankful for a King who brings each of us to different places, for different reasons, to be used in different ways.

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    • I commend you for all that you’re doing for the Lord. I wish there were more people in the world like you. I know that you are saying ‘no’ to some things you’d very much like to have for the sake of saying ‘yes’ to something the Lord has asked you to do. This is a beautiful, and yes, noble, thing. So again, thanks.

      I understand a little something about living in chaos and in the middle of the hurricane. My family and I lived in India for three years, working with nationals, and with an orphanage. We experienced constant power outages, angry mobs, earthquakes, sickness, misunderstandings as we learned a new language, visa troubles, issues with our landlords, water shortages, rats, monkeys, and mongooses, and the list goes on. In all of this, I was homeschooling my three elementary school age kids and trying to be there for my husband. I rarely felt in control or like I had it all together. In fact, I often felt that I was barely surviving. But we were where we *knew* we were supposed to be.

      In this season? We’re in the U.S. Our power does not go out. We have water and we rarely get sick. No one tries to burn down the building next to our house. We have yet to experience an earthquake. Yet I miss India. Because we have more stability (for the time being) I’m using it to our advantage. I’m teaching my children how to function as adults, how to love beauty, how to embrace a sense of order and calm. These are gifts I’m able to give them in this part of their childhoods. When we were in India, they were learning other (huge) life lessons.

      I appreciate where you’re coming from. God calls us all to different things at different times. But while I am able, I’m going to tidy my house. It’s not wasting my time. It’s not inferior, frivolous, or silly. It’s serving my family in the ways that I can. You’re clearly serving your family in the ways that you can. I think we can all benefit from appreciating where others come from instead of assuming that one way of running a house is “real life” and other ways are “cold and sterile.”

      Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think the problem occurs when people suggest a causal relationship between a clean house and a sterile life. I know plenty of families who keep squalid homes and manage to live cramped, boring, tight-fisted lives simultaneously. I also know big-hearted, adventure-chasing believers who keep their homes company-ready all the time. Mercifully, Jesus doesn’t look at our homes–he examines our hearts. I hope we can do the same for our friends with good-looking homes instead of pharisaically assuming they must be hoarding energy and resources that Jesus wishes they’d use on something legit. PS: My house is a wreck.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! My words penned from from your hand. Sterile, no. Messy, everyday until clean up time. 3 kids under 5, it always lokks different in my house. They are learning how to help more and more, which gives us more time together. I’m so tired of reading how my desire for a clean or tidy house makes me a bad parent! Thank you for your words of wisdom. The woman of Proverbs 31 balanced a well maintained home, well cared for children and husband while mastering the art of a craft and managing her money.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I talked to my kids about this post and the Challies one. They read both. My son’s comment was, “Don’t worry, Mom. You are NOT wasting your life cleaning. You’re wasting OURS.” Hahahahaha. Tough luck, buddy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well said, Hannah. My house tends towards the messy, but every bit of cleaning can be offered to God as service, and every bit left uncleaned while tending to other things is hopefully also in service of Him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely. I don’t care one fig whether a person’s house is messy or neat as a pin. I think we all tend to do the things we view as the most important in any given season. My point is that we should be slow to assign motives or pronounce character judgments on people’s priorities based on whether their houses are tidy or messy. It may make one side feel better temporarily, but, in the end, we all lose.

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  5. Oh girl, you said it. You said it all. Now, I unfortunately am not the queen of keeping a tidy house, try as I might (I’ll blame it on a 7 mo old and a two year old). But I think you pegged it right at the end: it’s a both/and …and it IS all about a clean heart preparing for any mess that comes its way!

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  6. I just came across both his post and then yours – and I agree with you both – though, my house is often messy due to clutter from in-process projects and the fact that I have 708 sq feet to work with – and love crafts, food preservation, etc.! LOL – but yes, to me, you both highlight important points – I’ve known those who placed the perfection of things over the well-being of folks, and those who have such messy homes, it because a health/safety hazard to all who enter – 🙂 somewhere in the middle, there is the happy medium and thing both you and he made good points to consider for the middle – 🙂

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      • My Mom is an EXCELLENT housekeeper! She despairs of me and my ways, often – I sent both posts to her this morning – 🙂 When I stayed with her for awhile, a few years back, it was very stressful for me to do any of my projects, cuz I abhor spending lots of time to put everything away at night, just to drag it back out in the morning, to work on again! I could have gotten 30 minutes more in towards completing said project! LOL – So she and I see both the blessings and stressors of each of our ways – but I go do irrigation/painting/carpet laying projects for her and she comes in and helps me tidy up my house when I take on too many projects at once and get overwhelmed – – 🙂

        And we make playful snipes at each other while doing so – – “Talk to the hand! I’m in creative/productive mode!” – – “Thanks for letting me stay instead of driving home in a blizzard – think I’ll mop your kitchen floor, how did you let it get so dirty?” – 🙂

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    • Sorry for the typos – 🙂 had a stroke a few years back AND I swear I’m typing what I’m thinking – and it only becomes clear that I didn’t when I go back to read when I get a notification! 🙂

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  7. Perhaps, the author of the other article was trying to convey that an OCD level of clean where daily life cannot happen is what wastes life? I hope so. Clean and tidy is good. It’s something at which I could do better. I have a creative artist’s mind, and if things are too tidy, I can’t think… or find anything. I’m always looking for the balance between my home looking like a tornado hit it, and not being embarrassed if someone drops by unexpectedly. The Fly Lady way is too much for me. When I do clean, do laundry, which includes ironing my husband’s shirts, it is an excellent opportunity to pray; over him, for him, for others, and to be in the presence of God. Cleaning helps me to be just distracted enough to allow my thoughts to focus not on my problems, but on the Great Solution, God almighty. Cleaning is a great time to praise and worship, or to work on scripture memorization. No cleaning is wasteful unless it wastes our time. Meaning, if it becomes ALL we do, our identity, and it becomes our altar instead of God then there might be an issue that needs addressing. I don’t see this in what you wrote. I’ve seen articles like his before and they never impress me. It’s a level of criticism, judgement, and really… a religious spirit. Was it necessary for him to ‘go there’? Probably not. Unless the Lord chastises us what would anyone else have to say about how much, or little we clean?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you about cleaning as an idol or as an escape–if it becomes those things, it’s wrong. But I also like that you mentioned it can provide just enough distraction so that you can work out other problems. I totally agree. That’s what cleaning does for me, too. I’m a creative and I find that cleaning allows me to busy my hands so that my mind can get to work!

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  8. I didn’t get that he meant that at all. I totally agree with all your goals and, most importantly, the whys behind them. But what I got out of his post was that “it’s ok.” I like order just as much as you said you do. But, I’m not as good at it as I used to be. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s the fact that we just moved into our home 3 months ago and in that time we have worked at trying to finish up the DIY kitchen remodel (4 more cabinet doors to sand and paint) along with the myriad of other organization issues that loom incomplete after reducing our living space by 500SF and our garage space from 3 to 2 cars. Maybe it’s that one or both of my 2 children who stil live at home are messier than my older one who does not ever was. Maybe the older one was easier to train to help (he was pretty compliant in nature) But regardless, my house used to be VERY tidy and these days it is not. What I got from his article was that (at least for this season while I’m still TRAINING my kids to help – they’re 7 & 5) it’s not going to look like I want it to and I just need to chill about it and stop being frustrated with all my mess-makers. Life is happening here and it’s going to be ok. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel and, Lord willing, it’s NOT a train. When my friends pop in and it’s messy, rather than being concerned that they will judge me, I should stop judging myself and just keep working away it it. Being flexible. With a joyful heart.

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