Sunday, September 6, 2009

Identifying with Martha

I'll be honest: there are many heavy things on my heart lately. Missing time with my son, missing the predictability of life that I enjoyed for so long, feeling sad for all the children who are hurt or killed in the world every day, sad for the people who want children desperately and have none, sad for every person who suffers pain and ill health regularly, sad for everyone who's lost someone they love. I just don't feel sufficiently stable to tackle any of those sullen subjects right now. I might not be ready for a long time. So, I'm selecting a more simple subject.

Since I started working—nay, since my husband has been home more—I've had an increasingly hard time keeping up with the house. This is partly because it's a tiny house, which in theory should make the task easier but instead makes it even more difficult. It's also partly because three people make more mess than two. And when that third person has an entirely different set of cleanliness standards, the result will almost certainly be a swift shift in the home's state of repair. Add to that truth the fact that I'm now gone for hours and hours several days each week, and the other two family members are home unsupervised... I'm sure you can guess that the condition of the house is becoming noticeably askew.

I'm trying to let my standards drop a bit. Again. I've been doing that since I got married. The standards dipped more steeply when a baby turned toddler turned preschooler joined us. But now? All of us at home? Or, worse yet, them home without me? I'm losing the war, people. Losing it. As a result, I'm losing more than the war; I'm losing my sanity a bit. Because I suspect that, if tested, I'd qualify for a whole lot of lovely alphabetical letters that label me a certain restless, frenetic type who loves to busy herself with tidying tasks—but these days, my tidying is for naught. I just can't keep up. And not only does no one else care as much as is do, they really, truly do not even notice the horror. It fazes them not one bit.

I start to become a tad bitter. Now, realistically, I can't expect a 4-year-old to notice this sort of thing (although thankfully, he does notice sometimes. There is hope.) So, really, I'm mostly amazed at my husband's ability to tune out. Why doesn't he notice? How can he not see? Can't he smell the cat litter? (Yes, but only if he's very close to it. Women have more delicate olfactory senses.) Can't he feel his feet sticking to the kitchen floor? (No.) Does he not see the color of the toilet bowl? (Apparently not.) How can he not be aware that the sink is stacked full of dishes, which could be loaded into the dishwasher if someone were kind enough to relieve it of all the clean dishes therein? (They're clean?!)

And I don't like the fact that we neatniks are labeled nags if we speak up and draw attention to the dilapidation surrounding us. I've tried to explain to my husband that I literally am physically uneasy when surrounded by stacks of stuff. Clutter makes me feel short of breath. My explanation falls on deaf ears. "It doesn't matter." I've been told that so many times, by so many people. Or, worse yet, "It'll just get messed up again. What's the point?"

Then I think of Mary and Martha in the Bible. You're probably familiar with the story: Mary and Martha, sisters, hanging out with Jesus at Martha's house. Mary is sitting, absorbing every word He speaks, and Martha is puttering about readying the house, perhaps working on the meal, simply trying to make things nice. Because it's Jesus in her house, which is sort of a bit deal. (The scene is described in Luke 10, and again in the book of John.) I'm sure there were many preparations to be made—it seems like every home that hosted Jesus was overrun with guests, unexpected visitors, etc., so I'm sure there was much to do.

And yet, there sits Mary. Not helping. Not setting the table. Not slicing fruit or checking the wine and oil supplies. And I have to confess, people, that most of the time I feel a lot more like Martha. I wonder why people aren't noticing the need for hands. I mean, this is Jesus! It's a huge deal to host Jesus! HUGE! There's Mary, like a lump. An honoring, adoring, worshipful lump, but still... Yet when Martha tries to engage Jesus and get some sympathy, she hits a brick wall; Jesus sides with Mary and makes it clear she is in the right. I'll bet that hurt. Martha wanted everything to be perfect and wonderful for Jesus, and He brushed it off. He made it clear that He was the more important matter, not the preparations. Not the meal. Not the condition of the house.

And that is true. Very true. I know it's true.

At the same time, God created me to be a freak about tidiness. He created Martha to be concerned and busy and wanting everything to be just right. He created us, and He also created lazy—I mean, worshipful Mary.

So, where do I draw the line? Where do I let things slide and not worry? Do I wait until the house is so messy that I'm feeling my psychologically induced lung capacity reduction? Do I go acquire some kind of medication that allows me to never be short of breath but also changes me into someone else just so I don't annoy others with my obsessive tidiness? When does one acknowledge one's weirdness, and when does one call it a problem?

I'll keep working on not worrying about the tidiness of the house, because honestly, if even Jesus didn't care about the state of the the place, then I know I don't need to worry about impressing anyone. It truly does not matter to the Creator; therefore, it does not matter. But what if I'm the one to hate it? What if it makes me really unhappy? What is that worth? Should I change who I am, even if I'm not being that way to impress others? Should I call it an issue and try to be different, or should I embrace my inner neatnik and acknowledge, instead, her usefulness and purpose in a cluttered world of too much crap?

This is, obviously, not my biggest concern in the world this evening. Yet it is a concern.


Anonymous said...

INteresting. At the same time you dont like being labelled a nag, I dont like being labelled a lazy slob just b/c I dont putter constantly. (not that you have said anything). lol

Martha seems disrespectful tidying the house while Jesus is there...

chris h. said...

This post sure spoke to me. I wrestle with this issue all the time (can't he SEE the place is a wreck?) Even when I let things slide into disarray myself, I eventually reach a point where myself screams ENOUGH! and I have to "redd up" and clean and clean and clean (and seethe that I'm doing it alone). As for Martha and Mary -- oh my. I can't imagine if JESUS popped in for a visit -- I get embarrassed when the meter man sees "how we live" as he treks down to the cellar. Oh I could go on and on...we are birds of a feather on this issue, Mel.

Facie :-) said...

I tried to be neat at various times in my life, and each time I just revert to my old self. But since I have been unemployed, I do tend to dust at least every other week (from several times a year, believe it or not), so I have made some progress!

It is funny how we have our things. Brian hates it when I take the smelly dishrag out of the sink and do not replace it with another. Mind you, the clean dishrags are underneath the butcher block and can be reached while standing at the sink. I don't replace it b/c I think it is silly that he can't just reach for it, but also b/c he tends not to notice when the rag has fallen into the sink, gotten wet, and has then started to smell.

I guess you just have to strike a balance. It is more important to spend time with your family, get along with them, etc. But I know you won't be able to abandon your high cleanliness standards, and you should not have to.

Mel said...

anon. you're right, I haven't said anything. : ) I guess it is a dis to tidy while a guest is there. I try not to do that. sometimes I forget. Chris, glad to hear I'm not alone on this. and Facie, you are so right about striking a balance... how is that done again? ; P

AND wouldn't you know it, the day I posted this, the guy I was cranky about rose to the occasion and did all sorts of household stuff. then I was riddled with guilt. ugh.