I have known people in my life who are very messy; you walk into their rooms and it looks like a war zone. Clothes, both clean and dirty, litter the floor, old food bowls are stacked on shelves in precariously balanced piles, food wrappers and other miscellaneous trash surround overflowing trash cans in unique configurations that would be envied by any modern art museum. Whenever I meet people like this, I am baffled at how they can live in such a messy environment without going crazy or losing all of their belongings.
Now, although my sister might disagree, I don’t consider myself to be a messy person when it comes to my living space. Don’t get me wrong- I do not live in some pristine, Better Homes and Gardens world where everything is spick and span and there is nary a dust particle to be found, but I do enjoy being somewhat organized. The truth is, I live in a state of organized mass chaos. Scattered about my room in bins, on shelves, and in drawers, are small stacks and piles of stuff. To others these piles might seem arbitrary, but to me they are all clearly defined; I know what is in each section of my room and just where to look for things if something goes missing. However, over time, haste and laziness causes me to blur the boundary-lines of my piles and stuff begins to take over my living space. That’s when I know it is time to clean again. This regular cycle of semi-organization, disorder, and cleaning continues throughout the year in a regular rhythm, the cycle broken only by major cleansing seasons; take, for example, Spring cleaning.
In the Spring, usually during Spring break, many people take the opportunity afforded by the changing season to do a major cleaning of their homes, which can include everything from purging old stuff to scrubbing baseboards and reorganizing bookshelves. While my mother is a huge fan of this annual tradition and often drags me and my siblings through the rigors of cleaning out our home, I have never understood the impetus behind Spring cleaning. Instead, I prefer the natural yearly cleaning that happens in the week right after Christmas as we replace old items with newer ones we have just been given. I call it “The Purge” (sounds like the name for a horror movie… it probably is). It seems so much more natural to me to do a major cleaning to accommodate new gifts than to spend the first beautiful days of Spring trapped inside vacuuming. But I digress.
This year as I embarked on my annual post-Christmas purge, I began to notice some similarities between the cleaning I was doing in my space and the refining the Lord was doing in my heart.
As is usually the case, I was overwhelmed by the cluttered state in my room when I started, so I decided to tackle cleaning one section of the room at a time, starting with the easiest spaces to organize, like by bookshelf and my desk, and then moving onto more cluttered spaces, like my locker and my closet. I had planned to only spend a few hours cleaning, but, as is usually the case, it took me way longer tan I had expected. Cleaning each section mean pulling everything out and sorting through it, deciding what I wanted to keep and what needed to go. In some cases, I found that things had just gotten out of order and needed to be re-arranged, while at other times had to purge things I enjoyed as a kid but did not need anymore. And of course, I got sucked into old memories. At one point I happened across an old math binder that I had in high school, and all of a sudden I was mentally enveloped in the horrors of Geometry again. Why on earth did I ever keep this, I thought, This has definitely got to go.
4 hours, a lot of dust, and a full trash can later, I was mostly done cleaning my room; I only had one section left to clean:the dreaded underside of my bed. (*horrified gasp*) The underside of my bed has always been my least favorite place to clean, because I store so many things under there that it is a daunting task to pull all of my boxes and bags out from underneath the bed. Not only that, but it is the spot that collects the most dust and the most miscellaneous trash. I never know what I will find under there. Too often the underside of my bed is neglected, because by the time I get to it, I am already tired from cleaning everything else in my room, so I just straighten up the boxes that are visible and call it a day. But I knew I needed to actually clean out this time, so I dragged everything out and went through it. When I finally pushed the last box into place, I felt so much more at home- I felt like I could breathe again.
In many ways, I believe the Lord prunes things in our lives in a similar way. When we invite the Lord to take control of our lives and surrender ourselves fully to him, his Holy Spirit immediately begins working on us. While we might be overwhelmed by our sin and discouraged by how far we need to go, The Lord is not disheartened; “For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” (Psalm 103:14) But for our sake, He often starts by organizing the things in our lives that are most easy to prune and ridding us of sins we are not yet too attached to. When the Lord searches our hearts, he ‘pulls everything out’; all of who we are is exposed to his loving hands. Sometimes all he must do is rearrange our misplaced priorities so that we begin to value the things he values most, while other times he will purge us of old sins, actions, or habits completely. Sadly, this can be painful. The Lord will bring up things in our lives that we think we have forgotten, old grudges or shame from the past that we have uselessly been hanging onto for far to long. My child, He says, Let it go. you don’t need this anymore. This has definitely got to go.
And then there is the underside of the bed. All of us have one; That sin we just cant seem to shake; that secret that we can’t bear to talk about; that problem that we know needs resolution, but we just can’t bring ourselves to work with it. When the Lord is refining and pruning us, he pulls all of those things out of the dark recesses of our hearts and shines the light of his truth on them. He straightens out even the most crooked desires and completely cleans out our thoughts, so that when he puts us back together again we feel whole and complete in Him.
The problem with pulling everything out to clean is that a few hours later I found myself sitting amidst piles of stuff I had pulled out. To clean, I had to make a bigger mess than I originally had. If God has taught me one thing this year, it is that often, the pruning he performs on us looks messy. To be transformed into the image of his Son, we have to lay aside the mask of perfection and admit that we are messy, flawed human beings that need a savior.
So for all of you that are going through a season of pruning right now, I would encourage you: don’t give up. Trust the process and let the Lord work in the way he knows best, even if it seems messy.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” – Philippians 1:6 (NLT)