“My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness. Let Your hand become my help, for I have chosen Your precepts. I long for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight.” Psalm 119:172-174
Three weeks ago my husband gave me an incredibly generous gift which not only resulted in great joy, but also in some guilt: he arranged for a company to come in and give our house a “spring cleaning.” You might be wondering what I am feeling so guilty about. Up until I returned to work five years ago, I did my own “spring cleaning.” My daughter helped out with the regular cleaning until she left for college almost four years ago. At first, I was able to keep up pretty will, but of late my house has become woefully neglected as I have found increasing demands on my time.
Now, I can stand a bit of clutter around my house (up to a point–ask my husband and daughter what happens after we cross that invisible ”clutter line” and the clutter becomes unbearable to me), but I really struggle with a house that is “dirty.” Before I returned to work, I liked to clean and vacuum about twice a week. After returning to work, there were many times when two weeks would go by between cleanings. I hated it. As everyone knows, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” and I wasn’t nearly “godly” enough.
The two women who came to give our house this major “clean-up” worked tirelessly for six straight hours. They scrubbed, dusted, and mopped all of those things which I hadn’t had the time to do, such as window blinds, baseboards, floors, and ceiling fans. I took off from work a bit early that day so that I could let them into the house. And then I sat and had to watch them clean up my mess–the mess I should have been cleaning up all along. The more they cleaned, the more guilty I felt for letting my house get to the state it was in.
Now, I know intellectually that there are only so many hours in a day. Working full-time, taking on what has become essentially two part-time jobs, and an increase in social commitments, has left me little time to take care of my house, something that really concerned me–I like a clean house. My husband, knowing how much this has bothered me, made an effort to help me by arranging for this major cleaning.
Last week, I had a conversation with my father about my husband’s thoughtful gift. My father has had some health challenges of late, and has been having to accept more help himself. We began talking about how difficult it is to accept help from others even when you know you need it.
Coming from a Scandinavian and Germanic heritage, I have been blessed with good health and a strong work ethic. Self-reliance is a highly praised character trait in my family. There is a good reason why my female ancestors did well settling the prairies of North Dakota. They were strong, capable women.
I am sure that you can see the huge flaw in my character here. Always the helper (nurses and mothers are like that) and not so often the helped, makes for a bit of pride in the final ”hurrah.” The point where you have to admit to yourself and to others that you can’t do it all on your own, proves to be a humbling experience. And it tweaks at the remnants of a perfectionistic nature which I have been working hard to annihilate (see “Practically Perfect In Every Way“).
As I get older, I understand that there are certain things I will not be able to undertake as easily as I did when I was younger. Arranging and re-arranging the furniture (as I did in our twenty-eight cross-country moves) is not as easy as it once was. I now have to ask for help more often than I used to.
I never understood when I was younger that when I don’t allow others to help me, I am cheating them out of a blessing. Because I am too busy being pridefully “self-reliant,” they aren’t able to gain a blessing for their gift of time and help.
Like many in my generation, my parents taught me to do what I could before asking for help. There is much wisdom in that. I learned to solve my own problems and not look to others to do for me what I should have been doing for myself. Unfortunately, we don’t see as much of that these days. Many are quite satisfied to let others solve their problems and take care of them. A sense of entitlement seems to be quite prevalent in our country. As a pastor we like often says:
“You can not be gracious to someone who thinks they deserve it.”
So for me, the challenge now becomes how to gratefully accept this help that has been so graciously given, without the guilt. As I praise God for sending this blessing my way, I hopefully will navigate the shark-infested waters of pride that could lead to where I might think I actually ”deserve” it. I know how ugly pride is. Pride worms its way into your thinking before you know it. Soon you lose a heart of gratitude and believe you are “owed” this luxury–because you are just so darn important.
I want to thank my husband for the loving care he shows me every day and for the generous gift of a “spring cleaning” that has removed the visual reminder of my failure.
I want to thank the two women who worked so hard to restore my house to the state of “clean” and who now come once a week to keep it that way.
Lastly, I want to thank God for sending me help when I needed it. I have been blessed far more than you will ever know.
“Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine. In the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.” Psalm 128:1-3
Copyright © 2012 by Susan E. Johnson
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