“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, NIV)
As a kid, my mom was always the penultimate hostess. She was undoubtedly one of the best cooks in the church and as such we often had people over for Sunday dinner (which in Minnesota is the noon meal, supper is in the evening.) On more than one occasion a new couple would walk into our church and when our pastor introduced them to my mom he would say “This is Becky and she is an amazing cook, you should really eat at her place sometime.” He would then stare down my mom until, despite planning on a lunch of $1 roast beef sandwiches from Hardees, she would say, “Come on over today.”
That was our cue as kids that the four of us would leave immediately following the service and clean our house from top to bottom in about 15 minutes. But the thing is, on those days it was rarely “clean” it was simply well hidden. Certain doors to bedrooms were shut, the basement was only clean at first glance and if you looked hard enough at the kitchen floors they were sticky and spotted. But no one looked that closely because that was not a lunch for serious talks, it was filled with pleasantries and surface grazing, certainly not an occasion for serious cleaning.
Noah and I still do the same when we have impromptu guests. I say to him, “We need to clean, fast.” He responds, “Are we cleaning or hiding?” More often than not my answer is “hiding.”
On Sunday we shared stories as a church about where God is moving in our lives and Leah Smith began by saying, “I don’t know if I should be up here, I’m such a mess.” After which Doug said to the congregation, “We’re all a mess, some people are just better at hiding it than others and that’s not necessarily a good thing.”
We are all good hiders, at one thing or another because cleaning, truly cleaning, takes the courage to look through everything that hasn’t been dealt with, probably in a long time. We have shoved other things in front of it to make it seem as if it wasn’t there, as if we had already reconciled those things. But when you hastily hide things away to try and appear “perfect” you will inevitably be confronted by what you were trying to hide when you least expect it. You’ll be looking for that one book quote and be accosted by the lies you’ve told, the relationships you’ve left hanging, the addictions you can’t bring yourself to speak out loud and, truthfully, it will rock you.
So, how do we clean? First is, admit that you cannot clean it on your own. In the church we so often talk about Jesus washing away our sins, about Christ making our sin as white as snow and then we try really hard to put grace on the back burner and hit our sins with a good dose of Clorox. We scrub and scrub and get angry that our best efforts, our Sunday best are not removing the stains and all the while we deny we need help and we do irreparable damage to ourselves, our relationships and our emotional well-being.
The awe-inspiring grace of the Creator God does the cleaning, we accept the help. Sometime his grace comes in a quiet moment when you realize you can’t hold back the flood waters any longer. But even more often, his grace comes with a little more skin on it in the form of another person, willing to help you clean up and no longer have to hide. The people who are willing to do the work, and it will be work, are invaluable and rare.
Though it may not feel like it, the days are getting longer, the light is coming and Christ invites you to stop hiding and accept the grace to help you clean. But remember, we are all a mess and as a church, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ali can be reached via email here.