The only reason my apartment is clean right now is because my parents came to visit this weekend. About 12 hours prior to their arrival there were books strewn across every table surface, and dishes piled up in the sink. And while I normally HATE to live that way, it was the end of the semester and my husband and I were in crunch time. There were about 20 things more important and more urgent to us than cleaning our apartment.
I don’t know about you but whenever life gets particularly hectic, the organization of my home goes into decline. Sometimes that messiness is a red flag that I am over-committed–you know you’re over-booked when hygiene takes a backseat! However, those piles of books and dirty dishes are not always a red flag. Sometimes I have to sacrifice having an immaculate home in order to do the things that God has called me to. And on those days (or weeks) I take comfort from the following verse from Proverbs 14:4–
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
This verse has multiple levels of meaning, but it is essentially about weighing our options when deciding how to spend our time. On the one hand, a farmer could choose to have a pristine barn where he doesn’t have to take care of dirty, expensive oxen. But then he wouldn’t make any money. He wouldn’t have the time or resources to harvest a crop. So he has a choice to make: Clean manger, or productive farm?
The reason I love this verse is that it has a special message to women who measure their value and effectiveness upon the perfection of their home. But before I get into that, let me be clear that this verse is not devaluing hygiene–your kids shouldn’t be contracting salmonella from your countertops, and you don’t want to attract critters with all the food crumbs lying about!. We are indeed called to be good stewards of our home. That said, there are also times when we need to lay down our Martha Stewart ambitions at the altar of God and spend our time doing His work–maybe having coffee with a younger woman who needs your encouragement, or planning a small group Bible study lesson, or simply spending time in prayer and reading His Word.
The point is that while a clean house isn’t a bad thing, it is not always a reflection of one’s effectiveness as a godly servant. The harvest of “abundant crops” can often be messy work, so it’s important to measure ourselves according to God’s standards, not the world’s. So whenever you feel overwhelmed and inadequate because there is dust on the shelves and a water ring around your toilet bowl, I think a modern day rendering of Proverbs 14:4 might read as follows:
Where there are no children or ministry commitments, the home is clean. But abundant crops come through faithful parenting and diligent service to God’s church.