Thursday, October 15, 2015

Messy House Doctrine

The idea that cleanliness of your house is next to godliness has resurfaced in our lives again--this time one of the kids heard it in a church class.

The "doctrine" has morphed. No longer is it, "You cannot feel the Spirit in a messy home."  Now it is, "You can feel the Spirit in a messy home, but it's not as easy."

Nice change. Still not true.

The idea that you can do things that make it harder to understand the Spirit rings true to me. I know if I don't go to church, even if I have a good reason, it's harder for me to get answers to my prayers--they come slower and quieter. I also find it harder to understand (I hesitate to use "feel the Spirit" because it is so often warped into this idea that emotions are driven by the Spirit, which is not true) the Spirit when I don't sleep enough, or when I eat only junk food. Or when I'm depressed or having anxiety. Or when I am feeling stubbornly resolved to my will or when I want something so badly that I'm not sure I could accept a "no" answer from God.

While I do believe there are things that hamper each person's ability to understand the Spirit, and I do believe there are universal things that hamper everyone's understanding (like sin), I think it's a mistake to take my own list and impose it on everyone else. Perhaps lack of sleep doesn't affect you the same way it does me, for example.

Saying that I can't understand the Spirit because my floor is messy is imposing your list on me.  It would be okay to say, "While you can feel the Spirit in a messy house, it's not as easy for me to feel the Spirit in a messy place as it is in a clean place."

Besides, who is to say what constitutes "clean" or "messy" when we're talking houses?  Everyone has a different level of chaos tolerance. Personally, I think a low level of chaos tolerance is a handicap, not a sign of greater spirituality and righteousness. If you can't think when there are things on the floor, it seems to me like something is wrong with you. It seems like it might hamper your ability to feel the Spirit if you compulsively MUST pick up before you can get answers to your prayers or concentrate on the scriptures, or if you can't feel the Spirit in a slum.

This "cleanliness doctrine" really falls apart upon closer examination anyway. What you're saying is:
   --mothers of young children
   --people with disabilities (including the invisible ones like ADHD or fibro)
  --people who have just lived through a disaster (floods and fires are messy)
  --people who have chronic illness
  --single parents
  --people who are stuck in abject poverty
  --people who are struggling through mental illness like depression
  --people who are random
  --missionaries who are teaching in a messy environment, like a slum
  --everyone who lives in countries that are "third world" in your eyes
  --people who have at-home children all the time (toddlers and babies, homeschoolers, people with sick children) because there is no break from mess-making
  --people with a lot of small children
  --caretakers of the disabled, elderly, mentally ill
have less ability to understand the Spirit than you who have the luxury of easily having clean floors do.

Not only that, but somewhat perversely, you are saying that men who abuse their wives and force them to clean the floors to white-glove-test cleanliness have the best ability to feel the Spirit, thanks to their wife's efforts and none of their own. And child abusers who have spotless houses thanks to the slave labor of their children have an easier time feeling the Spirit.

Besides, who defines how clean is clean enough for the Spirit?

It is a mistake to conflate clean houses with righteousness. And its a mistake to judge other people's spirituality, especially based entirely on the condition of their house or car.

What helps us have a better chance of understanding the Spirit? A clean HEART. A clean soul. Clean thoughts. And practice listening to and obeying the Spirit--the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Even in slums.

I can't find any scriptures that actually say, "Clean your house." Individuals might get that as an answer to prayer. I even have--it's easier to live in a cleaner house, quite frankly. But let that be enough reason--you don't have to make it a commandment or a sign of your spirituality. (And how would a messy person get the inspiration to clean up if they can't feel the Spirit in a messy environment?)

And, in fact, even in conference women have said, "The answer was to clean less and do scripture study/family home evening more."

I also find it grossly unfair to women to say that everyone can feel the Spirit more easily in a clean house. Why? Because by and large, women are still the ones responsible for the home environment, even in homes where two parents work. So when we teach that the house has to be clean for anyone inside to be able to feel the Spirit, what we're telling people is that the woman in the house is responsible for everyone's ability to understand the Spirit, and that's not fair. That's worse that the flap all the feminists get into when we teach modesty and they say it's unfair that we are putting responsibility on girls for boys' bad thoughts. It is certainly not my fault if you can't understand answers to your prayers.

By making housekeeping a righteousness issue instead of something more mundane, we're also degrading the work of mothering, making it lesser than (or equating it) with housekeeping, as if a woman's sole value was in her ability to clean up messes. Mothering is not cleaning. Period. They're not even related. You can hire someone else to do all the cleaning and not lose any speck of your mothering ability. In fact, housekeeping interferes with most women's ability to mother the way they want, and if we make housekeeping the greater importance, women lose. And so do children.  If you have to choose between a clean floor and reading the scriptures with your children, and most moms of young babies do, it's unfair to try to equate them spiritually.

How many moms end up overwhelmed and depressed because the pressure to keep the house clean and still do everything else is overwhelming? How much better is it for a family to have a happy, functional mom and a messy floor? A lot. Immeasurably better. It's completely unfair to a mom to say that her whole family's spirituality requires her to be overworked and miserable. That sounds an awful lot like God hates women, and I know He doesn't. Nor does He require anything of a woman in order for her husband to be able to more or less easily feel the Spirit. Your ability to understand the Spirit is on you and you alone. That's not anyone else's responsibility, and it's unfair to everyone to make it seem otherwise.

This is not to degrade the work women do in their homes. Every single thing women do to make their homes a comfortable, safe, happy sanctuary for their families is vital and valued. It's all part of the important mission of women, and women need to be told that because it always seems like the drudgery of housework is not important. But it is.

But can't it be enough that it's important because it's healthier, more convenient, and comfortable? Do we have to make it a matter of our spiritual health? Can't we make righteousness the focus of our spiritual health instead?

I know of so, so many women who were beating themselves up because they couldn't keep up with the work who prayed or got blessings that said, "Don't focus so much on the floor. It doesn't matter if the house is clean as much as it matters that you are doing scripture study and drawing your children close instead of pushing them away so you can clean."  If you have to neglect or yell at the kids so you can clean, there's a problem.

And many of us have to choose between teaching our children, making good memories, developing their talents, and staying sane and keeping the house spotless, and those are not fair choices to inject "by the way, keeping the house clean is righteousness" into--especially since the others are actually more important, and most of us (admit it) can't do both at any given moment.

Most women get the balance better than I do and manage to keep their houses at least passably tidy. And everyone has to deal with their "this must be cleaned up because I can't live like this" point--wherever it falls on the cleanness spectrum.

But let's let it be what it is and not make it something else.

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