You Are What You Do

or Confessions about The Mess

Two weeks before my daughter was born I invited a sweet teenager from my church to come help me for a grueling day; between the two of us we kept the 16-month-old entertained and got the entire house, top to bottom, sparkling clean. This included dusting and organizing the insides of cupboards, vacuuming furniture, washing baseboards. My house was cleaner than it had been in EVER. I did this because I knew it was my last chance to worry about house cleaning for awhile.

Fast forward ten months. My bathrooms (there are three) have been cleaned perhaps four times, at least two of which my husband receives the credit for. The last few days I’ve started seeing things no one likes to see: big dust on the tops of wall art (big dust everywhere, actually), cobwebs (everywhere, too), stuff beginning to look colorful in the toilets, so much spaghetti sauce in the microwave, and endless bits of ick in the carpets that probably haven’t been vacuumed in two months. This list is not exhaustive, but it’s just a sampling of the indictment I’ve been accumulating in my head lately:

YOU ARE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO HAS A GROSS HOUSE.

It’s easy to think this: My kitchen counters are stacked with nasty dishes and food yukkiness about 95% of the time. Don’t get me wrong; I do lots of housework: folding laundry, sorting stuff into its rightful places so we can enjoy empty flat surfaces, turning off the kitchen light (works wonders!), loading and unloading the dishwasher, picking up the toys, and picking up the toys. But then I catch sight of another witness against me, like the grossness on the glass door, now silent bearer of two sets of toddler prints.

It hit me this morning as I snarked at myself about the thread all over the carpet where I was wrestling Jacob: I am not that person. Being “that person” is a stupid concept. It’s easy for me to believe that the present mess defines me, but that is equivalent to saying pain is intrinsically bad. When you lay your hand on the hot stove you definitely want to feel pain. This mess is not defining me; it is just sending me a signal that it’s time to do some housework. No, it’s not time to go crazy with chore strategies and become “that person” who dusts everything each Tuesday, dusty or not, since I settled long ago that to live that way steals time that belongs to my kids. But maybe it is time to deal with the cobwebs and the carpets, to silence the accusing toilets so I can get back to more important things.

I’m noticing it all over my life, this tendency to let myself be defined. When I serve a cheap meat-and-rice concoction to my kids or skip the side salad for the hundredth time I say: “You’re that person who doesn’t take the trouble to eat healthy meals or teach your kids to make wise food choices.” No, actually that means that tonight it’s time to have a salad and go to the grocery store for fresh fruit. When I remind Jacob to quit whining for the tenth time in twenty minutes: “You’re that person who is too lazy to actually discipline when it’s called for.” No, actually that means it’s time to go discipline. When I let the bills pile up: “You’re that person who is irresponsible with money.” No, actually that means it’s time to get to my desk for a couple hours. When I realize I haven’t let Jacob play outside all day: “You’re that person who spends a whole summer hiding in the air conditioning.” No, actually that means tomorrow we are going to jog to the park.

I’m not the only one hearing these voices in my head, am I right? If this is you, maybe you can take some encouragement from this lesson I’m trying to internalize: Go do it. Go be who you want to be. You are what you do and you get to decide each moment what that will be. No labels, no excuses, no whining.

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2 thoughts on “You Are What You Do

  1. Thank you for this. It’s very helpful. I OFTEN think those thoughts and become discouraged by the “person I am”. Some days it’s the lazy mom who plays all day with her kids but gets nothing done, other times it’s the over achieving mom who doesn’t even look at her kids but the house is sparkling, and back and forth I go. But to hear these thoughts and remind myself that they are simply a reminder, a helpful little voice giving me direction as to what might need some attention, is so much more grace filled and encouraging.

  2. It’s just so nice to know I’m not the only one who has these wildly opposing thoughts! I’m also glad I’m not the only mom with a messy house. 🙂 Trying to balance household management with discipling your children is HARD WORK indeed! I like what Doug Wilson once wrote about time management. He wrote seven thoughts on time management and number three was: “Perfectionism paralyzes. Chesterton once wonderfully observed that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. The sign of a fruitful worker is that he understands the critical difference between “that won’t cut it” and “that is just fine.”

    I frequently have to tell myself, “that is just fine” and then go be with the kids.

    Miss you Susan!

    Marla

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