Monday, June 28, 2010

Vacuum Glory

So many thoughts flutter through my mind while I vacuum. Mental lists of all kinds are constructed - grocery lists, to-do lists, meal plans. Invariably these give way to deeper thoughts, convictions, confessions, prayers. Is this true for you too? It's one reason - other than the glaring one: it's expensive - that I don't have a housecleaning service. What is it about my Eureka SmartVac that is so therapeutic? Call that a rhetorical question because it is. For once, I know the answer.

Some of my deepest thoughts arise during that mundane household chore because you can't hear your children when the vacuum is blaring. Most often, my children run for cover. Quite possibly, this is because our vacuum accidentally sucked up a Zoob and has been screaming ever since. Although I don't like to see my children scamper away from me, neither do I turn the torturous sound off. Instead, as many modern folk are saying, I embrace it. And let a week's worth of household dust and brain cells work together.

Today was no exception. As I let the vacuum scream for a while, I pondered glory, specifically Glory with a capital "G." The only Glory that is worth anything. Those of us who claim the Owner of all Glory as our Savior realize the incredible responsibility to point to Him in all things.

Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:16, NKJ)

As many mothers - no, humans - are bound to do in the midst of difficult, painful, or just mundane moments, I started to wonder if what I was doing really brings Glory to God. I know that Paul said I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, even good works like vacuuming that God has prepared beforehand so that I would walk in them (Eph. 2:10). But here's the age-old question, the one I've heard most of my life, the measure by which we know if something is good or bad, moral or immoral.

Does it bring Glory to God?

But that question drives me nuts!!! In essence, it is an accurate question to ask at times, but it seems so floaty, so out-of-my-grasp. No more do I know if wiping snotty noses brings glory to God than I know quantum physics. More particularly, the questions it immediately generates drive me nuts. They go something like this:

  • Do I put mascara on in the morning because I want to bring God glory?And does it?
  • Do I cook dinner because I want to bring glory to God? And does it bring glory?
  • Am I checking email to bring more glory to God?
  • The purple shirt or the black shirt? Hmm...which one will bring more glory to God?
  • Do I eat organic apples or non-organic apples?
  • Do I take the vitamins or not?
  • Can my kids take gymnastics? Play soccer?
And the list goes on and on and on. For years, I tried to decipher which decisions in my day would bring Glory to God.

One small note before we move any further: I'm a type A personality. I may or may not need medication for this obsessive/compulsive behavior. I understand that most Christians do not agonize over every detail of their lives, wondering if they do or do not bring glory to God when they choose Cheerios instead of Rice Krispies.

But in the past few years, particularly as I have entered the Rest I was always destined to savor, I have stopped this line of questioning. Let's just be perfectly honest here: I don't put mascara on in the morning to bring more glory to God, I just like to wear mascara! I don't change diapers because I want to bring more glory to God, I change them because they're foul if I don't (and there might be a marble to locate). I choose my clothes, my wallpaper, the route I drove to Grandma's house because I just chose them. There was nothing deep or spiritual about it.

Some other things, of course, do have a more deliberate motivation. Whether I will respect my husband's leading in an area, if I will read His life-giving Word (John 5:24), if I choose to enter a conversation rife with gossip or not, areas where we have specific Biblical mandates...these things do seem to filter easily through the question, does this bring Glory to God?

But what about those mundane everyday events? Like vacuuming. Do I really choose to vacuum or not, because I want to bring Glory to God? My reasons are many (as in dirt, dust, and crumbs), but I certainly don't vacuum so that someone walks in my house and exclaims, "THIS house just points to God. I don't even remember who lives here! All I can think about is God!" This is how I used to think about it. Crazy, I know.

Even still, I hear that phrase thrown around. Not too long ago, I asked a few Christians where the limit is in what we do to 'beautify" ourselves on the outside. Make-up? Crest White Strips? Getting your hair professionally done? A rigorous exercise program? Plastic surgery? Where do we draw the line? The predominant answer I received was, "As long as you are doing it so that God gets the glory, it's okay."

But if that's the answer, then I am a total, exasperated failure.

Flog me now because never, not once, have I gone to get my hair highlighted and determined that I was doing this so that God would receive more glory. I just did it because I'm a created being who was made for beauty, and at that moment, beauty meant I wanted a new hairstyle.

So, in a soon-to-be-vacuumed nutshell, if an issue is not clearly laid out in God's Word, or if we have not been specifically called to something, how do we know that our everyday decisions are indeed honoring to God?

Instead of asking that question - Does this bring Glory to God? - I have found real freedom in asking the converse; namely, does this take away from God's glory? Do my actions or words or thinking bring dishonor to God?

Personally, this has helped me immensely when trying to discern my own motivation for things.

