The only time my hands really get dirty at home is when I willingly garden on the 4’x6’ foot patio of my fourth floor apartment in Nashville. Once the weeds are gone and all the succulents and catci are comfortable in their new pots, it’s time to clean up. I’ll sweep the deck, finish my watering and then take my hands to the sink. As I scrub my hands under the cold water, the water runs brown- a sure sign that my hands got dirty, that good work was finished today. It’s a rewarding feeling, to scrub your hands and clean under your nails, restoring your hands from their soiled state to fresh, clean, new life again. This is how most days are here in Honduras.
Everything is covered in a thin layer of dust at the very least, so wiping something down with a damp rag can instantly change its color. Taking water and soap to our store completely transformed the experience of our clients- a new fresh scent, shining products, restored. Our staff cleans the trucks each night, to take the dust out from the inside floorboards and wash the mud from the tread on the tires. And part of me has to laugh, because I know that tomorrow night, they’ll have to do the same thing.
I’ve always leaned on the side of clean-freak, so this has been a good challenge for me. In my first weeks, I swept my floor every night before my shower, and I couldn’t dare to leave my cabin once I had showered for fear of getting dirty before crawling into bed. I wore close-toed shoes to keep the dirty from getting on my feet. But eventually I had to give in; no matter how hard I tried to keep the dirt out, the next morning, there would be dust on the floor again that needed sweeping. And how much time would I lose by obsessing over the cleanliness of my space which is worlds better than many of the homes people live in here?
I started realizing this as I was organizing the leather workshop at the vocational school. It’s one of those projects that’s always been on the list to accomplish, but never managed to make it to the number one spot. A long time coming, things have built up and it is dirty. It’s one of those situations where you look around and ask yourself how things even got this way (I know we’ve all felt like this before).
As I’m working on the closet, I can hear my mom’s voice ringing in my head saying, “don’t touch your face with those dirty hands!” But I need to wipe the sweat from my brow and I need to pile my hair up on top of my head to keep it from sticking to my face. So I take my hands over to this wash bin. It is hard to describe without seeing it firsthand; it’s a big tub of water that’s somewhat clean, but not really clean enough to drink. There’s not soap, but its good enough to rinse most of the dirt, leaving the rest for later when there is running water. And I realize I am notorious for this with my heart. I take it upon myself to do my cleaning, the confession, the fixing, and it ends up halfway done, good enough for now but nowhere near good enough to actually be good. Not what I was made for.
Isn’t this true of us all? We all have dirt in the cracks and crevices of our hearts, but we so badly want it clean- or to at least appear clean to others. We can’t dare to be vulnerable when we are fixated on how other perceive us. So we are continually under maintenance. Rather than embracing our dirty hands, our broken state of being, we are trying our best to keep things looking pulled together from the outside. And this self-righteousness cuts us off from all ties to glory. It tries to pick up the cross and walk rather than accept the gift of grace Jesus already completed for us when HE picked up the cross and walked. No matter how many showers you take, or how many times you sweep the floor, whether or not you use soap and water- you cannot make yourself clean enough by your own works before The Lord.
And you don’t have to.
As I start to pull out the items gathering dust and dirty from the shelves of the closet, I’m uncovering more and more dirt. It’s discouraging and uncomfortable, and you want to stop- cause cleaning two shelves of the closet is good enough for now. But no, God wants all of it. If we withhold from Him, we are only cheating ourselves. The parts that we bury will only surface later in a new form, they’ll keep squelching out your progress until they reach the surface. Your heart, the entire heart good and bad, needs addressing. God wants you to bring every crack and crevice before Him so He can restore it, cleaning it with the blood of Jesus and breathing into it new life, that it could be made clean. He doesn’t want us to hold anything back from Him. There is no such thing as too much, there is no limit to His grace. And this is far more than we could do on our own.
So yes, it’s a little comical that we have to clean continually here, washing the trucks each night, sweeping the floors with frequency. But it is the picture of Your God who does that same. Your God who joins us little plants in our dirt to weed us, to re-pot us, to help us grow, without fear of soiling His hands. He is the source of our clean water.
See, we cannot stay clean on our own, with our faults we return to our Lord at the end of the day for restoration. And His mercies are new every morning. Without hesitation or resentment, He cleans us. And He doesn’t keep track of how many times He has had to do so. Embrace your dirty hands, and bring them to the spring of life, your Living Water for restoration, and watch the water run brown as you become new.