I am the father of three children four and under. It is always startling to me, though it shouldn’t be at this stage, how quickly things can spin out of control. A perfectly clean house that took a great deal of effort to tidy up can nearly instantly be destroyed by our children with hardly any effort at all.
Cheerios crunch under my feet as I gaze in stupefied awe at the explosion of food under our one-year old’s high chair. Pieces of Mr. Potato Head are unearthed in my sock drawer. Beds that were neatly made a moment ago are suddenly a tangled mess of blankets and sheets in no time at all. I could go on and on.
It is as if a tornado sweeps through our home on a daily basis. It is the law of entropy experienced in all its brutal and chaotic reality.
Yet, my wife and I both tend to crave order and neatness. We’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to just ignore it and let go. Maybe someday we’ll succeed. But for now we can’t. Each day, the house is nearly destroyed, and each day we begin again the futile task of picking up, wiping down, vacuuming, sweeping, emptying, and organizing. It is a process that will never end—at least, as long as we have children in the house.
Cleaning Your Spiritual House
We are in the midst of the season of Lent, and recently, it struck me how similar our spiritual struggle is to keeping an orderly house. Often, we compare the spiritual life to heroic things like warfare and wrestling and endurance racing. But maybe taking out the trash is a more down to earth comparison.
At any rate, I’ve noticed that, just as a clean house quickly descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, so also our souls need constant care and upkeep. We must always be beginning to put them in order again.
We must do this because there is a spiritual law of entropy called sin. We are constantly being pulled away from God by our sinful passions. They literally make war against us, and left unchecked, hinder our journey to our Creator. Our sinful nature—what scripture refers to as the flesh or the old man— acts like gravity that keeps us from ascending to our Father. St. Paul once described sin as a “weight,” and it is an apt metaphor.
Because of our brokenness, there is no such thing as a holding pattern in the spiritual life. The minute you cease advancing, you begin to lose ground. The moment you relax your guard, you will fall back. This side of heaven, we will never truly be free of this reality.
There are days when our children have made such a mess of things that cleaning up seems a hopeless task. My wife and I look at each other and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, we begin again.
Likewise, in the spiritual life, there are moments when we feel hopeless. Like all our struggling is in vain. We are tempted to give up, thrown in the towel, and take the easy road. But the end of this way is death.
In this life, holiness is found in beginning again and again. It is constant examination and conversion and regeneration of heart. Holiness if found in repentance. And repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned. It is rather a re-turning to God—a thousand times a day if necessary.
If we desire a clean house, we can never stop cleaning. If we desire a pure heart, we must never cease the struggle of conversion and repentance. This is the Christian life. Begin again.