Forgive my long-winded post, but if you can bear it, here are some really specific scenarios:
  • I cleaned my van this evening because it was doggone disgusting. I'm pretty sure it didn't have to do with bringing God glory, but I'm also pretty sure I didn't bring dishonor to God. I wasn't cleaning the van so others would see it and think I was a really good mom, or so I could inflate with self-exalting satisfaction. There were no Swagger Wagon solos running through my head, if you know what I mean. Therefore, trusting that it isn't a sin issue, I'm delighted to rest in the fact that He was glorified in the mundane tasks of my day.
  • Conversely, this Monday, we had a doctor's appointment early in the morning. All three kids were in the car and we were going to be on time. But instead of following my children to the car, I took a few minutes to make my bed and do a last-minute pick-up. These would have been innocent things, in and of themselves, but my motivation was flawed. I was cleaning because I wanted to feel in control, to return from our appointment to order, and to leave thinking I was "all that." I know this seems really silly in the grand scheme of things, but I was three minutes late to the doctor's appointment. And in essence, we stole that time from the doctor. So that I would look good. I know in my own heart that I was dishonoring God.
  • It seems that any time I go out in public in workout clothes and no makeup, I run into beautiful people, usually old high school friends who haven't aged since Senior Prom. Suddenly, I can feel my old insecurities creeping into my thoughts and even words. To satisfy these insecurities, I usually compare myself to that person. What a terrible trap! One of two things usually occurs: 1) I come out on top and steal God's glory when I fill with empty but enticing self-satisfaction; or 2) I come out the loser and feel self-conscious and envious. At the very least, I want to be more like them, not God. They have received my praise (perhaps unbeknownst to them). Either route steals God's glory. There is a third option though. If I simply let Jesus be my strength (1 Peter 4:11), if I let His character and perfect acceptance of me melt away the old insecurities (Colossians 2:10, Phil. 4:19), the conversation will be directed in whatever way He wants it to go. That doesn't necessarily mean I will get a chance to talk openly about Christ, but He who is in me will shine (Eph. 5:8, John 15:5). I'm not always sure if God receives the glory in a conversation, but I'm pretty sure when He has not, at least from my end of things. That's just one of the many benefits of an indwelling Holy Spirit to convict when needed, to empower when allowed to do so.
The really cool part is this: if we are not stealing God's glory by making something, big or small, about ourselves, then I believe we are indeed bringing Him Glory-with-a-capital-G in each and every moment of surrender. If I wrestle a wet swimsuit back onto a two-year old for the fifth time in one hour (of course, the hour before dinner), and I choose to let Jesus meet my needs for meaning and depth in that otherwise "shallow" moment (instead of sighing dramatically and thinking how impossible wet swimsuits are and how I'd much rather be making a tasty meal so that I look good when hubby gets home - Oh yes, that's the depth of fleshly depravity, Sisters!), then God gets the glory. How do I know? Because the moment wasn't all about me. And there was supernatural fruit, wherein I chose to live His righteousness because I needed nothing else, had nothing to prove. This always brings Glory to God (Phil. 1:9, John 15:5).

Note here: I do not boast in myself, I hope you see the distinction here. In fact, that's what this whole long-winded post is all about. As Paul explains to the Corinthians, apart from Christ, we are no different from any other human being (1 Cor. 4:7). Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Cor. 3:5). With Christ who is our strength, we are so much more than sinners.* And from that new BEING found in Him - what I like to call, "tucked into Him" (Col. 3:3) - flows a DOING that is supernatural.*

I'm so thankful that we all get the chance to offer God the praise He is due today. Not by self-effort or really, self-anything, but by a conscious choice to receive and display His life in and through us.

On a chalkboard today in our home: "for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen."

Whether we are vacuuming or adopting, pushing a child on the swings or pushing on a chest to revive, may we remember this today.

And look forward to a future day when we will share in His glory...forever (Col. 3:4).

Resting in Him,

*I understand that this line of thinking is very controversial in Christian circles. Personally, I have been challenged many times when I say, "we are not 'just sinners!'" I do not thrive on being controversial; in fact, I find it very uncomfortable. But I do thrive on Christ, specifically Him living His life in and through me, by His strength, and I'm therefore inclined to tell you - my safe little nest of readers - all about it. This is not some new, unique idea that I just happened to stumble upon while vacuuming. It is old. Ask the Apostle Paul. Or more recently, Hudson Taylor wrote about it 140 years ago, admitting it was new to him too, but not new at all:

Abiding, not striving nor struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power... resting in the love of an almighty Savior, in the joy of a complete salvation, "from all sin" -- this is not new, and yet 'tis new to me... Christ literally all seems to me, now, the power, the only power for service, the only ground for unchanging joy... [Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor]

On Taylor's tombstone are the words A Man in Christ. That, I believe, is all we are. But that is so much!

If you find this concept foreign or irreconcilable with the doctrine you study, might I gently encourage you to study for yourself, specifically Paul's letters in the New Testament? Or write me with your thoughts. You won't be the first person to disagree with me, so as long as you are civil (and maybe even if you're not!), I'll do my best to not be defensive, but to offer my oft-vacuum-cleaning-&-hopefully-Spirit-Driven thoughts on the topic.


Anonymous said...

"I just did it because I'm a created being who was made for beauty"
I love this concept. That is why I plant flowers and fuss with the house and why my girls are drawn to all that sparkles and ruffles. What a healthy way to teach the difference between beauty and vanity.

All that other glory stuff was good too.

And I've been in your tiny swagger van,and you have no idea what messy looks like. Come on over on Saturday night when the man returns with the big van that was full of 15 jr highers on their way home from a week at camp. K

Alicia Eastvold said...

I think you're on to something here, sis. I like your wrestlings. We talk a lot in our church about motives for doing things, and I think that's what you're after. It's what the Pharisees and so many others missed- that you could do the right thing (observe the Sabbath, give sacrifices to God) for all the wrong reasons. Many don't want to look at reasons, just actions. It's neat to see what you're finding!

Karen said...

Thanks Sis and K, for the encouragement. Glad to hear this resonated a bit with you. Kenneth Boa says that spiritual formation must come from the inside out, not the outside in. I'm so thankful for that...and yet, it's so much harder to judge myself or other!!! :)

Thanks for your words,

Anonymous said...

I can testify to the fact that when the work is happening on the inside the outside can look awfully out of sorts (it's clean out the closets week). Maybe when our lives look especially messy on the outside we should be encouraged that good, important God stuff is happening on the inside. K