I got home late tonight. Late, and, I might add, tired. But when I got home, it wasn’t my soft bed and cool sheets that awaited me–no. It was a mess … someone else’s mess. Colossal and stretching from one room to another, my house dripped with painful evidence of mommy being gone. Hair bands and strewn socks, stacked books and snack wrappers, empty cups and dirty dishes, paw prints and crayons not put away. It might as well have been a cyclonic episode … a tornado at least would be an acceptable excuse! Worst of all, I had three attention-starved pets to deal with whose barks and meows almost did me in.
Frustrated, I tossed my bags on the ground. This was not how I left things, bleary-eyed with sleep as I was, I remembered that much. The scene instantly brought to mind a quote from Newt Gingrich when he said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” So I huffed and I puffed, and blew my house back into semi-working order. I persevered alright, but not in the way you might think.
As I was picking up I couldn’t help but think of the other messes I tended to clean up that weren’t my own. I thought of the students who came to school like entitled superstars, unwilling to work or try. I thought of the attitudes of difficult people that I needed to deal with in my day, who brought their baggage to me, expecting me to somehow recycle it back with a smile. But after a few minutes of pure self-wallowing, I realized that everyone faces the same thing really. Think about doctors, giving us advice on how to live healthy as we continue to abuse our bodies. Think about the pastors that preach, “good news” to us, only for us to forget their message by Monday. Think about the waiters and the grocers who certainly don’t ask for excessively sticky tables or wayward carts that cause spills.
And finally I thought of God. I thought of the mess we’ve made of his world, and particularly, the mess I so often make of me. I try to clean, to compartmentalize and to fix. I see and I do and I rarely stop to look back at the wake I’m often making by trying to clean up behind everybody else. Sometimes, I’m even convinced that my expectations make situations a lot dirtier than they need to be by the attitude I carry. Ironically, when it comes to the soul, I don’t necessarily think that organization skills are something God is really concerned with; there might be a much greater use of my time than perfection of appearances.
Suddenly, the untidiness I saw around me seemed small, and worse … small minded. When my kids wake up they won’t notice that I folded all the blankets, that I made organized piles and put all the toys in appropriate bins. My husband will most likely ignore the fact that our house now looks much different than it did. But in the words of Evan Meekins, “Before I fix the world, I have to fix myself,” and the last thing I should care about, if I’m really, “cleaning house,” is praise for it.
Now I’m not just writing this to give myself permission not to clean up (okay maybe a little). It seems to me that the more time we spend seeing “someone else’s mess,” the less chance we’ll be accountable enough to recognize our own. Just think, who is cleaning up after yours? After mine?