I’m not sure how it got started. Perhaps I needed to feel like I was exerting some control in my life. But a couple weeks ago, I started cleaning. Deep cleaning. It began with taking 15 big garbage bags of clothes to the local charitable thrift shop. That alone took days, maybe even a week by itself. After that, I couldn’t stop myself. I reorganized my remaining clothing making note that I would have to go through that process again in the fall. I emptied and cleaned drawers, reorganized hangers to make the best use of closet space. I vacuumed. I took all of the screens out of the windows, cleaned them and the panes behind them, and replaced them. Then I vacuumed. Then I cleaned the ceiling fans. I vacuumed again to get all of that which had accumulated on the fans and fell to the floor. Then I helped a very kind friend take out an old fan and install a new one. Then I vacuumed again. The walk-in closet was no longer walk-in so I cleaned that out too, matching shoes, moving winter ones to the back and bringing out the sandals so I could find them. I learned some years ago that shoes, like jewelry, will never get worn if you can’t see them and be reminded they are there. I couldn’t bring myself to part with any of those.
Then I vacuumed again.
That was only the second floor which runs only half the length of the house. And I ache all over.
I cleaned like a bat out of hell.
And I’m not done yet.The problem, I discovered, as the sweat ran down my face, taking the freshly applied moisturizer and depositing it into my eyes like pesticide run-off into a creek that feeds into a river thus turning a productive agent into a liability, the problem with cleaning like a bat out of hell is thinking.
I spend a lot of time thinking anyway, but when I clean like a bat out of hell, my thinking turns negative. Part of that, I suppose, is the fact that I absolutely detest cleaning in the first place. Every time I found a nook or cranny filled with dust, it would lead me only to another dirt-filled nook or cranny. My fingernails were blackened with filth that had gone unnoticed or, more likely, ignored for too many months. Filthy and sweaty to the point that even the cats took refuge from me and the vacuum, my thoughts ranged from personal greed (gosh, I hate to get rid of that beautiful suit that I haven’t worn in over a decade and will probably never wear again) to conjuring up old hurts and personal affronts.
How is it that something so productive like deep cleaning, like contributing wonderful clothing to charity, like scrubbing age-old stains from the carpet can lead to such useless thinking?
I surmised yesterday that perhaps going at it like a bat out of hell may have been a contributing force. Anything out of hell ought to get my attention (ah! That heaven would get such a reaction!) and having had a bat in the house before, I can attest that I don’t want another one here. So turning myself into a bat out of hell may well have had a negative effect.
Still, because I dislike cleaning so much if I don’t attack it like a wild beast of one kind of another, I can easily get distracted into more pleasurable pastimes. I have to stay focused on what I’m doing just as I had to stay focused when I took that Greek exam required for ministerial ordination. Looking back on it, even that was more enjoyable than cleaning.
Yet there was still this problem of negativity that had crept into my thoughts.
I shared this story yesterday with a group of homeless people who meet weekly to talk about their weeks and their God, our God. Most of them were roaring with laughter as I bordered on the profane, but even as I told the story, another thought crept into my head: I have a home to clean.
I always try to bring a tidbit of wisdom from here to there to share with the group and yesterday I shared this little morsel that had been posted in social media:
Forgive them even if they aren’t sorry.
Let them be right if that’s what they need.
Send them love and send them off.
Don’t tie yourself to small mindedness;
It will steal your well-being. – SimpleReminders.com
When I read that the first time, I missed the part about “sending them off.” I shared that with my friends there too and they understood what I was talking about – the need to let those negative thoughts go right along with the dirt up the vacuum. But they also had things to say about untying ourselves from small-mindedness. Again, as I looked around the circle, it was clear to me that their experience with small-minded people was vastly different from my own.
Oh, that it would be so easy to vacuum up what I see as small-minded people and toss them out with the garbage. But life doesn’t work that way. And when I make judgments about small-mindedness, I have to stop short and wonder how small-minded I am.
Around 50 people died early Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida, when a gunman took his military-grade weapon into a gay nightclub and opened fire. From my perspective, he was small-minded but from his – well, perhaps from his he was looking at a bigger picture all in the name of his larger god. I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I know we all want justice and none more than the friends and relatives of those who were killed.
And then this morning I learned that at the “happiest place on earth,” Walt Disney World, an alligator had attacked and disappeared with a toddler along the waterfront of a large resort just across the lagoon from the Magic Kingdom.
“God could have stopped it,” I hear people saying in my head. No one has said that to me on any of these recent occasions, but that’s what I have heard from people who suffer, who are given terminal prognoses, and who lose loved ones to death. “God could have stopped it.”
Yes, God could have stopped it all. God could give all those homeless people homes and jobs. God could come up with cures for cancer and Parkinson’s and God could command peace to cover the earth.
God doesn’t work that way, however, any more than God would send the Holy Spirit through my house and leave it clean.I just finished reading “Run with the Horses” by Eugene Peterson, a book about the prophet Jeremiah who, if one reads that First Testament book carefully, demonstrates that God’s plan is “aggressively international;” it is intended for all people Jew and Gentile. And in spite of the fact that I have often concluded that Jeremiah was filled with negative thoughts of his own, it turns out to be just the opposite. Jeremiah, Peterson observes, “said that every person is made for a relationship with God, and without that relationship acknowledged and nurtured we live falsely and therefore impractically. People try to be good without God and it doesn’t work.”
And Peterson then says, “…the message of hope is no more believed than the message of judgment…and for the same reason. Anything that isn’t corroborated by daily press releases and news bulletins is dismissed as impractical.”
Cleaning my house more regularly but just as deeply is a more practical approach to keeping those bats from hell out of my mind. Caring about one another more deliberately and with blindness to financial condition, beliefs, color, and personal preferences is harder but so much more practical than living with small-mindedness and succumbing to small-mindedness ourselves. In so doing, we become instruments of God allowing God to bring about the goodness in the world and its peace. And allowing ourselves to live with certain mysteries, certain forces of nature reminds us that God can bring order out of chaos even if it happens on God’s time and not our own.
“Hope acts on the conviction that God will complete the work that he has begun even when the appearances, especially when the appearances, oppose it.” – Eugene Peterson in “Run with the Horses.
11” For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord….” – Jeremiah 29:11-13bShare here: