Why we should be focusing on the less-than-perfect state of our hearts instead.
Now that it’s a new year, I’ve been trying to do the thing that all of my Pinterest pins tell me is absolutely necessary: declutter my home. Despite my best efforts, I’m still overwhelmed by my medicine cabinet and the ever-overflowing, innumerable fabric toy bins. I’ve been reading the FlyLady as gospel and combing through home-management blogs for tips that promise to simplify my life. My home is clean enough (as clean as I can manage with 3 small children underfoot) and I do have a few systems in place, but honestly, I’m just not there yet. My planner is a mess, my meal plan often changes based on what I’m in the mood to eat, and I have more than a few “junk” drawers.
Recently, I’d worked myself into a frenzy trying to get a handle on my kids’ toys — making sure every piece to each set of figures or cars was neatly organized into its own container. I’d spent the entire morning working on this one (admittedly gargantuan) task, while my children “helped” (read: dug through the toys and began playing with things they hadn’t seen in ages), and by 12 p.m., it seemed like no progress had been made at all. Discouraged and worn down, I texted a friend lamenting the fact that I seem to be missing the necessary mothering skill of Organization. As I regaled my saga to my friend and sank deeper in self-loathing, I realized something: this thing I was hating so much about myself, and feeling so frustrated, worried and anxious over, was not, in fact, sinful.
I asked my friend if she thought disorganization was a sin, and she boldly reminded me that Jesus never mentioned a perfectly organized house full of matching bins from The Container Store as a prerequisite for holiness. But sadly, so many women believe the lie that being a “good” wife, mother, and home manager means being incredibly detail-oriented and organized.
Of course, organization is indeed a good thing. Employees usually perform their duties better when they’re organized, money is managed more efficiently with a system, and just about anybody can benefit from a good decluttering session. A clean home is healthy and welcoming to strangers. The problem starts when we believe that our organizational qualities (or lack thereof) are what make us righteous in the eyes of God, and when we become distracted from things that truly matter because we’re too concerned about the state of our homes.
While Jesus didn’t specifically reference chore charts or cleaning schedules, he did speak gently to a woman who, I believe like many of us, may have been struggling against impossible standards she had set up for herself. Martha was a hard worker, and cared deeply about serving Jesus as she hosted him in her home. I don’t know if she was concerned about disorganization or general untidiness, but I do know that she felt overwhelmed with her domestic duties. As she welcomed Jesus and His disciples into her home, the Bible says that she was “distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40) You can almost feel Martha’s frustration in these verses. Who knows if it was the dishes that needed cleaning, or the food that needed cooking — what’s palpable here is the distinct feeling of being alone in her work, behind, inadequate, and not enough. I had these very same feelings when I was faced with my disorderly drawers and cabinets last week.
How did Jesus respond to Martha’s breathless pleas for help? He didn’t shush her, tell her to buck up and get back to work, or hand her a holy list of ways to finally get her chores under control. Instead, he gently answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered by so many things. But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” And just what was that one thing? Simply being with Jesus. Earlier in the passage it says that while Martha was buzzing around trying to get things done, Mary was seated at Jesus’ feet, listening to His word.
Jesus wasn’t concerned with Martha’s food presentation or her perfectly cleaned home. He was concerned with feeding her soul with His Word and His Spirit. He wanted to have friendship and fellowship with her. These are the things that truly matter and have eternal value. The “good part” — or “better portion” as it is sometimes translated — that Martha’s sister Mary had taken hold of was Jesus Himself. When we let ourselves start feeling guilty over disorganization — something that is not inherently sinful — we lose sight of what Jesus has for us in abundant life — namely communion and fellowship with Himself and His people. We absolutely should pay attention to actual sin in our lives, because sin can make us feel less close to God. But, instead of focusing on the less-than-perfect state of our homes, we should ask God to kindly reveal the less-than-perfect state of our hearts and then cleanse and forgive us of those things.
It’s pretty clear that God wants us to work hard. Laziness in our homes isn’t honorable or pleasing to the Lord. Systems and organization of the practical things in life are beneficial, and those who have the gift of administration and organization are blessed indeed. For the rest of us, let’s cut ourselves a little slack, and stop wasting our guilt on the toy chest. Let us be people who are so busy communing with Jesus and loving and serving our families, neighbors, co-workers and friends that if we don’t mind if our junk drawers stay, well, just a little bit junky.