When Cleanliness Thwarts Godliness


In my previous post, “Burying The Proverbs 31 Woman™,” I mentioned that I’d been talking lately with women about issues that affect them. Oddly, one issue came up repeatedly.

We’ve all heard the old aphorism: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Anymore, though, I’m not sure that’s true. In fact, the opposite may be the case.

Most women in a church are painfully aware of The Proverbs 31 Woman™ whose house is so perfectly kept that even Howard Hughes could bunk there in peace. The white glove treatmentForget eating off the kitchen floor, as the bathroom floor would do just as well. If that woman has kids, it’s a wonder how her home retains that museum-like quality—unless, of course, she chains the little tykes to a wall in the furnace room for hours on end. No matter what time of day or what’s going on in the household, one can hear a faint moaning, as dust mites starve to death by the millions. And that pleasant but faintly artificial smell that permeates the house? Scotchguard.

Sadly, a handful of those women in a church is enough to drive other women to despair. I know this because my own wife despairs of ever having our house look like the shrine to Martha (either the biblical person or Stewart) that we have encountered in some women’s homes.

This is not to say that we live in a pigsty. By no means! It’s just that it’s darned near impossible to keep up with that “sanctified” level of cleanliness and order.

Which leads to an intriguing problem.

Lately, I’ve heard women say that the main reason their families stay cooped up in their homes and do not have other people over is the fear of being judged for having a home that is not clean. And by clean I mean worthy of a visit by Queen Elizabeth. (At least that’s how I see it.)

It’s a two-fold problem: Women are afraid of being judged, and there exists a phalanx of people who will, indeed, judge them and their home’s perceived level of cleanliness.

All this manages to do, though, is place burdens on women while hurting Christian community.

Imagine, under the circumstances, how impossible these verses become:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:46-47

Husband: “Hey, hon, let’s have our small group over for dinner Friday.”
Wife: “But the place is a wreck and there’s no way to get it cleaned up by then.”
Husband: “I’m willing to do what I can to help.”
Wife: {Sighing} “We all know how that worked last time. You can’t swap Windex for Pledge, remember?”
Husband: “Oh well, maybe some other time.”

But next time never comes, does it?

Wouldn’t it be great if we Christians could stop with the judgmentalism, stop with the self-esteem issues, and stop with the need to have our homes look like the interior of the Guggenheim? Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop worrying about what other people think and instead do what is deemed best by God?

Seriously, isn’t fellowship closer to godliness than cleanliness?

15 thoughts on “When Cleanliness Thwarts Godliness

  1. casey

    What a unique perspective. I’ve always thought that my house was a wreck BECAUSE of the constant flow of people in and out and all the stuff I’m doing to keep active in the church and community and take care of the kids. Who knew I was supposed to clean house first.

  2. Rose

    Years ago, a friend told me (when I was worrying that the house was a mess), “I came to see YOU, not your house.” That has helped me so much over the years.

  3. I was kind of surprised by this post. One of the easy things about living in America is there is no expectation of my house being perfect, me with my four, soon to be five, kids.

    We are in America temporarily and normally live in a Muslim country where you are literally judged by the cleanliness of your house. When a guest first visits, she will run her finger along ledges looking for dust, check under your couch, look at your stove top, and judge whether or not they can be seen with you. Seriously. I’m used to having to clean, REALLY REALLY clean (like check the windows daily for finger prints kind of clean–not just neat) every single day. America is nothing like that. Maybe people in America judge a homes beauty by their matching pillows and throws and stuff, but they don’t clean like Muslim women. The Muslim women I know don’t judge on matching furniture because we were all poor, but they did care if you cleaned.

    No matter the standard, we all do need to not judge. We all need to keep our homes open to others.

    This does fit with what I thought after your last post, that what we see as the “needs” of the household are way off. Our kids don’t “need” all those clubs and sports or a shiny floor. They need to be taught to love the Lord their God…when they rise and lie down, when they come and go…Deut. 6:5-6

    • This probably partly comes from the lack of control Muslim women feel. If they can’t control anything else, then at least they can control the level of cleanliness in their houses. I have a friend who is blind. She used to move things around her house constantly. I never asked her why, but I suspected that it was because she had nothing else to do and had little control over who came to help her with things. So she changed what she could change: the stuff in her house.

      • Sophie Khan

        That is probably the silliest thing I ever heard in my life. Anyone who is a clean-freak automatically means that they can’t control anything else in their life so they spend their time mopping and brooming? Come on! What are you? brainwashed my Faux News and Hollywood? There are muslim women who are ministers, and businesswomen, teachers, doctors, lawyers! Not every single muslim woman is a Burqa-clad abused wife! You stereotyping in this manner makes you sound like an ignorant imbecile.

        • “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit” (Proverbs 26:4-5 KJV).

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy

    It’s a two-fold problem: Women are afraid of being judged, and there exists a phalanx of people who will, indeed, judge them and their home’s perceived level of cleanliness.

    Just another form of One-Upmanship with a Christian coat of paint.

  5. Dan,

    Again, great post, and great comments. I especially appreciated Lee’s perspective. While reading your last post I was educated, not realizing that this was such an issue in Evangelical circles. Reading this post, however, I see how pervasive this issue is, even among those who aren’t driven by Proverbs 31 specifically. My own wife has been very driven by this in the past, very much captive to the appearance of her home, etc. As she has matured in Christ, she has become much more comfortable allowing some level of “uncleanliness” when we have others over for fellowship. It is much more important THAT we fellowship, and not so much that we do it in a pristine environment. I will also say that I think some women are just blessed with a gifting in this area, and keeping a clean house comes natural and easy, and they are somehow able to do it easily, without pretense. Other women shouldn’t judge themselves by the few that do have this gift, nor should those with the gift look down on those without it.


    • Mark,

      Some women (and men too) ARE gifted toward “homemaking.” Some people are fantastic hosts and hostesses. But that’s not everyone, and I think the people who do not fall into it naturally should get some kind of break from those who do.

      We are all too judgmental, and too few of us operate by The Golden Rule.

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