Life is incredibly messy. Believe me, I know. When I was a kid, I didn’t really mind messes. And even when I was in college, messes were acceptable as long as they were “out of sight.” When I was student teaching, I once spent weeks with my trunk overflowing with clutter—literally—I had to practically sit on my trunk to close it. It didn’t really bother me, though. It was my opinion that life was too busy to worry about something as unimportant as clutter.
My “clutter-isn’t-bad” philosophy held until quarantine. Then things changed. My illness spun everything in my universe completely out of control, and I tried to regain that control by obsessively cleaning. And when I say OBSESSIVELY, I mean OBSESSIVELY. My canned goods were not only organized by vegetable, they were also alphabetized and stacked neatly with their labels facing the front. Everything in my house that could be labeled was labeled—including the label maker. My clothes were arranged by season, color, and type of material. My bookshelves would have made a library look unorganized. My junk drawer was pristine. My freezer was a work of art. And my dishes were washed IMMEDIATELY after use—and when I say immediately, I mean it. I used pot holders to wash pans straight out of the oven. I wouldn’t sit down to eat until the sink was empty and scoured.
Truthfully, I went off the deep end.
I suppose that part of it was boredom. (You try spending seven years in quarantine). But most of it was desperation. My life was out of control, so I tried to exert control how ever I could.
If anyone had told me that I was washing boiling hot pans and alphabetizing canned goods because I didn’t trust God, I would have laughed. But looking back, that’s exactly what I was doing. You see, in the back of my head, a little tape player was constantly playing: You’ll never get out quarantine. You’ll never have a normal life. You’re gonna die soon. You are going to die in pain. You’re going to die a failure. No one will even miss you when you are gone. You’re a weirdo. You’ll never get out of quarantine. You’ll never…
I HATED that tape recorder, so I tried to block its unrelenting noise by keeping busy. But there are only so many ways that you can keep busy while locked in a house—hence the alphabetized canned goods.
For years, I kept up my obsessive routines. For years, I tried to drown out the voice of my fears through “busy work.” Then something changed. One night, in the middle of the night, I felt the loving presence of God hovering over my bed. The peaceful presence was so strong that it woke me up. As I lay there looking up at the moon shadows dancing on the ceiling, I realized that my fear was gone. And in its place was a feeling of peace. I was basking in that gentle, peaceful glow, when God’s voice came. His voice was soft and low—not audible but powerful. He simply said, “Come, spend time with me.”
It was around 2 a.m., and my room was cold, but I bundled myself in a blanket and went out to the couch. I sat there in silence and let the gentle peace of God surround me. It was unutterably beautiful. I felt as if I had been running a long, hard race and suddenly I could sit and rest.
The next day, several times throughout the day, I heard God’s voice say again: “Come, spend time with me.” Each time, I would stop what I was doing, go sit on the couch, and let God’s gentle peace surround me.
Soon, “peace breaks” became an essential part of my days. Soon, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. And the more time I spent basking in God’s peace, the more the old tape recording began to fade. And the more the recording began to fade, the less compulsive I became about organizing and cleaning. Slowly, my life came back into balance.
I still battle with worry at times. And I still like things neat and tidy. But I don’t alphabetize the vegetables any more. In quarantine, I learned that I can’t create my own peace. Believe me, I tried–and any small bit of peace that I managed to conjure up was fleeting, tainted, and strained. I learned that true peace can only be obtained by getting quiet, getting still, and getting close to God. You see, true peace doesn’t come from controlling everything and making it “just so.” True peace comes from sitting at the feet of Jesus and letting His peace become your own.