Why I Hate Cleaning. But Love Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is like cleaning up. Hard work, repetitive, and totally vital unless you want to live in a hovel.

Friends sometimes comment that my home is clutter-free. It’s true; I try to keep the sheer volume of everyday junk from piling up on every surface. I achieve this miracle easily - by shoving it in cupboards, drawers, and under the bed.

My house may look quite together at a superficial glance. But woe betide you, if you open my side of the wardrobe. You’ll be buried under an avalanche of wrapping paper, a hockey stick, plastic bags I’ve kept for a reason long forgotten, oh and that jumper! I’d been wondering where that was.

This habit of mine drives my husband crazy. He’d rather have every single item we own out on the kitchen counter but the cupboards and drawers serenely empty. We’re quite the pairing of opposites, I can tell you. After nearly 17 years of marriage I’ve finally worked out how to make his day – tidy the shoe cupboard or get to the bottom of the ironing basket. Yes, apparently it has a bottom. Who knew.

“Filth creeps up on you in the night and puts an onion bhaji in your handbag.”

Keeping a house clean isn’t too big a deal till you have children or big hairy pets come live in it. Or big hairy children that you treat like pets. Or pets that you treat like children, for that matter. Then the mild skirmish with a vacuum cleaner or a light spot of dusting takes on the darker nature of an all-out battle against grime.

Here’s my beef. The grime never gets tired. You wipe a surface down and turn your back for an instant. When you turn round again it’s smeared in jam or milk or crude oil. While I’m busy restoring the living room to its original glory, the bathroom is being sprayed with toothpaste and sand, or what is now sand-flavoured toothpaste. And the thing with mess - it makes no sense how it got anywhere. Cat-food on the lamp? Marmite on my flip-flop? Filth creeps up on you in the night and puts an onion bhaji in your handbag.

“Even though I feel cross and hurt and mean, I watch what I say, to keep it nice.”

I’ve been noticing lately that the grime has been building up in my heart too. Little resentments, hurt feelings, bitterness. It’s like the gunk at the bottom of the dishwasher – I ignore it until the dishwasher stops working. I’m busy rushing around, doing life, and I can feel the gunk building up. So, I employ the same approach I take to cleaning. I keep the surfaces looking clean.

Even though I feel cross and hurt and mean, I watch what I say, to keep it nice. And I try to keep the appearance of being ok when replying to texts and messages, buying birthday cards and doing all the niceties. And I forget the important bit. I need to deal with the hurt feelings underneath the surface. Preferably before I explode and shove a trifle in someone’s face.

“I take my hurt feelings out, line them up and look at them. Which one matches the other?”

I know something is up when I start over-reacting to everything. Everything is a slur or an insult. What someone says or doesn’t say, becomes evidence in my on-going mental law court, in which I am judge and jury. It’s only when I become thoroughly miserable that I stop and say, ‘Right. I need to get to the bottom of this’. Eventually I have to admit that my emotional shoe cupboard is all churned up. It’ll take time to drag all the shoes out, line up the wellies, and the shoes the kids have outgrown and sort it all out. But it has to be done.

So eventually I take myself up to the bedroom, sit down, shut the door and try to work out why I’m in a huge snit. I bypass the rants and dig back further into the cupboard behind the injustices and look into the dark places at why I am hurt. How do I feel underneath the outrage? Sad, upset, unloved, rejected. I take my hurt feelings out, line them up like shoes and look at them. Which one matches the other? Is there a theme here? I realize I’m not so much cross with ‘Matilda’ changing our plans yet again because it suits her, but more scared that she doesn’t love me enough to put me high up on her agenda. This realization alone diffuses a lot of my fury and frustration. I’m not a powerless victim constantly ill-treated by people. I’m in charge of how I feel, and I can exchange this misery for peace and forgiveness. As it says on the bottle, ‘Forgiveness destroys 100% of all known bitterness and bacteria.’

“Take the empty mugs and the chewed carrot tops
out of the lounge now while you think of it.”

I forgive each person on my Hit List for the way in which they brushed up against the wound of ‘feeling unloved’ that I already had. I repent for being their judge and jury. I invite Father to come in and love those parts of my heart that are still wounded, insecure and afraid. I cry a bit. I feel a whole lot better. I resolve to keep on top of this forgiveness malarkey. Forgiveness is like cleaning or tidying; I have to keep doing it. And once I’ve done it, I feel so much better. But I’ll have to do it all over again, in the blink of an eye. Forgiveness and cleaning. They’re habits. Really good habits.

My mum’s top tip on keeping a house tidy is, “Never leave a room with your hands empty.” Not an encouragement for a spot of light pilfering, though that might be fun. More, a clever idea to keep on top of the tidying. Take the empty mugs and the chewed carrot tops out of the lounge now while you think of it. Not in 15 years time when they’ve mutated into a new life form. A Carrug. Or a Mugott.

“So keep up the good work, people.”

Every time I feel a pang of hurt or resentment, that’s the time to take it out to the kitchen, forgive, repent and invite God in. It’s the ultimate in cleaning. Cleaning out my insides, not just keeping the surface tidy.

So there you go, cleaning and forgiveness. They’re both hard work, and they don’t ever stop, but the effects are really quite lovely. So keep up the good work, people.