Early last week, at a point in time when I was planning how I was going to accomplish the seemingly insurmountable pile of tasks to complete, I remember the sinking feeling that something was going to have to give. I could feel the tightening of my chest, the faster breathing, and that sense that I was beginning to go under. My mind kept working to resolve how our calendar was suddenly overflowing with no end in sight. Despite the fact that I was part of creating the mess, I would look around our house and get anxious about having a day to just put things away and clean what needed to be cleaned.
I knew that a discipleship bible study I’m in was planning to help a local man who was facing eviction. We were going to spend some time Thursday morning cleaning his apartment. On the way to our small group Tuesday night, I mentioned this to my husband with the request that he only think about it and not necessarily answer right away. I was feeling conflicted about whether or not I should go and participate or stay home and clean my own house since it’s condition was one of the biggest factors of my anxiety. I wanted to go and help, but was still unsure. See, this group meets bi-weekly to share, read and discuss and spends the “off-weeks” engaged in some sort of service. Last time, the service was my suggestion to go to the elementary school and cut out box tops which the school can submit for money. We chatted, worked, and had a generally pleasant time.
This week, we’d certainly not be sitting. We would still likely chat, but the work would be hard and filthy. I felt this underlying pull to go and do this partly because it was a real and true need, and partly because it wasn’t my suggestion. It felt like an opportunity to go beyond myself, and that saying, “Yes,” to this service was something God could use to His glory.
Thursday morning came, and I was ready. Supplies galore, we headed to his apartment and began to assess what we would be working on for the next few hours. In all honesty, it wasn’t as bad as we were expecting. We divided out tasks and set to work – washing walls, scrubbing outlets and switch plates, wiping down cupboards, scouring the bathtub, toilet, and sink. Years of smoking in this small one-bedroom apartment had created a layer of grime on the walls that slid in orangey-brown lines down the once cream-colored walls. We wiped them away, scrubbing the the walls closer toward their original color. At one point, we realized that the mop we brought would better serve us with the walls than the linoleum. In a short time, we could see the distinct progress we were making…and yet, how far we still had to go.
After scrubbing the oven, which the tenant had never used, we began to focus on the stovetop. The knobs were removed and a toothbrush helped wipe away the grime. A stack of charred burner liners awaited our attention. Gathering in the kitchen, we all looked at the once-stainless surfaces and tried to match the impossibility of the task with the right level of abrasive cleanser. We had already used many of our strongest solutions on other jobs, so it seemed unlikely that we would ever get these clean. We realized we might be better off tossing them out and buying new ones.
After about 5 minutes of discussion, I decided to try at least one, so I turned on the faucet and slid the liner under the flow of water. Regardless of what chemical I used to remove this mess, I imagined it would work that much better with a little moisture. With nearly no pressure, I swiped the surface, feeling only the warmth of the water on my gloved hand. What looked impossibly adhered to this liner simply slid off and was washed away. I continued rubbing, wiping and rinsing. I used a simple sponge. No harsh cleansers. Just a little soap, a lot of water, and patience. The transformation was remarkable.
Standing at that sink, I found it funny the amount of time we had spent rationalizing what would work to solve this problem. We tackled it intellectually based on what we each knew to be true about the stains we’ve faced in our own kitchens. I recalled hours spent scrubbing the grates of my gas stove, only to be left with raw hands and only a slightly cleaner cooktop than when I started.
I thought about how we almost tossed these into the garbage, counting them as lost before even attempting to clean them. Solving the problem for a few bucks at the grocery store. It didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice after all.
Then, I thought about how sometimes, without realizing it, we take a similar approach when dealing with people. We look at the grime that has been building up for years, the way it sticks to their surface and seems to be part of who they are. We see the mess their lives have become and we consult friends and relatives, we ask for guidance and try to decide which verse or word would contain just the right about of abrasion to remove their stains. Sometimes, that’s all we do. Talk about them, or even to them, trying to assess the situation from a safe distance. And sometimes, we consider tossing them aside and starting fresh with someone new. Our lives are too full, too busy, we have our own issues to face and what they might need requires more than we’re willing to give.
But when we say, “Yes…”
When we get our own hands dirty, and bring the filth into the flow of the Living Water, not only do we see the luster of another child of God, we feel the warmth ourselves. And despite the hours or years we might have spent diagnosing the situation, or the personal fears and responsibilities that prevent us from actually getting to the work, when we finally do we are often surprised that all it took was a willing spirit, a little soap, and Water.
This post contains my personal thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and is in not intended to be persuasive in nature or a reflection of my teaching or school district. It was written as part of a monthly challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers, to encourage writing and community. The goal is to write a Slice of Life entry each day throughout the month of March.