I just finished washing my kitchen floor. The ugly cream and green linoleum squares have been calling to me for days. Last week was one of those weeks where I thought about cleaning every day but I was just too busy to follow through. Actually, it’s been two weeks since I last washed my kitchen floor, so a good cleaning was long overdue.
For those of you who clean your floors several times a week, or even several times a day (you know who you are), please don’t judge me. Keep reading.
One thing that my sister-in-law Kara and I vehemently agree on is that the best way to wash the floor is on hands and knees. There are many reasons why I believe in the hands and knees approach. I don’t want to bore you, so I’ll just name a few. First, I live most of my life five feet, nine inches above the floor. Even with the correct contact lenses, that is a far distance from which to zero in on small details. Second, It’s no surprise that flooring materials – even those that lay in tribute to the 80s spearmint decorating craze – are chosen for their ability to hide crumbs that fall from our countertops. So I ask myself, how can I possibly see all the dirt and debris if I don’t take a close-up look at the floor? If I want to thoroughly clean my floor, I have to get down on my knees, zoom in on the scum and attack.
The old fashioned mops and even the new fangled Swiffers get the floor wet and take up a thin layer of dirt, but ultimately they fall short. Mops push crumbs to corners where they become fodder for household pests. Swiffers, with their flimsy poles, don’t have the power to erase scuff marks or eradicate sticky globs of last Wednesday’s butternut squash soup. So when it’s time to clean the floor, it’s back to basics. I grab a bucket, add dish soap, some vinegar, fill with warm water, drop in a rag and get down and dirty. The result? A spotless, gleaming floor that I could eat off of if I really wanted to and one satisfied cleaning woman.
Today as I scrubbed and scoured, my mind wandered across the new thought that I should approach my life the same way that I clean my kitchen floor. There are things in my life, places in my heart and mind that are messy and need cleaning. The kitchen floor of my soul is often littered with crumbs – disappointments that I never processed through, hurts that I push to the shadowed corners of my mind and ignore, but where they build up and begin to stink and attract scavengers. I try to pay attention to and reflect on my life. I have an awareness of my soul. But I peer at my life and my heart from a distance where things probably look a lot more presentable than they really are. I know my life – my heart, mind, soul, and relationships – need regular cleaning, but I usually take the easy way out. I’ll acknowledge hurt feelings to myself but not speak with the person who hurt me. That’s like spot cleaning with a Swiffer; it lacks the power to wipe all the layers of sticky goop off my heart.
Weekly, I might do a cursory mopping of my heart during Confession or in the few minutes leading up to the Eucharist, but if I’m being honest with myself, and you, I rarely get on my hands and knees and look keenly at the very foundations of my life. I don’t deliberately crouch down and gently, but firmly, wipe at the ugly stains. Instead I walk around semi-clean. Semi-clean is not clean at all.
Maybe this metaphor is a new resolution or a reminder or an encouragement. I want to live and worship clean. I want my attitude and motivations to gleam like my freshly scrubbed floor. But to do so means that I need to get on my hands and knees. It’s a humble position, uncomfortable, even painful. (I have arthritic knees and cement subflooring.) It’s not easy to look at my own grime, to get up close and personal with things I may have been ignoring or neglecting for a long time. I might be shocked by a stain I didn’t know was there until my eyes are an inch from the spot. Self discovery can be disheartening, but I believe that getting down on hands and knees is the only way to get truly clean and it’s the only way to wholly live.
Now the task is to follow through, to take the time to look keenly at my life, to expose the grit and grim, and gently but firmly wash it away, on my hands and knees. Do I go on a silent retreat? Do I seek a spiritual director? Meditate more? Take up journaling? Become more intentional in my prayer? These are all ideas, tools with which I might cleanse my soul. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to go about it, nor is there a set time interval that would be optimal. The key is the approach. The most striking part of this kitchen floor metaphor is the image of being on hands and knees. That is what I am going to focus on. I’ll let you know how the cleaning goes.