How cleaning the porch helps me love more

I swept the porch this week.

I know: stop the presses. Alert the local media. Breaking news, right here.

But my son wanted to play outside and I was tired of the clutter and feeling like I was just sitting around recovering from stressful days or waiting for stressful days to happen, so I took charge of the day and my attitude and decided it was past time to clean.

For a few months, our porch has been accumulating the toys we want to give away. Getting them out of the house was a first step. But they couldn’t live on the porch forever. So, I moved them to the yard, took some pictures, posted to Facebook and hoped I’d have a some takers before needing to haul the treasures to a thrift store.

In the meantime, I moved everything on the porch away from the house and I took a broom to the dirt that had also piled up. And I swept away the grime. I rearranged the furniture. I rounded up the toys we were keeping and tried to contain them in a bin. I trashed the garbage and set a boundary: no more stick piles on the porch.

As I cleaned, our son reminded me of the springtime cleaning we did, wiping the grit off the windows so we could throw them open and feel the breeze after a stuffy winter.

These are not earth-shattering activities by any means, but they represent a shift in my thinking.

See, we don’t own this home. We’re just renting it. And even though my continues to wander to the houses for sale in our neighborhood, my husband reminds me that we need to settle in to this house. For real. We’ve been here a year and we still have piles of things that need to be trashed or sorted or dealt with. Stuff that has followed us through three moves in two states and seven years of marriage.

And though we’ve never owned a home, this space is the first one we’ve wanted to take care of like it is ours. I’ve told you how my husband likes to take care of the yard. He doesn’t have to. We don’t have to. But we want to. (And if we live here long enough, I might actually get around to planting flowers or gardening.)

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled to be content lately. Even with the summer of fun behind us and a fulfilling first year in our new community, I am still floundering a bit, wondering what’s next, what we’re doing here, and if it’s ever going to change.

In those times, it’s easy to find fault. With our community. With our house. With my family. With me.

So that sweeping of the porch, it became a sort of holy moment. As the dirt swirled at my feet and floated off the porch, it was like my mind was clearing out the cobwebs, too.

Anne Lamott said this and when I read it this week, I knew exactly what she meant:

“My only hope was to plug into something bigger than my pulsing mind, to flail around outside rather than within me. God can’t clean the house of you when you’re still in it.” (Grace, Eventually, 235)

The more I cared for the physical space we occupied, the more I cared about it.

When I keep it clean and tidy, when I seek to improve our living space, leaving it better than we found it, something happens in my heart and I love it more. The faults are less and I am more at peace with the way things are.

And just as my love for our home increases with care, so does my love for people.

It is easy to find fault with people when I am not caring for them. It is easy to convince myself they are not worth my time, that I can find other people better suited to my life.

BUT.

When I care for and love and serve these same people, I find I love them more. (I think our pastor said something similar to this in his sermon last week. I’ll have to re-listen. I was a little preoccupied.)

I could choose to not care about our house because we’re just renting it. But isn’t everything in life temporary? Aren’t we technically just leasing our lives, our relationships, our talents and gifts and time from the God who gave them to us?

If my throwaway attitude transferred to all of those areas, then I’d be wholly unsatisfied with my life all the time.

When I care for my relationships, I care more about the people in my life, even when they aren’t perfect.

When I’m purposeful with my time, I spend it better.

When I exercise my talents and gifts, when I cultivate them and use them in ways that serve others, I’m more satisfied with my place in the world and less concerned with the gifts other people have that I don’t.

All I did was sweep the porch.

But it was so much more than that.

I cleaned out my heart, too.

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