The Pride Chronicles: Neat Freaks Anonymous
Author: Sara Burns
It tells you something about my personality when my favorite part of Mary Poppins as a child was when she cleaned the bedroom. I would get aggravated right along with Mary when that noncompliant squeaky toy kept popping out of the bedside table drawer. When the “Spoonful of Sugar” song came to an end and everything settled into its proper place, I breathed a sigh of relief. (Truth be told, sliding up and down the staircase vied for “favorite scene”. I was, after all, still a kid.) Probably about half of you readers can relate. The other half may need to wait for the next chronicle while I talk to my peeps for a while.
If you are like me, there is just something about neatly-folded clothes drawers, perfectly-straightened piles of books and the sparkle of a freshly-mopped floor that send gentle shivers down your spine and make you want to dance a circle around yourself in glee. That said, I’m all about the final product, not so much about the process itself. (Never could perfect the “Poppins snap”, so alas it has always been tedious elbow grease for me.) I heard that cleanliness is next to godliness. It is probably because you feel like you have nothing left to prove when you’ve thoroughly polished the house. It comes with a supreme sense of being right and at peace with the world around you.
God likes order and structure and things being in their proper place too. Just think, He invented time, and the balance of gravitational forces, and the orbits. He put peas nicely in pods and gave kangaroos handy pockets to hold miscellaneous joeys. He created animals like elephants and cats to bathe themselves, and even made those little aquarium shrimp that clean their dirty tankmates (watch Finding Nemo for more information). He had ants march in a straight line and cats cover over their own doodoo.
All of you orderly people are nodding your heads right now and feeling justified in being uptight about timeliness, neatness, structured living, and everything else Monkish. “Yes!!!” You think, “I’m godly in feeling this way! Maybe my cleanliness is not just next to godliness, but is righteousness itself!” The question is, is your orderliness and God’s the same?
Take a second look around the world and you start wondering if maybe God’s definition of order is unique. Amid the order, I find things that fit more readily under the category of “disorder” in my book. The sea is teeming with wildlife, swimming in disorderly fashion in a beautiful chaos. The earth is overrun with an abundance of plant types climbing all over each other. Fur is very furry and dirt is dirty--was there a need? Dog drool and slug slime: need I continue?
First Corinthians 14:33 says that “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace”. If you read the surrounding verses, you find out that this means only two or three people speaking in tongues with interpretations, and prophets prophesying one at a time and not all at once. I venture to guess that there are some people who would not feel comfortable with this type of “order” in their Sunday morning service.
It’s similar to God’s timeliness:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. 2 Peter 3:8
He’s not slow, we just have to change our definition of fast. This is the same principle I’m working with for with orderliness. Everything is not out-of-control; it’s just not in my definition of “managed”.
Think about this. God actually invented childbirth and said women would be saved through it. If you ask me, He could have imagined a less chaotic and more sterile process. Perhaps, though, women are saved through this humiliating loss of control? I can attest that childbirth can be the most pride-stripping, dignity-losing process of a lifetime. It forces you to need God’s help. Maybe childbirth is a picture of how God wants us to put up with disorder and mess, trusting Him to work amidst out-of-our-control chaos.
Here is my question: Is your need for order unbalanced? Is your control controlling you? The reason I ask is because mine definitely is. (Maybe I should have entitled these “Confessionals” rather than “Chronicles”) Basically I have to look no further than the fruits in my own life to call my NEED for order and perfection a sin.
My pride (we finally worked in the title topic), or the need to be in control of things and not God, is played out in my constant pursuit of perfect prettiness around me. I want to be pretty, have my kids act prettily, have my house clean and pretty, have everything work out in my own pretty timing...you get the pretty picture. In my pursuit of these things, what do I get? Stress, anger, resentment, misplaced priorities, and a tendency to domineer. These are not pretty things. Very unpretty; ask my family. If instead, I am ok to serve Him in some unprettiness, then He will get more of the praise, not me. Order often makes us look good. But our life is not about that, it’s about making Him look good.
I heard a very impactful definition of sin when I was in high school and it has stuck with me. It is from Susanna Wesley, mother of the evangelists John and Charles Wesley, and it is:
Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.
I have to tell you that when I yell at my kids for spilled juice and gripe at my husband for the number of chores to be done, my body has most definitely taken over my mind and it is one of those instances where anger is not justified as righteous. My control (a pseudonym for pride) is controlling my behavior. I have given top priority things that God isn’t, and it is usurping my ability to take on God’s priorities in the moment.
Where do you see control control you? Are you so consumed with cleaning up that you won’t stop to make a little mess playing with your kids, if that’s what they need? Are you so concerned with getting somewhere on time that you do not appreciate the process of getting there, but instead spend it stressed and mean to everyone around you? Or, so we cover everyone’s control issues, maybe you need things done right (eg. your way) and so in your mind teamwork is a term used by the less competent. Your prideful need for control and order and things done “just so” has made you a monster. Did you ever stop and ask God if the things you are so concerned about are a concern to Him?
Here’s the truth: your pride can make you miss the glory He wants to reveal in the middle of messes. It will blind you from the cry of someone in need of a little grace, when you’re too busy straightening the situation. It will stop your ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit in the middle of mayhem. In your search for a tidy life under your control, you will forfeit miracles. He works best and brightest in our chaos. Give Him the chance to.
Our pride will keep us straightening our lives and everyone’s around us until we are driven half-mad. It is a never-ending process to perfect things in an imperfect world. As an alternative, we can release this need to God and let Him do His job of being in charge. He can call the shots and we can do only what is important to Him. If He is saying, walk out that door and take your kids to the park, and your mind is screaming “But dishes in the sink!!!”, WALK OUT THE DOOR. If that schedule is managing you, lay it before the Lord and let Him use a red marker to rewrite it. If you can’t sit and read your Bible because you need to dust the table beside you and then straighten the couch pillows and pick the lint off the carpet and then find yourself somehow degreasing the front of your oven while simultaneously brushing your dog’s teeth (don’t judge; you know what I’m talking about), then PRAY. Seriously, this stuff needs to let go of you for a while. Bring your control to Jesus and let Him have it. It’s so much more fun to take His lead.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29