I can still remember the shock. My ex-mother-in-law had been cleaning for days – actually took a week off of work before Christmas – to clean the house, top to bottom, even dragging her canister vacuum up to the attic, all because her mother was coming to town to spend the holidays with us.
Every baseboard, every crevice, every grout line, were scrubbed with bristle brushes, old toothbrushes, wiped down, and all on her hands and knees. She did not own a mop out of the belief it didn’t work as well.
When her mother came, the grandmother walked around the house, admiring the Christmas tree, the decorations…then, what to my incredulous eyes did appear, but a white glove she pulled from her ironed slacks’ right pocket. She pulled it on, and wiped the very top of a single door. The right finger presented the evidence: a smidgen of dust.
A dust bunny must have just pooped there, it was so fresh.
The grandmother looked at my ex-mother-in-law, her eyes peering over her glasses, and said in an aristocratic tone, “You must improve your housekeeping skills.”
The woman had been married over 25 years. She had housekeeping skills.
There are many reasons why I’m glad I’m no longer in that particular family, but the insane expectation of perfectionism is a good one. The need to be absolutely perfect for whatever reason, still plagues me. I’ll say it: Pinterest, as incredible a resource as it is, has caused a slow growth of insanity to have the perfect house, with the perfectly-placed shiplap on one wall, with the perfectly-coiffed and clothed children, and three crafts going on simultaneously. It has given rise to a whole passel of people who want to create a homemade-from-scratch dinner, complete with their own goat cheese they made three days ago from their own pigmy, non-fainting goats.
We have had a lot of rain this summer and that, coupled with teen boys that either work or want to avoid fire ants at all costs, means that our front flower beds have weeds in them so high that acquiring a goat doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. But yesterday, Sam went for his daily walk in the neighborhood, and came home with the news that a church member had passed by our house, waved at him, and went on.
All I heard was church member, passed, and house: I bee-lined outside with the lawnmower and mowed the flowerbeds. Mulch flew. I didn’t care. That grass was coming down now. I was sick and tired of the pasture that was growing against the house instead of mulch and bushes. Suddenly and without warning, fire engulfed both of my feet; I looked down as I jumped away from the lawnmower, which turned off automatically. Fire ants were in my shoes, on my feet – I started this crazy redneck dance while running to the house – step step, hit right foot with right hand, throw shoe, step step, hit left foot with left hand, throw shoe, run to the door, screaming “Jaaaaaaaacooooooooobbbbbbbbbb!!!”
Jacob comes to the door and on the porch. I’m dancing around. He starts moving and grooving to whatever beat he hears in his head. “No you moron!” I yell in the most Christ-like and mothering way I know. “I have fire ants on my feet!!”
“Oh dude,” he stopped dancing. His friend, who’s a CNA, walks out of the house. He’s a gem. Jacob says, “She has fire ants on her feet.”
“Oh, okay – well, go to your bathroom and spray warm water on them.”
That sounded logical and medical. I did that. That didn’t help. That didn’t help at all. But while I stood there and sprayed water on my feet, the Lord started poking me on my shoulder. You know, like Someone is trying to get your attention. Poke poke poke.
I dried them off. That didn’t help either. Put essential oils on them. Helped some – had to continue that, but it helped some. I’m not gonna lie to you, fire ants are from satan. They’re little demons in ant form. They’re probably the first ones that were tossed out of heaven.
Poke poke poke. The Lord kept poking at me as I sprayed the essential oils spray I whipped up on the twenty or so ant bites on my feet.
First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
This verse from Matthew 23:26b hit me hard, right between the eyes. He wasn’t talking about how clean my house was or how manicured my lawn was (or isn’t). He was talking about me.
I’ve been trying way too hard lately to please everyone else, to make my house Pinterest-perfect in an attempt to be content with a house that has little room but a good mortgage, in a great school system, instead of working on my relationship with Him, and letting Him sort out all the other stuff.
Working on being joyful in my salvation means that everything else either falls into place, or doesn’t matter.
I’ve been doing what that grandmother had done – instead of seeing all the good, I was taking out the white glove of discontent and nitpicking everything. Instead of being filled with gratitude regarding our home that the Lord God has blessed us, I was wanting to move someplace that would take a lot of work to make handicapped accessible not to mention too much land to work properly, when we have a hard enough time taking care of a quarter-acre.
More than that, I had been trying to be perfect instead of being grace-full. No one has perfect children. No one has the perfect family. I do not vacuum my home in a dress, heels, and pearls. Yet, the Lord laid on my heart as I was spraying my feet down from fire ants, I was, in some fashion, expecting perfect children when I am far from perfect.
You see, we put so much pressure on ourselves to have every blade of grass cut at the right height, every hair in place, every blog post written, posted, scheduled, and linked up on social media, serving on all the committees, that we, in busyness, forget the most important aspect of being a Christian…
A large part of being a follower of Christ is knowing the most important mission field you have lives in your own home or visits regularly. I was getting irritated with the kids just way too much – shouldn’t they understand by now that dishes will not hop into an empty dishwasher on their own? Can’t they forgo visiting friends just one night (not knowing that the chronic visiting-friends-son was being there with them when his friends were going through some pretty rough stuff)? Why must every day begin and end with a fuss, dadgumit?
The driving desire to have a perfect, Cleaver-esque household had been damaging the relationships I have with my children. Damage the relationship, and you damage the ability and opportunity to speak Christ into their lives.
I’m a big proponent of being in the Word, but I will also admit here that I’m not always good at it. Being a caregiver, mom of four, trying to manage the household with very little real help, trying to write – time seems to fly by. Exhausted, I fall into bed feeling guilty about not cracking open my Bible.
I know in my head that an open Bible, read and applied, does more to grow me as a follower of Christ than any sermon ever does. I love that my pastor preaches the Word of God without apology but he cannot force-feed the Bread of Life into me. As a believer, I have to feed myself. And that happens when I read and study the Bible.
When that happens, something incredible happens. I am more content with my home. I extend grace and mercy more quickly to my husband and children. Something else happens too – I care more about being a steward of the blessings God has bestowed upon us, and I keep a cleaner house. It’s not a museum, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s lived in, full of the laughter of the people who live in it, and God is glorified.
Perfectionism can be an evil thing, beloved. We are perfected through Christ, and in Him alone. A relationship with Christ that is active, whole, committed, and dedicated to growing in Him is not one based on our perfectionism, but on His – and that spreads to all areas of our lives.
© 2017 Terrie McKee
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