I've been reading, and I've been thinking. I know, scary, isn't it?
I've been reading Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver. It's not a new book, it was published in 2000. Countless times I have passed it over in the bookstore in favor of something that seemed more relevant. But on our last trip to the library, it practically jumped off the shelf at me.
Now, the reason I've never bought this book before is because I never really thought it applied to me. I'm not a Martha-type person. I've never been obsessed with perfection. I've always preferred a good book or conversation or a game over spending hours on cleaning my house. I've always let my kids run around getting good and dirty, always allowed messy art projects to spread across my dining table. I've never cared. Life is too short to obsess over such silly things.That was my motto.
I guess, though, that I have to go back about eight years to find where my true attitudes about domestic undertakings were first formed. You see, almost eight years ago - that's when I got married.You have to understand that I went into marriage not knowing how to cook much more than Hamburger Helper and boxed cake mixes. I knew how to do basic cleaning and laundry. But I'd never before been responsible for running an entire household.
I went into married life with no greater desire than to be that Godly wife in Proverbs 31. I wanted to provide a clean, beautiful home for my family. I wanted to prepare amazing meals, and have them on the table when my husband got home from work.
That's what I call the "good" Martha.
It is good to care about making my home clean, comfortable, and welcoming. It is good to provide good meals for my family. There is nothing wrong with those desires; they are placed within a woman's heart by God Himself.
It wasn't always easy. I taught myself to cook, discovering along the way that not only was I good at it, but I loved to do it. Cooking is like art to me, a creative expression. I learned to set up - and eventually stick to - schedules and routines for cleaning. The daily chores, the weekly and monthly. The big weekend-long cleaning sprees in spring and in fall. The yearly cleaning-out of the kids' bedrooms so there would be room for all the new toys at Christmas.
I had it all down pretty well. My house was not always perfect - people lived there, after all - but I didn't care. It might not be spotless, but it was clean and it was comfortable. Everyone knew they could just drop in whenever and be welcomed. My husband was happy, my kids were happy. I was happy.
In the past couple of years, though, some things have happened. Someone made a comment on my housekeeping. Someone said that my house was "always dirty."
Now why did this bother me so much? Well, first of all, because it came unexpectedly and in harsh tones from someone I'd considered a friend.
But more than that, because it was that one thing. You know, that one thing that can get to you. If someone had questioned or insulted my marriage or my children, I would have just rolled my eyes, shook my head in amusement, and gone on with my day. I know how wonderful my husband is and how solid our marriage. I know how amazing my kids are and that I'm a great mom.
But Satan knew just where to attack me to really start the doubts building. Did people really think my house was dirty? Did people view me as a bad housekeeper? Did they, therefore, see me as a bad wife and mother? No one else had ever said anything about it, but maybe they were thinking it in secret? How could I be a good wife and mother - that perfect Proverbs 31 woman, if people thought I had my family suffering in a dirty house?
I had to do something.
So I stepped up my cleaning. I was washing the windows every week instead of once a month. I was scrubbing out toilets every other day. I was sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming my entire house twice a day. But it still didn't seem good enough. I was paranoid that someone would show up at my house and something would be out of place or - oh the horror! - dusty. I barked orders at my kids until their rooms were cleaned to my satisfaction.
I didn't realize it then, but I had become Martha.
I had become slightly psychotic, too.
And then it happened. The pain began. That horrible, debilitating pain in my hip and leg started up.
And the mess began to grow.
Then came the day that my physical therapist told me that for awhile - a week at least, maybe more, I wasn't allowed to sweep or mop or vacuum. I wasn't allowed to scrub toilets or the bathtub. I wasn't even allowed to pick up the basket of laundry.
The broom called to me.
The laundry laughed at my pain.
I couldn't stand it. I cleaned anyway.
I then spent the next month in what was the worst pain I've ever known. Worse than the pain, though, was the mounting desperation, the utter helplessness as I watched the house get more and more out of hand. Of course Tony and the kids helped keep the basics done, but they didn't clean like I do. So many things went undone, un-thought-of. And, refusing to be a nag, I kept my mouth shut. But it drove me crazy.
Time went slowly by, and the pain, though still there, became manageable. I could clean in spurts - 20 or 30 minutes before the pain became too much and I had to go lie down for awhile. And I grew more and more depressed. More and more paranoid. What would people think of this horrible house? Would DHS take my kids from me if they saw these living conditions?
Fast forward a month or two, as something dawns on me. I've been in pain and my house isn't up to standard. And yet...
No one has jumped back in horror upon entering my house. No one has gasped at the smell. Not one person has looked around condescendingly. No one hast noticed that the windows haven't been washed in a month, or that the toilets have only been scrubbed once this week. No one has screamed and run away because there were three plates, two cups, and once knife with traces of peanut butter on it still sitting in the sink waiting to be washed. No one has even noticed that the books on the shelf are no longer in order or that I haven't mopped behind the stove.
No one seems to take offense, or care at all, or, for that matter, to even notice...My mind starts contemplating this particular subject. I flash back to memories.
I remember homeschool friends who tell me they don't know how I manage it all.
I remember Jeannie saying that just looking at my pictures inspires her to be a better housekeeper.
I remember my best friend saying, "I just love coming to your house, there's always goodies here," as she bites into one of the chocolate chip cookies I made that morning.
I remember her kids, always wanting to know if we can go back to my house to play.
I think of my father dropping by and sitting and talking for hours, and wanting to know when is the next time I'm inviting him over for dinner.
I think of my mother, looking around my living room with a bewildered look on her face as I apologize for the mess, and saying, "What mess?"
I think of every member of my family and friends who have been to my house and have not cared one bit if I haven't scrubbed the kitchen cabinet doors or moved the encyclopedias to dust underneath them.
And it sort of occurs to me, though I think I knew it all along, that my house is all those things I've always thought important: though not spotless, its still clean. It is a place where children have fun and adults sit and talk. It is a place full of love, full of comfort, a place of peace. It is a place where people like to be.
And not one bit of that has anything to do with how recently I've vacuumed under the couch or scrubbed the inside of the microwave. It has to do with the people here, the atmosphere. It's about a husband and wife who still hold hands on the couch. It's about a family that sits down together at the dinner table every night. It's about feeling at ease here, like our home is your home, a place to talk and laugh and maybe cry if you need to. It's about being made to feel truly welcome.
It's about God in this place.
And it might be just a little bit about homemade chocolate chip cookies.
So I made up my mind:
I'm going to spend my cleaning time focusing on my love for God and my family. I'm going to clean my house as an offering of love to them, not as a desperate attempt to gain anyone's approval.
And yes, if my hip hurts, I'm going to take a break. I'm also going to take a break if one of my kids needs - or even wants - me, if my husband wants to talk or just be together, or even just to curl up for awhile with a good book.
If anyone is so pitiful (or maybe just OCD) that they are offended by a fingerprint on the window or dust under the table, well, here's three options: 1) you're certainly welcome to clean it yourself if it bothers you that much, 2) nobody's holding you here against your will, you can always leave, or 3) get over it and enjoy yourself along with the rest of us.
So, yes, God made my house messy on purpose. He saw the discontent in my heart and in His own mysterious way He showed me what I needed to do - and not do - to be truly happy and content again.
My house is not spotless - people live here, after all. But it is a happy place, and welcoming. You'll find love here, and smiles, and maybe some freshly baked cookies, still warm and gooey from the oven.
My job is not to make my house perfect, but to make my home sweet.
It's about time I get back to doing that.