Cleaning is one of my least favorite things to do. I love to make messes. I love to create. I love fun. When it comes time to clean up, I tend to feel the heaviness of the world crashing down around me. Too dramatic? Well, even though I have felt that way in the past, I know that my kids can feel the burden of keeping a house clean when there are so many fun things in the world to do. My husband and I recently sat down with our kids to have a conversation that we hoped would be the beginning of reshaping their thinking on cleaning so that it wouldn't feel like such a chore.
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A Cleaning Topic Wheel
It all started with a topic wheel. Have you heard of these? I learned about topic wheels a couple of years ago at a Classical Conversations practicum. The idea is to pick a topic and generate ideas and understanding by seeking out information from various fields of study on that topic. I got some paper, a sharpie, and we set off on a great conversation.
Where do we find "Cleaning" in History?
We started with history. My middle daughter quickly perked up to note that old things are dusty. They've been sitting around the longest, so they get dirty. While this wasn't exactly the type of history I was thinking of, it was a great start to a conversation. I asked them to think through their history memory work to see if they could find anything that had to do with cleaning or cleanliness. They stumbled across the Black Death which spread because of the dirtiness of the streets during that time period which was filled with plague-carrying fleas that were transported by rats around the city. Yuck. The lack of clean conditions was deadly. This quickly brought up other scenarios where cleaning was important for sustaining life, like the frontier women in Little House on the Prairie, the pilgrims on the Mayflower, or the slaves on slave ships. The frontier women knew that they needed to keep a clean house because life in the wilderness was fragile. A simple sickness could turn deadly, or merely keep Pa from working which meant everyone would suffer. Cleaning was pretty vital in history.
Where do we see "Cleaning" in Literature?
The Little House on the Prairie reference made us want to talk about where we saw cleaning in the books we were reading. The girls had recently read Mary Poppins and of course the tidying of the nursery was important because it's hard to function in a messy room. Since my girls had just worked through the process of renovating their own room, which required much cleaning, they could relate to the importance here.
My husband quickly chimed in with a connection to a book he's been reading - The Odyssey. When Odysseus returns home, there is a great deal of cleaning up that needs to be done because of all of the suitors that have come to loiter in his home. This type of cleaning was very similar to the scouring of the Shire in The Return of the King (The third in The Lord of the Rings trilogy).
My son perked up at this twist on cleaning because he's reading Born Again, which is the biography of Charles Colson, an adviser to President Nixon during the time of the Watergate scandal. First there is a cleaning up of corruption within the Presidential administration, but even more importantly, there is a cleansing of Colson's heart as he is overwhelmed by the grace of God after reading Mere Christianity.
It's fun to note that while my husband and son (who is 15) are connecting on these deep ideas of cleansing, my daughter (11) chimes in again with a concrete example of cleaning in another book she's been reading Five Little Peppers Midway - they put on a play, and they have to clean up their mess afterwards.
What do we learn about "Cleaning" from Geography?
The girls related cleaning to the geography of their room...as they worked on cleaning out their room, they noticed that less things make a cleaner room. It was also important to organize things so that they wouldn't have to clean as often.
My husband noted that different parts of the city keep things cleaner. You can go "across the tracks" and find things in different states of clean. I wonder why this is? My youngest perked up on this topic. She noticed that if we were on the beach we would need to pick up the trash. This quickly bumped us to the topic of cleaning in Science.
Where do we see "Cleaning" in Science?
We looked at the food chain. If the beaches stay dirty, the ocean will become contaminated. If the ocean is compromised, then the plant life in the ocean dies, which causes a chain reaction to so many other living things in the ocean. This means it's really important to clean up after ourselves in nature. We don't want to harm the ecosystem.
We also thought of ways that nature cleans up after itself. Termites take care of dead trees, and vultures take care of dead animals. If we didn't have those two creatures working for us, we'd have a pretty messy and stinky world!
Recently, my son has been studying solvents in his Apologia: Physical Science book. We noticed how you need mineral spirits to clean up oil paints, or dish soap to clean up greasy food. Water is a great cleanser through rivers and lakes, but not so much in the Dead Sea.
What can we learn about "Cleaning" from Math?
I was nervous bringing this topic up because I didn't have any ideas that jumped out at me right away.
My son started us off with the idea of cleaning up long equations by adding like terms. I really like cleaning up long equations!
How about putting things in order? That goes with math right?!
Maybe estimating the time it takes to clean a room?
Then my husband said, "If we all work together to clean, the work is divided among us!" So working together actually multiplies our effort to get the work done in a fraction of the time. (I was proud of that one)!
But our laziness can also multiply our struggles, because if everyone continually leaves out their messes, we have a compound mess. By cleaning up little bits along the way, we can keep our big clean-up jobs to a minimum.
Where do we find "Cleaning" in the Bible?
At this point, we had thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, but if our goal was to change our thinking about cleaning, we needed to seek the authority on Truth - God's Word. It didn't take us long to come up with some great observations about cleaning in the Bible.
The flood was a great example of God using a physical cleanser, water, to effect a spiritual cleaning.
Jesus died on the cross to cleanse the world of sin. In order to do this, he had to take our sins upon himself. That is a sacrifice no mere man would ever voluntarily make.
Pilate washed his hands when the people requested Jesus's death. He was symbolically cleansing himself from the guilt of killing an innocent man.
David, guilty of adultery and murder, requested in Psalm 51 to receive the powerful cleansing from God to make his heart clean again. God granted his request.
Sodom and Gomorrah, a biblical town with less than five righteous citizens, was cleansed by fire, and left without a trace of existence.
If someone had leprosy, they had to walk around crying out, "Unclean! Unclean!"
So why do we clean?
The goal of this conversation was to help realign our family's thinking about cleaning with God's truth. We discovered some great thoughts as we searched out an understanding of cleaning through different topics, but our real "light bulb" moment came when we asked why. Why should we keep our house clean? Is it so we can impress the people that come over to visit us? No.
Why did Jesus die on the cross, or wash the feet of his disciples? He did it as a service to those he loved, and ultimately as an act of worship. Our goal in keeping our home clean is to present an honoring gift to those who come, but in honoring our brothers and sisters, we worship.
I don't know if this conversation will really change my kids' attitudes about cleaning. I have already had to have another conversation with my youngest as she made a huge mess in her room as I was writing this! However, I do know that this conversation has planted a sweet seed of contemplation within my own heart. Cleaning is worship. As I resist laundry, dishes, and messes, I know I'm really just struggling with my fleshly inner toddler screaming, "I don't want to!!" It is as I lay these desires down at the feet of my King that I see that God is not separate from cleaning. He is the great Cleaner!
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.