Cleaning House, In More Ways than One
by Lisa Belcastro
Summer is here. Outdoor activities and warm weather require coolers of water bottles and snacks, weekly mowing of the lawn, daily picking of vegetables, weeding to keep the flowers and vegetables healthy, uncountable trips to the beach, and multiple changes of clothes to suit the variety of pursuits each day presents.
The laundry alone is a daunting task. It is completely possible that one day for one person, moi, could produce: sweaty running clothes, a skort and top for the trip to the grocery store and post office, a bathing suit and cover ups for the midday beach outing, grubby clothes to mow the lawn and pull a few weeds from the flower garden, a sundress for the barbeque at a friend’s, and then pajamas so I can crawl into bed and rest in preparation to do it all again the next day.
I’ve discovered that laundry is the easiest task. Sweeping buckets of sand off the floor, airing out everyone’s sneakers and work boots, and wiping down kitchen counters are more time consuming and must be done sooner rather than later. Sand by the door quickly tracks across the floor and into the carpets. Sweaty sneakers become odorous overnight if not put in the proper place to dry, and my house can easily host an all-night ant party if I don’t wash the kitchen counters free of every sugar cookie residue my girls have left behind.
I don’t think there’s a day that goes by in the summer when I’m not cleaning something. Yesterday I was throwing the third load of laundry into the dryer when I grabbed a t-shirt with a large pink heart on the front. My daughter’s, but the image reminded me that there is one home I need to prioritize over all others: my heart.
King Solomon, in his great wisdom, taught that we should: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23
I’ll confess right now, guarding my heart, removing unwanted elements such as anger, hurt, or envy, hasn’t always been my highest priority. So much easier to, say, clean the oven than to scour the caverns of my heart to rid myself of hardened debris.
King David, a man after God’s heart, knew what needed to be done. He prayed, and taught us to pray: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
David was human, and made his share of mistakes. I’m nodding my head as I type. If you want to talk about mistakes, I can give you a long list of mine. Gosh, I could start with the first time I fibbed to my mom and told her that it wasn’t me who ate those four missing cookies from the cooling rack. My brother took the heat on that occasion. How about five years later when, on a dare, I put a York Peppermint Patty candy bar in my back pocket and headed for the door at the local convenience store . . . and got caught.
Needless to say, I have been far from perfect. Childhood mistakes led to life lessons. Unfortunately, my mistakes didn’t become less significant. Ironically, one of the most challenging moments in life came in a marriage counseling session. The therapist interrupted my husband, and spoke words that I will never forget.
Dr. Wilson said, “You did not make a mistake. You made an intentional, deliberate choice. If you label your action a mistake, then you dismiss your responsibility, your accountability, and your opportunity to seek forgiveness. True forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation can only happen when we fully own and admit our wrongful actions. Whether we are confessing to God or a spouse or anyone, our words will carry as much import as the truth we put into them. Saying ‘I’m sorry. I made a mistake,’ is not going to address the problem, bring resolution or clean your heart.”
Yikes! Even though the therapist was speaking to the man I was married to, I was convicted on the spot. Those cookies I mentioned above—I didn’t make a mistake. I intentionally ate the cookies and then lied. The candy bar? I attempted to steal it even though I knew stealing was wrong. The lies I’ve told? I’ve known they were lies. The check was not in the mail, and I wasn’t delayed because I was stuck in traffic, nor was I blind to dating a man who was already dating someone else.
In the days and weeks that followed that particular therapy session, I spent a good deal of time in self-reflection. I didn’t like what I saw, and I wanted to get my heart clean with God, and others. I didn’t want to spend another day hiding behind the word “mistakes”.
Can you relate?
I believe King David understood. He didn’t label his actions mistakes. He confessed to the prophet Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12.
I have also sinned against the Lord.
How fortunate we are to be loved by a Heavenly Father who longs to hear our confession and wash away our sins just He did King David’s. I think there is more to the expression “cleanliness is next to Godliness’’ than I ever realized. Where I once thought the phrase referred to my home, I now believe the words concern my heart.
God wants to help us clean our hearts. He knows what we’re hiding. He sees it all, which is why I found myself laughing one night as I fretted about the many actions I had labeled mistakes. I was worried I had to make a list—probably hundreds of pages long—and read it off to God. Then I realized, he knows my actions, words, and choices weren’t mistakes. God was simply waiting for me to stop displacing the blame, own it, fall to my knees, and offer up all my mess to Him.
Psalm 139:23-24 has become my morning prayer: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Many days my heart is not as clean as I want it to be. Honestly, there are a few days when I wouldn’t want anyone to see the inside of my heart. If you stopped by unexpectedly and opened the door to my wounded pulsing mess on a bad day, it would be worse than the aftermath of a teen party in my living room. I think you get the picture!
But it’s getting cleaner, this I can tell you. Day by day, prayer by prayer, confession by confession, God is transforming my heart and renewing a right spirit within me. I use the word “mistake” sparingly now. If I lock my keys in the car (I’m a natural blonde), I made a mistake.
On the other hand, if I yell at one of my girls because she pushed my buttons, guess what? I lost my temper. I shouldn’t have yelled. I own my action. While I am far from mastering the ownership of sin, I’m striving to clean my heart on a daily basis and today I am quicker to admit my wrong or hurtful behavior and to ask the person for forgiveness, and also quicker to confess and ask God for His forgiveness.
I wish there was a heart-washing detergent that promised my heart would “come out looking like new.” There isn’t. But we have something so much better—something free, something guaranteed to remove every stain, every blemish, every crusted-on debris. We have the life-changing, heart-renewing blood of Jesus Christ. When we give him our filth, Christ washes us clean.
Clean laundry is good. A clean heart is better, and the best place to start when I tidy up my home each day.
Lisa Belcastro lives with her family on Martha’s Vineyard. She loves chocolate, reading, writing, running, working in her gardens, and almost all outdoor activities when the temperature is above sixty degrees. When she’s not immersed in her next novel or writing the cuisine column for Vineyard Style Magazine, Lisa is volunteering at her daughter’s school, serving in her church community, gardening, training for her first 50-mile road race, or walking the beach looking for sea glass.
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