Hi friends and welcome to the Arise, Beloved blog. We have an amazing team of writers behind this blog and our desire is to speak truth into the lies that cripple us and shine light into the darkness that isolates us because we believe that now, more than ever, the Church desperately needs women to be restored so that the world can be set ablaze. Our hope is that you find comfort, solace, and peace in knowing that you are not alone, you are not too far gone and there is ALWAYS hope to be found.
// Kathleen Merriman //
When you’re the gullible friend, you start to resign yourself to a certain number of cheap scares throughout the year. One time, in my high school days, my sister and friends jumped out from behind my living room furniture, wearing cheaply printed masks of Shia LaBeouf’s face, and scared the actual, living daylights out of me. The timing was perfect. They waited to execute the scare until the climax of a YouTube video (about Shia LeBeouf, of course) that my sister had lured me in with.
You have not known fear until four figures with arrestingly white masks appear from all corners of the room with nightmarish speed and silent skill. I screamed, squeezed my eyes shut, and became a type of human beetle, in which my limbs were drawn up to form a protective shell around my torso. It took a few minutes of coaxing and unmasking to reveal that my friends were, in fact, friendly, and not there to bring about my untimely demise. There’s a video somewhere out there, but I highly recommend never looking for it.
I’d like to categorize that experience, now called the “Shia LeBeouf incident,” as a bad type of surprise. However, regardless of the trauma, I will stand by the statement that I adore surprises in general.
I love both to receive them, and launch them on unsuspecting others. I’d like to be clear in stating that typically I orchestrate good surprises for people, and (as a general rule) avoid experiences that might lead to costly years of therapy.
It hit me lately that growing up, one of my favorite ways to surprise people was….you guessed it: cleaning for them!
I know what you’re thinking. Why the heck would you surprise someone with cleaning? Doesn’t this girl know that people like to be surprised with cool stuff like miniature ponies, concert tickets, all-inclusive vacations, a chance to meet Paul Hollywood (just me?), and other cool stuff?
To this objection, I have one response: I’m not Daddy Warbucks from Annie.
Translation: I’ve never been rich. Especially not as a child. So I gave what I could: service.
I saw my older siblings’ sink needed clearing, so I would clean the dishes and scrub the counters. I was that weird kid that would go hang out with friends and offer to clean something. When I was a nanny, I would clean countertops and pick up toys so the house would be clean when the parents got home. It absolutely delighted me to feel useful in this way. Even more, it delighted me because I loved surprising people and seeing their faces light up.
In fact, I consider myself really good at noticing…other people’s messes.
This hit me the other day when I was sweeping out a friend’s room. This had been an invited task this time, but as I was sweeping I started to notice other imperfections. The baseboards needed dusting. I quickly wiped them down. Then, my eye lingered on the dusty bed frame and dusty lamp….Could I help there too?
I saw chips in the paint of the wall and a fraying thread in the rug. Did those need repairing?
Before I could do anymore “fixing,” I got side-tracked and went about another task.
I’m really good at noticing other people’s messes.
So good, in fact, that it begged the question: When was the last time I noticed my own?
It hit me when next I entered my room. I couldn’t recall the last time I had dusted my own baseboards. Glancing about, at all the familiar sights of my bedroom, I looked–really looked–at everything, with a closer eye, a critiquing glance. I was so comfortable with these sights it took effort to turn the lens to an objective setting.
I ran a finger across the bed’s headboard and dust caked my finger. Yikes.
Tiny pebbles were scattered on the rug, shaken carelessly from hiking boots. Books were piled high in corners, begging to be organized, or even–dare I say it?–read. Teaching papers were strewn on surfaces. The bed was unmade and the mirror was smudged.
My room was not just unkempt. It was unclean. Foundationally, at the most baseboard level, I had failed to attend to the matters of my own room before turning an eye to that of my friend. I was really good at noticing the uneven paint job on her wall, but terrible at remembering to clean my bathroom consistently.
My own mess was….just that. A mess.
While I hope this post inspires some of you to scrub that toilet you’ve been neglecting (join the club, y’all), that’s not the point here.
The point is: Tend to your own room first.
I see that I make this same mistake in my spiritual life as well as in my cleaning habits. Rather than a physical room with capacity to hold furniture, we have been gifted with hearts that bear a greater treasure: the capacity to love.
I’m reminded of a passage in Scripture that often checks my propensity to be judgemental: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)
So often, there are a wide variety of logs in my own eye. Settled dust in the rooms of my heart, if you will. I have so many flaws and vices and struggles. It’s so much easier for me to turn my gaze outward, because then I don’t have to deal with me. I can easily observe the short-comings of a stranger. Why? Because it is less painful to point out the splinter in another’s eye, than to take a long, honest, introspective look at my own heart.
Yet, this is exactly what God calls us to do. Not just once, and then wash our hands of it. But each day, in humility, to implore Him to help us notice the ugliest places in our heart and to acknowledge them in honesty. We must ask Him to go where we’re afraid to traverse alone, for fear of what sin and discord we might find there. We ask Him to come into the filthy places, for where He treads, He illumines with the light of His brilliance and washes with the stream of His mercy.
When we’re tempted to believe that the ugliness of our hearts is no place for a King to dwell, I ask you to consider this: Filth is not new to this King.
He was born into the dusty hay of a manger. His sandaled feet were caked in sand and dirt as He traveled the desert. He mixed spit and clay to heal the eyes of a blind man. He wrote a message in the soil, saving the woman caught in sin from those who would condemn her. He embraced death in a dank tomb.
He is not unfamiliar with our darkness or dirt. He is not a stranger to our struggle.
He entered into it and He desires to do so everyday, especially in order that He may pour the balm of His mercy on the wounds that fester the worst and ache the deepest.
In a time of discord around the world, in a time of fear, hurt, anger, pain, and heartache, look to the rooms of your heart.
As Fr. Jacque Phillpe says, in his book, Interior Freedom, “At times of struggle…the conversion we should be concerned about is not our neighbor’s but our own. Only if we take our own conversion seriously do we stand any chance of seeing our neighbor converted too….it does more good to seek to reform our hearts than to reform the world or the Church. Everyone will benefit.”
Ask Christ to tend to your heart and help you heal. Work on personal conversion before being quick to “fix” the flaws of others. While this might seem myopic to those naturally inclined to help everyone that they can, trust that you can truly make a greater impact on the lives around you if you continue to work on your own growth each day. There will be no point in which we are “done” with our own development and then will be perfectly equipped to serve. Rather, every day renew Christ’s call for conversion! Every day, we must turn to the Lord and invite Him within the rooms of our hearts. As He heals the mess, He will also prepare us for whatever work we are tasked to do in the world.