I have always longed for the day we would have Hazel from the Jetsons running around cleaning and maintaining our homes. Sadly, the “house of the future” that I read about in magazines as a child was more myth than reality. In 2007 we bought our first Roomba on Yahoo’s campus in Sunnyvale at a swapmeet for $50.
It was amazing! It ran around and basically operated like an old manual sweeper, pushing trash and dust into corners and keeping the main areas of the floor free of everything. It was thrilling to search for it after it died stuck under furniture. The greatest thrill was finding it sideways with the table lamp on top of it after having masticated the cord. What a thrill! This robot vacuum was red and I think I may have called it the devil.
Much has changed in automation through the years in cleaning and the robot vacuums we have today do a much better job of maintaining daily floor traffic. Even the mop keeps the spills at bay. But nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the old fashion Oreck, Rainbow, and commercial string mop. Yes, these are the tools of my obsessions. I love cleaning and I do it well. The only problem is that it is often consuming and controlling.
There was a time when I had to be constantly cleaning. I think my favorite job in the world aside from my calling would either be stocking shelves at a grocery store (my shoulders and wrists won’t let me) or doing around-the-clock housekeeping at a resort. Just the idea of dusting and cleaning the carpets in a ballroom sounds thrilling, especially if there was also marble I could mop. This infatuation with cleaning is a result of some very negative qualities that I live with daily and will not change. While I have learned to temper them, they will never go away.
I have always wrestled with the constant anxiety of things being dirty. Even what I cannot see as dirty, if I have not cleaned it, it’s dirty. If I do not see someone else clean it, it’s dirty. If it was not cleaned by a person that I know can clean it, it’s dirty. As some of you know, I walk around with paper towels in my pocket 24/7, not because I need them, but because I wash my hands every time I come in from outside, before I touch anything in the kitchen, before I eat, after I eat, and anywhere in between where I am uncertain if my hands are clean. In the winter, I have to use a moisturizing soap just to keep my hands from becoming too dry.
While this sounds crazy, it’s just what I am. For the last ten or so years, it’s much better than it used to be. I can let things go for weeks regarding cleaning even though it still bothers me, I am not overrun with stress because of it. But, when it comes to preparing or consuming food, well, I’d rather starve than consider eating in unsanitary conditions. For those who come to my house often, they will tell you, that I am a taskmaster at meal times, standing at the sink, saying, “Ok, everyone, time to wash your hands and eat!” And no matter, I typically stand around and watch. If someone doesn’t wash their hands, I will offer them a paper towel and say, “Here’s a towel to dry your hands.” Yes. It is crazy, but it is me.
Now imagine the aspect of my psychological problem (which is nothing compared to 25 years ago – just ask my wife) how a surgeon would feel if in the OR someone came in with dirty hands or coughing and a fever. What would it be like for someone to walk out of the kitchen in a restaurant with your food with what looks like mud or worse on top of their hands?
I used to be unbearable about clean floors and carpets, desiring everyone to walk barefoot and yet feeling ill wondering if people had washed their feet or changed their socks. It was so bad in the ’90s and early 2000s, I had trouble being hospitable at times due to the anxiety of my house being dirty. The idea of yard dirt and all the bacteria and microbes on my floor consumed me. I won’t diverge regarding my use of public restrooms would take a few essays to express.
We all have limits in some areas. For me, it’s eating clean and related things.
If someone knocked on my door, covered in sewage, I would help them OUTSIDE. They couldn’t come into my house no matter the emergency. It just couldn’t happen. But, I would help them and I can mitigate all manner of gross things. It’s like a fireman to a blaze, I come full force and code to a mess! While I hate the mess, I love the cleanup more than anything. How about you? Would you let someone come into your living room if you see their boots covered in dung or would you ask them to remove their shoes? What if they had gotten sick on the ride over and had that illness all over their shirt and pants? Would you invite them to enjoy some coffee and cake at the table?
