- Ryan Rhine McDonald
First off, I know this is supposed to be a health blog, but Robin’s told me that she loves the holistic approach to health taken by her school, so I decided to write about year end cleaning. Having purpose, order, and balance in life and relationships are equally as important to our health as the food we consume. There's clean eating... why not clean living?
I'm a guy. I know all of the stereotypes of guys and their living situations. Clothes are all over the bedroom floor, dirty dishes stacked up in the sink, a pile of used plastic cups and pizza boxes covers the coffee table in front of the TV/couch and beard clippings, toothpaste, and shower grime fill the bathroom.
I'll happily admit I've spent some of adult lifetime living like this. However, unlike the majority of males, I’ll eventually snap, and go crazy cleaning the place.
Jesus will lead us to do uncomfortable things when we give our lives to him, particularly when we commit to loving and serving the poor and marginalized. I lived in San Diego for about 4 years. The first year and a half marked the start and end of my (not so) illustrious NFL career. After a season in arena football, I came back for another 2+ years before moving to LA.
There is a large homeless population in San Diego, in part due to the temperate climate, laid back lifestyle, large military presence, and high cost of living. For my last couple of years, I lived in a 5 bedroom house with 10 people (sometimes more), at least 6 of whom were friends of ours from the streets, or others that needed a home. We gave the married couple that used to sleep in their jeep by the ocean the only master bedroom with the only private bath in the house. That meant the other 8+ males shared 4 bedrooms, 1 & 1/4 kitchens, 2 living rooms, and 2 baths.
I am fairly certain I was one of only two residents that knew how to use a vacuum. People upstairs rarely did dishes, and I even found out (a year later) that one of the guys started using my loofah as soon as he moved in. Lets just say the place had a slight propensity to get a little dirty.
Sometimes the cleanliness snap was motivated by an event, like the time we had guests that spoke at a church we were in partnership with, our own weekly house church meeting, or a friend of ours coming over and saying that our place was a disaster and starting to clean himself.
But other times I just got fed up with the mess and started cleaning on my own. I called it a "judgment day of cleaning". I would take the better part of the day and clean everything. And because I am weird, I'd find an audio recording of Daniel, Jeremiah or Revelation, and play it in the background while I scrubbed away at 3 or 4 months of grime, petrified food, and God only knows what was in the bathroom.
It was a cleansing experience for me as well. I enjoyed the satisfaction of taking a mess and slowly watching something better emerge from it. I'd think about my own life, my messes that needed cleaning, and I'd parallel them to the judgment and redemption that came to the Israelites. I'd think about my responsibilities as one of the “leaders” of the house and Jesus words from Luke 22 would echo inside me: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." I got to do the thing no one else wanted to do.
But now that I married the lovely miss Robin, we actually have a cleaning routine. Her family used to work together on Saturday mornings to clean the house, which was very effective at keeping things tidy. When she proposed the idea, I gladly agreed. It worked out that I took the upstairs (including our bathroom), and she cleaned the kitchen and living room downstairs. We don't quite clean every week, but at least every other.
We decided to give the house another scrub before going on vacation. There was a little spot under the conditioner on the side of the tub that I needed to scrub a little extra to get clean, so I did. When I stepped back though, I was shocked. That patch on the side of the tub was a few shades whiter than the rest of it. I thought it might just be an optical illusion, so I scrubbed another spot at random, only to find more of the same. How was it that the walls of my tub were as dirty as the linoleum in the upstairs kitchen of my old place, which would literally turn color when I mopped it?
Somehow, in my regular cleaning I'd gotten complacent. I assumed the fact that I cleaned more frequently meant I was automatically cleaning as thoroughly as I had before. In reality, my routine didn't accomplish what it was intended to at all, it just left me feeling more accomplished than I ought.
So, naturally, while the wonderful smell of lysol and scrubbing bubbles hung in the air, I started drawing more parallels to my own life. Was I just riding on the coat tails of a previously “cleaned” existence, oblivious to the layers of grime I’d slowly accumulated? Was I doing a quick rinse every now and then, when I really needed to get the comet and rubber gloves out and get to work?
I thought back to my time in San Diego. My best friend consistently prayed over himself and his spiritual growth, "Lord, don't make me comfortable, make me dangerous". The result was not comfortable at all, but oh was it wonderful. We found ourselves in situations we never would have dreamed of, meeting the needs of people we never would have known, all the while being cleansed of our own prejudices and allowing our hard hearts be softened.
Was that still my attitude, or had I got it twisted? Did I feel justified in what I'd done previously, causing me to slowly drift off into apathy? Had my new, stable job distracted me from what really matters? Was my heart asking to be kept from danger, and made comfortable?
The new year is a great time to ponder such things, and I thank God for the reminder. I don't want to settle. I don't want to be lulled to sleep. In CS Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters” he says that comfort is the kiss of death for Christians. Wow. It steers us in the exact opposite direction of growth. It causes us to settle for wounds and bitterness because they are familiar instead of reconciling and finding healing. It makes us avoid conflict, feeding our fears as we skirt around obstacles, instead of scaling them and realizing what a myth those fears are.
So, lets get out the gloves and clean. Have courage! We were made to overcome. Lets break out of what’s comfortable and easy, and face the things that frighten us, even though it might take some work. You and I were made for more.