“According to the wisest man who ever lived… messes are not proof of a wasted life, but of a productive one.
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4). According to this explanation, the proverb is about the messiness of a life well-lived. Tremper Longman says the moral is that “a productive life is a messy life.” Longman says, “One desires a neat and tidy life, just as the ideal stall would be clean. However, a clean stall by the nature of things would mean an empty stall since oxen do not have to be in a stall long before it is messy. However, without oxen there is no productivity.”
Derek Kidner says, that “Orderliness can reach the point of sterility. This proverb is [a plea for] the readiness to accept upheaval, and a mess to clear up, as the price of growth.”
I noticed a two-day old, rock hard Eggo waffle on the floor of my kitchen. I didn’t bend over and pick it up. I didn’t grab a broom and sweep it. My first instinct was to kick it under the table, but I knew if I did that, it’d live on the floor even longer than if it stayed in its current spot. So I acknowledged it, took a picture of it, and stepped over it.
That’s what me embracing chaos looks like. Yes, it would’ve been easy to pick up, much like the other millions of little things scattered across the floors of my house. One can only bend over so many times before one simply cannot.
That’s also what me actively practicing acceptance looks like. I’m accepting the mess that comes with managing a household with little kids. I’m going to bed at night being okay with a sink full of dishes, food left out on the table, mountains of laundry covering my couch, hand prints marking my mirrors and windows, and Barbies, baby dolls, and crayons covering every surface. Beds rarely get made, because they get a lot of use. My kids might be unbathed and reusing last night’s pajamas, but their bellies and hearts are full, because we’re too busy having fun.
I fought the chaos for too long. I thought that having a clean house meant that I was a kick ass woman who was doing her job and taking care of her family. At least my house being clean was something I could control when life felt chaotic (which, with little kids, is like 100% of the time). But trying to reach unachievable goals was not only affecting me, but my relationships. I found myself questioning if maintaining order was the best use of my time. It’s relentless, exhausting, unfulfilling, thankless, annoying, frustrating, awful, unending, and at times, ridiculous (why are the dirty clothes right in front of the hamper and not actually in the hamper?). And I realized, my job isn’t to be a housekeeper, maid, or to be perfect, it’s to be a woman who takes care of her family while maintaining her sanity and sense of self. And that in itself is gonna be messy.
Staring at the cemented waffle, I surrendered to orderliness (but not to the germs, those jerks still need to be wiped-out). I don’t want to be remembered as a woman who’s greatest success was keeping her house and family clean: I don’t want a trophy for that, I don’t want people in my life who expect it, and I most certainly don’t want it as my epitaph.
Thanks to an article by Tim Challies, I’m doing a better job rationalizing the constant mess:
I figure for now, I’ll leggo my need for order, and enjoy the growth of what is becoming the most productive life ever. And if I am invited into your messy home (that I probably won’t even notice), I promise to congratulate or comment on your wonderfully productive life.
Thanks for the perspective, little waffle.