Quinn G. Caldwell
"Martha had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing…'" - Luke 10:38-42
I keep a clean house. I have the same guideline for housecleaning and haircuts: if I wait till it looks like I need it, then I've waited too long. I don't care if you leave moisture rings on the end tables, and I don't go all Mommie Dearest if the grout's not clean. I'm just saying that I'd rather vacuum once a week than wait till the dust bunnies overwhelm me.
It turns out that the only thing the world likes less than a messy house is a clean one. A fellow clergyperson - a normally kind, lovely one - once said in my living room, with clear conviction, "If your house is in order, then your priorities aren't." Another otherwise kind, generous-hearted person told me with a straight face that a tidy house is always the result of a misery-making, unhealthy compulsion. Yet another confided that other people's clean houses make her feel bad about herself.
Now, unless you hoard cats and have visible tufts of asbestos floating around, or make me stop to put on special booties and walk through a cloud of de-lousing powder before passing through your hermetically-sealed front door, I really don't care much at all about the state of your house. So why, I wondered, did these people care about mine?
Then I realized that they're actually in the same boat as Martha. They're having a conversation with someone who's not there - their neat-freak parents, society, the ad agency employed by Clorox Clean Ups - and it's not going well. We all have this malady in one form or another; some days I feel like the only people I ever actually talk to, regardless of who's standing in front of me, are my parents and a kid who once said a very mean thing to me in fourth grade. And that's what Jesus was talking about. It's not about clean or unclean houses; it's about learning to talk with who's in front of you instead of who's not.
God, help me to remember who's right in front of me and who's not, and to talk to the one who's really here. And please make the dog stop putting noseprints on the windows. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Pastor and Teacher at Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC, in Syracuse, New York, and co-editor, with Curtis J. Preston, of the Unofficial Handbook of the United Church of Christ, published by The Pilgrim Press.