A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning my house (no, I’m not writing to announce an infrequent event . . .) and my mood was dirtier than the house. As I worked, I enjoyed the monologue I kept running in my head. I entertained myself by calling out those individuals who’d contributed to the mess I was cleaning. My comments were cutting, my barbs were sharp, and my sarcasm was on point. I hate to admit the next part, but the only thing I was sorry about was that there was no audience to listen to my cynical genius.

Bent over the bathtub scrubbing vigorously, I finally heard myself and it wasn’t pretty. I was suddenly overcome, not with the strong scent of cleaners, but with the stench of my guilt.

I was grouchy that day because I was cleaning on a short timeline. Company was coming and I’d left too much for the last minute. So I cleaned like crazy wanting everything to sparkle, yet knowing I’d still probably throw out some ‘offhand’ apology that my house wasn’t perfect. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect, but I was sure working hard to give that impression to my company.

I couldn’t help but think: What if, knowing company was coming, I chose to leave the bathrooms exactly like they were? Wet towel balled up beside the sink laying in a murky puddle of water which I failed to understand the presence of, because clearly the towel had been in this same state for a while and wet hands had not been dragged across the counter to reach for it from its rightful place on the hanger. (Deep breath!) A soap dispenser that shouted a challenge to users, was it scarier to take their chances with it or without it? Faucets and mirror reflecting more splash and spot than anything else.

What if I welcomed people in for meals having left dirty socks in the entrance and dishes in the sink? What if I served them food from a fridge I almost stuck to and a microwave that looked like it was used to cook science experiments?

What if I did all this and simply told my company I was being real? Vulnerable. Authentic.

You know why I don’t do this? Because my physical mess is gross. It disgusts me. I don’t want to subject anyone else to it. The reason I was so irritated that day while I was cleaning (okay, often when I clean) is because I cannot figure out why it has to be this way. I don’t understand why laundry is tossed on a floor rather than in a basket. I don’t understand what is complex about hanging up towels when done with them. I am almost undone by mess left everywhere with the assumption someone else will deal with it.

You already know this isn’t a blog where you’re likely to get advice on how to stay clean, organized, and shiny, because if I’m honest, the state of your house isn’t super important to me. The point of giving you the gory details of my physical mess is because it got me thinking about spiritual mess.

I can’t help but wonder why my spiritual messes don’t gross me out the same way. How can I say words as ugly as any bathroom disaster and shrug them away with a simple ‘sorry, I’m real’? When I react with anger or impatience disproportionate to the situation, how can I claim that is my freedom to be authentic; I’m only venting. When I worry and stress about things out of my control, why do I slap the label ‘vulnerable’ on it rather than call it what it is – lack of trust, absent faith, an attempt to be God?

That morning wasn’t the first time in my life a bathroom floor became holy ground. I laid my heart bare before God. I scrubbed its dirty corners with the cleansing Word of God.

I had more work to finish and as I worked, snippets of the Psalms ran through my head and my heart, strengthening my soul. Why the Psalms? Because they are real. Vulnerable. Authentic. The psalmists don’t use fancy words that dance around real issues putting a pretty face on what is decidedly not pretty.

The psalmists get fed up, angry, frustrated and cry out asking God to hit their enemies in the face and break their teeth (3:7). Sometimes they feel lonely and deserted and ask God why He stands far away and seems to hide when there is trouble (10:1). They accuse God of forgetting them, of ignoring them (13:1). They weep and wish for the wings of a bird to fly away from the horror surrounding them so they can be at rest (55:6). They admit to jealousy after watching those who are better off than they. They watch people throw disdain in the face of God and get away with it (73:2-3, 9-11). The psalmists ponder life as a whole and when they can’t see the point, and despair over its perceived futility, they ask God to look away so they can enjoy what’s left of it (Psalm 39).

The Psalms are written by real people, in real situations, and sure they may have been written long ago, but there is a sense of timelessness about them because they are an expression of human existence. Prose tells it like it is. Poetry paints pictures for us to gaze upon. That’s why the Psalms are poetry – so they can elevate our eyes – make us look past the obvious, to what is in plain sight but which our eyes must be trained to see.

Sometimes the psalmists run into brick walls and they might bang their heads against it for a bit, but eventually when they don’t see a way through, they see the way up. They admit they are afraid, but they know where to put their trust (56:3-4). They cry and they weep but find peace knowing God collects their tears in a bottle and that somehow, even in this, God is for them (56:8-11). They acknowledge their burdens are heavy, but find strength in knowing Who carries them (55:22). They see corruption and death, but are walking the path of life and are confident about where it leads (16:11).

In the words of the Psalms, I find a better version of my own; they are written by more articulate versions of me. I don’t understand why life feels hard. Often I want to fly away. The mess that surrounds me bothers me but I’m more bothered knowing there’s little I can do about it.

Yet, my prayer is that I will be more bothered by the mess inside of me than the messes around me. Not because wallowing in shame or sorrow is an end in itself or even productive, but because only when I am disgusted by the grossness of it will I seek to have it cleansed.

I need to be grossed out to cry out!

Psalm 51 clean

The answer given over and over again in the Psalms is stop looking in or down or around, no matter how distracting or disorienting your circumstances. No matter how persuasive or believable your feelings, look up. The answer to all of it is who God is. That’s why the psalmist writes that anyone who knows God’s name will put their trust in Him (9:10). God’s name is His promise of unfailing love and enduring faithfulness. God’s name secures who He is and what He will do, and lest I end up quoting or referring to the entire book of Psalms, I will instead say, read them. Look for who the psalmists say God is, what they say He will do, and how knowing this gives them perspective and security they find no where else.

For the next while, Unshaken Ministries will be posting weekly devotionals on the Psalms. We’d love for you to read along with us, and then read deeper without us. And if you want to do more of an in-depth Bible Study on the book of Psalms, check out Journey Through the Psalms where you can find all the teaching sessions available for free. If you’re interested in purchasing the study book you can click here Study Book (US$) or here Study Book  (CDN$).

I don’t know your story or your situation, but I know the One who is the answer to it. And I know that if you throw yourself at Him with your anger, fear, questions, and doubts, He can handle them. Because He does not forsake those who seek Him (9:10).

Originally written for Unshaken Ministries

4 thoughts on “Keeping it Real?

    1. Hi Nancy – if you click the subscribe button at the bottom of the blog post, you will get an email each time there is a post on aspaceforgrace and there will soon be the same button at the bottom of Unshaken’s blog post so you can do the same there! Happy to have you following! 🙂

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  1. Thanks for being real and sharing your heart Arlene. I’m pretty sure we can all personally relate to this and understand that we too need to be on our knees crying out to God!

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