I could write the metaphor that we are all sick, dirty, and gross to God for our sins. Yet, HE has cleansed us. So, we are not found in His presence without proper washing. So that metaphor doesn’t work. We could discuss that God loves the sinner, yet, Scripture says that God will pour justice upon all who are not clean by the blood of Christ. I could talk about being humble and loving, yet, it would not be loving to allow disease and filth into our homes on purpose in the name of politeness. There is nowhere in any form of ethics or religion that says, “Come just how you are no matter what.”
Let me get to my point.
Few of us would deny there is proper etiquette and even ethic related to we are to relate to others. It is not wrong or unreasonable to desire some level of order and stewardship of things. While there can be absurdities like mine, in the end, we all have minimum standards for every circumstance: restaurants, clothes, movies, personalities, ethics, religion, food, and even our own appearance. And those standards can be myopic or contradictory to some. For instance, some people have a high standard of personal cleanliness but are not bothered by lesser standards by others. The opposite is also true. Some people may have high standards of certain things while not caring much for themselves.
Let’s now bring home what’s lingering in my brain. I am talking about how people talk and act. How people treat each other. There is some level of absurdity to the idea that being nice, loving, and kind means we have to allow not just poor manners, but evil actions and intentions. I have seen across the counseling desk for over two decades; a spouse being abused yet feeling guilty for wanting to be safe. I have witnessed countless social gatherings where the whole has to walk on eggshells because auntie or brother so-in-so has arrived and no one wants to confront the issue. I’ve even seen the drunk of the party get a pass because he didn’t “know what he was saying.” This is silly.
Friends, we have a right, especially as believers, to hold people to a minimum standard of kindness and reasonableness. We have no right to make final judgments or burden others with our own legalistic tendencies, or even MAKE people wash their hands. But we are held to account when we continue to embrace those who act against others in malice. We have a responsibility to protect our communities from those who do harm to property and persons. We are negligent when we overlook the violent behavior and words of others by saying they are “just expressing themselves.” We need to realize that it is not just prudent and good, but Godly to insist on doing what is right and orderly in relationships.
We have the right to avoid those who are racist and ostracise them in our communities. We have the right and responsibility to refuse fellowship with violent people who are vitriol in words (gossip, anger, controlling, insisting) and actions (yelling, manipulating, gossiping, discouraging, suspicion, rage, anger, impatience). It is ok to say, “Before you come inside, please remove your shoes. Thank you.” It is kind to say, “I cannot talk to you until you come to see the manner in which you are speaking is not kind.” It is reasonable to enforce proper and clean interaction in relationships. Especially if you are a follower of Christ. It’s a strange thing that we would not eat food served by dirty hands, but we will give the right hand of intimacy to those with dirty hearts against others.
This goes beyond just those who hurt us and refuse to listen or act in ways that violate the order, trust, or goodwill. It includes those who hurt those we say we love. What friend am I if I house and feed the murderer of your children, or the murderer of your character? What does it say about me if I insist on being “good” to your enemy who, according to their actions, are an enemy of God? It says that I am wiser than God and no better that the Lord at serving Him and others. It says that I am willing to honor the glory of scary people who may turn against me by dishonoring the real pain that you have experienced.
There is always room for reconciliation, but there should never be room for placating bad behavior. I have had many experiences where we have had to say to friends and relatives through the years, “If you continue to talk that way, you are not welcome in our home.” This has been especially true of those who promote bigoted ideologies, racism, and radical politics or religious ideas. I have also said, “Until you reconcile with this issue, I am not able to enjoy our friendship.” Thankfully, these have typically resulted in reconciliation and change of behavior. In other words, a gentle rebuke often leads to loving wisdom and harmony. The question then is IF we are willing to do what is right concerning our standards of intimacy. Remember, these circumstances only work with what we know to be true, firsthand, and we must communicate our intentions with all parties. Otherwise, we become part of the problem.
Oh, and the perfect behavior and standard that makes us able to fellowship with God… it is the perfection of Jesus Christ alone that sets us in that place. We are not ready or able in ourselves. He, Jesus, gives us credit for His perfection and His sacrifice pays the penalty for us.
Have you had an issue like this where you have had to ‘draw the line’ within a relationship? Have you ever had to be strong with someone who treats other people badly?
I hope ears that can hear understand also. Rest well. Live well. Have joy.