I grew up in a family that drew a delineation between messy and dirty. It was ok to (sometimes) be messy, because that could be solved by just “picking up”. Being dirty was not acceptable, however.
Allowing dirt to accumulate meant inviting bugs and other critters to take up residence. Messy people were just busy people who’d get around to fixing things, but a dirty person was one who just didn’t care.
Now, I like to think of myself as a pretty neat, organized person, and in fact, clutter around my house tends to cause me some level of anxiety and stress. But I also tend to stay very busy, sometimes to the point of over-committing, and as there are only so many hours in a day, what I like to think of us organized mess begins to appear…and hang around for a day…or week…or, well, you get the point.
So, sometimes I offer to host get togethers at my home as a way of forcing myself into cleaning. Thus a dinner party last month became the impetus of a recent cleaning frenzy.
I’m sorry to say that it had actually been quite some time since my house has seen a serious cleaning, and as I looked around for a good starting point, I began by picking up and putting away the random items that covered nearly every surface- aka, the organized messes. As I began to pick up and put away, I failed to make any headway, because each task I completed seemed to reveal another task to be done.
It seemed like the more I cleaned, the more new tasks I saw that needed to be done; the clutter that I had allowed to accumulate helped to mask the dirt that was quietly and significantly building up underneath. What I had thought was just some clutter and mess, was actually masking dirt (not to the point of bugs or mice, mind you, but real dirt, not just dust.)
I could honestly identify with Lady Macbeth lamenting the unexpected and overwhelming amount of blood shed by King Duncan at his murder. “Out, out damn spot!” became my cleaning mantra. I was desperate to remove the dirt that I had unwittingly let settle under the clutter I shrugged off.
Now, at this point, I’m sure you’re wondering whether I’ve got a point to admitting to the world that I’m a terrible housekeeper. Good news- I think I do!
The whole debacle became an allegory for sin, and ultimately the need for regular examinations of conscience. I think of those organized messes- stacks of mail that need gone through, books that need put away, that piles of laundry that need folded- as habits and behaviors that end up masking the growth of actual dirt (or sin) as it builds up. When we put off taking care of those small messes and then become accustomed to their presence, we fail to see that it’s actually covering up an accumulation of sin. Shrugging off being messy, (because it’s not like we’re dirty) ends up allowing the dirt to accumulate secretly, leaving us shocked at how bad we let things get. Those habits and behaviors might be different for each of us, but the same pattern will emerge. Maybe it’s downloading games and social apps (clutter on our smart phone, as it were). That in itself is just a bit of clutter, but the attention it takes, our time that those apps demand when we ought to be doing so many other things; how we snap at a loved one as they ask for some of the attention we’re giving to a device- that’s the sin that built itself up secretly beneath clutter.
I like to think of a regular examination of conscience as the decluttering that will allow us to catch the dust before it turns into regular, thick black dirt. That bit of regular attention at eliminating the stacks of organized clutter, making it easier to see the full-on sins that try to take root in our soul.
Because let’s be honest- it’s a whole lot easier to pick up small stacks of clutter each and every day, than to turn a blind eye, allowing the clutter to mask grave sin until we, like Lady Macbeth, are scrubbing away at a stain so deep it consumes us.