Every spring I can’t resist magazines that tout the best ways to get your home fresh and clean. I can’t wait to see what my favorite home care guru Martha (and her staff) puts in her well-organized and labeled cleaning bucket. Her recommendations for getting the winter goo off my windows, and actually getting the layer of dirt off, bring joy to my heart.
This year, it’s clear that my apartment isn’t the only thing that took on an extra layer of gunk during the dark winter months.
After a grueling winter that included ice storms, snowstorms, graduate school and job searches, and the ensuing life storms of relocating to a new city and state, my attitudes, my heart, really my soul has an extra layer of dust and dirt. My soul needs a good spring cleaning too.
So for giving your heart and soul a good scrubbing, here are surefire things that I keep in my soul cleaning bucket. Of course, every life needs different things in different amounts, yet these basics are proven to give a little sparkle to our life in the Lord!
Daily Scrub a Dub
To keep a house tidy, every day it helps to wipe off the kitchen table, wash dishes, and take out the trash. None of these things take a long time, but they combine to make a difference in the look and smell of a house. There are similar small things we can do for our spirits that really add up in the daily upkeep of the soul.
No matter how many times you’ve heard it, it really helps to pray, whether it’s thirty seconds of giving thanks for Cheerios in the morning, asking God to comfort a friend who’s feeling down, or a “Now I lay me” before bed. Giving thanks, asking for God’s help in making a decision, and asking God to bless people invite God deeper into our lives and our hearts. Like an air freshener, prayer asks God to perfume the minutes of our days with the Holy Spirit.
Reading Scripture daily is another way to clean up and freshen our hearts and minds. Scripture is the best way to get to know Jesus. It’s a daily discipline, just like taking out the trash. I recommend reading a few verses of one of the Gospels, like Luke, every day. Right now, I read a few verses of Romans every night, and am astounded by how the Apostle Paul’s struggles to love God and be a part of Christian community echo my life.
Daily upkeep of a healthy spiritual life is not very glamorous. It doesn’t have the emotional high that occasional retreats or a really fantastic church service might have. But daily practicing of our faith does, like daily tidying in a house, make our hearts a habitable place for God to meet us.
Cleaning out Stuff and the Calendar:
One of the benefits of our recent move was that we took stock of what’s worthwhile to keep and what we can do without. In other words, what’s worth dusting for the next few years and what is just taking up space? It’s worthwhile for a soul’s spring cleaning to do an inventory both of our actual stuff, and the stuff that fills up our calendar.
The way we order our homes and calendars shows our priorities. At times, we can become too self or even family focused, losing sight of God’s role in our lives. We can also lose sight of our obligation to care for people who have less. A spring cleaning for the heart extends into the home by asking these questions: Are there physical things in your apartment or home that you rarely or don’t use at all, but that someone else might need? What would it be like to resist the urge to buy another pair of flip-flops this spring, and instead donate the money to a local shelter or Lutheran World Relief? Do I fill my closets with things instead of talking to God about what I really need?
As for the calendar, it shows how we use one of our most precious resources, our time. Take a good look at your calendar. Is happy hour every Thursday with work friends time well spent, or does it usually devolve into negativity and ranting? Is someone, other than your mom, encouraging you to worship regularly? How are you living a life of faith and integrity in every area, from what you buy at the grocery store to relationships?
In John 10:10, Jesus talks about things and people in our lives that distract us from living full and rich lives. Jesus offers a better ways, saying, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Small decisions, from how we fill up our physical space in the world to how we fill up our weekend go a long way to shaping abundant lives.
In our new apartment, we made a conscious effort to include reminders of our faith and commitment to care for people around the world in nearly every room. The small cross from Germany hanging in our eating area reminds me to give thanks for the food on the table, to treat my sweetie with grace and kindness when he’s late to dinner, and as a reminder of the millions of people around the world who may not have enough food. This small sign of the resurrection helps me live a better and more abundant life.
Grace: Apply Liberally
No matter the time of day or year, all of us need help. A layer of sinful gunk is unfortunately part of who I am and part of who you are too. We are always both saints and a sinners. Every day I am God’s beloved one while simultaneously resisting God’s love at every turn. But there are definitely times when I wallow in my layer of dirt and want nothing to do with a clean heart. Bad attitudes, worry over change, and general fatigue cover the joy and thankfulness that are actually part of me. And with this layer of should haves, creeping guilt, and shouldn’t have said thats, it’s much harder to feel like God’s beloved.
Luckily God gives us grace upon grace in Jesus. Of all of the things to clean our soul, Jesus is source of them all. We can’t make our lives spotless and perfect, but Jesus does promise to forgive us and love us through it all.
We need reminders of grace. A big reason church is part of my weekends is because I need to hear words of grace. Every week Jesus’ love for me and this world is proclaimed in a dozen different ways during the church service. We are reminded that Jesus forgives our sins every day, and that we can thankfully start anew. The scripture readings and songs proclaim God’s love for us and God’s commitment to our fallen world. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for God’s continual presence and guidance in living a holy life. And in communion, we receive the body and the blood of Christ that reminds us with all of our senses that we are forgiven and loved by Jesus. During this time of the week, grace is flowing and we’re sent out to continue sharing this grace.
Spring cleaning for the soul is not as neat and tidy as an organized bucket of cleaning supplies and a list of the “Top Ten Ways to Clean out the Drawers of Your Refrigerator.” All year long we’re in the process of allowing God a place in our hearts and our days. But like a good spring cleaning, this is the perfect time of year to give our spiritual lives a little more tender loving care.