Earlier this week I was chatting with my good friend Tabitha, and I alluded to a blog I had written about a chore list. When she told me she didn’t remember reading it, I explained that sometimes I write blogs and just never post them. For me, there’s something about sitting down with a pen and paper and wrestling to find the right words and phrases that accurately capture the seemingly random thoughts that go scurrying through my head. I find it oddly relaxing and comforting, as if when I’m finished putting all the words on paper, the story that has been crafted and the lessons learned from it, can now never escape. I tuck it away safely on my hard drive as well as in my mind, feeling free from the worry of losing it and content to know that, in my own way, I have created a piece of art.
“Did you ever think that maybe we, your blog readers, would enjoy these stories of yours; that you could share them instead of keeping them all to yourself?” Tabitha questioned.
I had always just assumed my blog readers only wanted to hear about my mission adventures. That is, of course, the title of my blog. She reminded me that if people only want to hear about stuff on the mission field, they don’t have to read it. But as a result of Tabitha’s encouragement, I’m putting this one out there for you to read, or not read, or only half read, whichever.
I wrote this blog sometime last summer. It seems appropriate as I am preparing to sit down to write my list of all that needs to be done before I leave on August 5…
The Chore List Lesson
I was driving home from work and holding back tears. I forced myself to keep from taking another look at my calendar and instead took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and did what I didn’t want to do but knew I had to do.
You see, my calendar has been jam packed these last few months. It’s been a lot of fun, but I was feeling like I spent more time in my car than I did at home. As a result, Spring had come and gone and the cleaning that is supposed to go with it never happened. In addition to that, months of being home sporadically had led to a kitchen table cluttered with books and papers, a few baskets of unfolded laundry and a spare bedroom full of things that I hadn’t had time to put in their right place. If you’ve ever seen my desk or my car then you’re not surprised and, frankly, neither was I. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t have kids. I’m not married. There’s only one person living in this house to clean up after and I still couldn’t keep up. I didn’t have a good excuse and that was adding to the pressure. (I honestly don’t know how people with kids do it; I hold you all in very high esteem!) So, on this particular day, I had reached my limit. I could not spend one more day with the stress of knowing that so much needed to be done and feeling like it was too big of a job for me to conquer on my own. So I did it; I called in the big guns: I called my mom. I told her I was overwhelmed and asked for help. Ugg.
I wasn’t a bit surprised that she immediately agreed to come down. She rearranged her schedule and told me she’d help me take care of it. What a relief; thank God for moms.
That next Thursday, she showed up, headed straight to the table, took out a pen and paper, and looked at me with her eyebrows raised. She didn’t have to say a single word; I knew exactly what she was expecting me to dictate: The Chore List. My mother, the queen of list-making, never starts anything without first writing down what she wants to accomplish. My dictation went something like this: Empty the dishwasher, put away the pots and pans, clean the fridge, organize the Tupperware, fold the laundry, do more laundry, sweep the floors, mop the floors, dust the baseboards, wash the windows, wash the screens, dust the blinds, clean the spare room, finish painting the hallway, put outlet covers back on in the hallway, reorganize the attic, organize the basement, sweep the basement, replace light bulb in the basement, sort through clothes for goodwill, and clean the garage. We had some work ahead of us.
We got at it. She headed for the basket of laundry, knowing full well that it’s my least favorite chore. I started to tackle the spare room. I put away all of the random things that had been stashed there: some Christmas decorations, picture frames that I hadn’t used, a box of things from high school that had been at my mom’s, etc. When the room was empty and all things put in their proper places, I breathed a sigh of relief.
As I admired my work I noticed a fine dust on the walls. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was left over from when I had sanded and restained my hardwood floors last summer. I wondered how I hadn’t noticed it before when now it was so obvious! I added “wash walls in spare room” to the list and started scrubbing. As I did, I noticed that the sawdust was getting stuck in the crevices of the wainscoting; that just wouldn’t do. I headed for the kitchen to find a tool better than a rag. When I got to the very bottom of the wall, paying close attention to get all the dust out of the cracks, I noticed some stain on the baseboards that could be seen over the quarter-round. That wouldn’t do. I once again headed for the kitchen for a better tool.
I knelt on the floor with my nose inches from the wall, used a toothpick to meticulously clean the small crevices, and got lost in my thoughts: How had I ended up here when all I intended to do was put the big stuff away? Why didn’t I notice this before? How could I stand even being in this room when it was such a mess? How would I have done all of this work on my own? If I had seen how big of a job it was going to be, would I have even started? How long is it going to take me to clean all four walls? What else am I going to notice when I’m done with this? Won’t it be wonderful when the room is spotless and the walls are washed as white as snow? And then an unexpected thought came to mind: I’m working in this room the same way the Holy Spirit works in me.
It made so much sense to me.
I started with the biggest and most obvious mess. When those things had been taken care of I was able to see the less noticeable (but no less messy) things and work to tackle them. I could have chosen not to do anything about the dusty walls and continue down the original list, but the knowledge of something more needing to be done would have continued to weigh on me. Eventually I would need to take care of it, so why not now?
I realized it was a real blessing that the whole mess hadn’t been apparent from the beginning. If it had been, I probably would have been too overwhelmed even to start. The cleaning up of the big things, moved me to a desire to clean up the smaller things.
The other blessing was that I didn’t have to do it alone; thank God for my mom. As she helped clean and scrub, I knew she wasn’t judging me or even frustrated about the big job ahead of us. She worked patiently and joyously, obviously glad to be helping her daughter out. And because of her, the job didn’t feel so overwhelming.
Now I see it so clearly; this is the same way that God works in my life. When I invited him in, he started on me with the big stuff. He sent the Holy Spirit in to work to clean the most obvious messy stuff out of my heart. In the beginning the Holy Spirit didn’t point out the millions of other things that needed cleaning up as well, he just quietly added them to the list and waited for me to be ready to go there.
And all along, I haven’t been alone. Jesus has been right there beside me encouraging me, filling me with peace and joy. Jesus makes my mess less overwhelming.
So now, I’m waiting for the day when the work of the Holy Spirit is done; the day when the four of us: me, him, Jesus and the Father, can all stand back, dust off our hands and admire my pristinely clean heart; a heart that resembles the righteousness of Jesus that is only possible through the meticulous work of God and my continual faith that he is doing a good work in me.
But until then, my job is to keep checking the Chore List and working on the next thing…