Learning the unforced rhythms of grace


Why am I cleaning my house?

My friend sent me a quick email about a month ago saying she was leaving on a trip and scrambling to clean her house before she left. She'd been sick and now that she was better, she felt it necessary to clean the house from top to bottom so the house was spotless before she left. In her email, she said, "Why do I do this? Write a blog about that!"  

She may have been joking . . . but I've decided to take her up on the challenge! 

But it's not just about her . . . I do it too. I think many of us do. We feel anxious about something, and do what we can to secure the area, clean up, make things perfect, relieve ourselves of that out-of-control feeling. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy would describe it as a "safety behavior". We do something because we perceive there is a danger or feared catastrophe and we engage in safety behaviors to avoid or prevent the feared outcome from happening. A much more helpful way, however, is to challenge our unhelpful belief about something . . . rather than engaging in these behaviors which only reinforce the fear.


So for instance, here is what one of my friends does. When she is in a social setting that feels uncomfortable, instead of engaging in safety behaviors which for her are (going to the bathroom to check her appearance, rehearsing people's names, pre-planning conversations, being highly attentive-vigilant to people around her, and always having a smile on her face), she says to herself, "Oh, hello anxiety. I see you . . .  trying to warn me of danger. Thank you, but there is none. I'm good." And then she sits back and relaxes for a few minutes. It works brilliantly for her and saves her many trips to the washroom and the exhausting work of trying to be perfect!

Perhaps, cleaning our homes (to the point of exhaustion) before leaving on trips can be addressed the same way. We could say, "Oh hello anxiety. You are trying to warn me of danger, but I look around and don't see any. This is my home, my safe place, my haven and I can return to it and take care of it after my trip as well. Its cleanliness doesn't relate to whether I am loveable or valued. It is just a house, where I live. I will clean it so it is hygienic and appropriately tidy but there is no danger if dust is on the table or spots on the mirror. This house and its dust will welcome me home after my holiday and invite me to relax  - because that is what home is for." 

And once we've acknowledge the reality of anxiety creeping in, have greeted it and said "no thank you - no danger here!" then we can focus on the truth. 

If we have said yes to God's love for us, then He has given His very Spirit to us–within us–to counsel, guide, correct, calm and remind us of the truth of who God is and who we are. 

"Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;  he’s the one who will keep you on track." Proverbs 3:5

So, should we clean our houses before going on holidays? Of course. Nothing wrong with that activity. But if we have been given the Spirit of God within us, then we are not all alone. We can stop, breathe, acknowledge anxiety - dismiss it, and say hello to the Lord instead. We can invite Him into our activity. We can sing and worship, turn some music on and turn our tasks into God-honoring, restful activities for our souls and the people around us. We may even end up being more productive! 

So, as the sun warms my back here at Starbucks and as I prepare to go home and begin to tackle my own to-do list, join with me in a prayer?

Lord, may I know your love today as I do regular, ordinary tasks. May the mess around me remind me that I live in a post-garden-of-eden world where things are not perfect and Your grace abounds. Thank you for the opportunity to use my skills and talents in the tasks ahead and may I seek to bring honor to Your name, not my own. Thank you that we are not slaves to fear or anxiety or worry. We can listen for your voice and let it be the loudest! Thank you Lord!

Have a great day friends!