Spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning here in Vermont as compared to life in Texas and Tennessee. Primarily because winter requires so much more "clutter" here. Muddy boots, extra blankets on the bed (which inevitably end up on the floor in the kids' room), more clothing in the closets to help us layer up each day which causes more dirty laundry and therefore more clean laundry waiting to be put away, gloves and hats and scarves everywhere (including the ever growing pile of unmatched gloves), and then just the result of not really having the option of storing anything outside during the winter. (We don't have a garage or anything like that.) Basically, there's just stuff everywhere during winter. So yeah--spring cleaning. It's not just about vacuuming and cleaning windows here. ;-) It's a BIG project.
AND we're approaching probably the busiest month we've had since moving here. Lots of travel, lots of company coming, lots of activity during April. Of course we want to get it done before we're right in the middle of all of that. SO--I've been "warning" Macy and Grace for about a week now that while Dad was out of town, we would need to really get to work on our spring cleaning. To my great joy (and maybe a little bit of surprise--shame on me for doubting), they responded very well. And this got me thinking. About obedience.
The way I see it, we have only three options when it comes to obedience.
We can disobey. Of course this is usually the first temptation--especially if the task before us is something we don't want to do, don't think we should have to do, or just don't understand. This never ends well. If my children had disobeyed my instructions to get their spring cleaning tasks done, let's just say it would have been a bad day for all of us. (I'm really thankful they chose not to behave that way.) AND the thing is--even if they would have chosen disobedience initially, they still would have had to complete the tasks eventually. I would have made sure of it. All of us would have been miserable in the process, but one way or another, it would have gotten done.
Similarly, God invites us to participate in his plans. As in, "I (God) am going to accomplish ______. Your role is _______." We can choose to disobey. And we might even get away with it for awhile. As in not have to do the specific task he has called us to immediately. Or honestly, we may never do that specific task if we continue in disobedience. BUT--God's will WILL be done whether or not we participate. Whatever end result we try to avoid by not participating in what we've been asked to do will still occur. And if we haven't walked through the process with Christ, learning and understanding as we go, chances are we will be miserable as he works his will in spite of us. Disobedience never ends well.
Another option is to obey reluctantly. We'll "do" what we're asked to do, but we don't agree with it, and we're sure not happy about it. We'll stomp around, frowning and murmuring the whole time, making sure everyone knows we're really not on board with this idea. And we'll end up with a "clean house," but the process will not lead to a positive experience of working together, accomplishing something bigger than what we could have done on our own. Instead we will have caused quite the opposite by damaging the relationship with the one who has asked for our participation and creating a significantly negative memory which will infiltrate our thinking each time we're in a similar situation. Hmm. Better than disobedience? Maybe, I guess. But certainly not ultimately desirable behavior.
The best option is to obey joyfully. Ok, Pollyanna. Nice thought, but isn't that easier said than done. Well SURE it is! I didn't say it was the easiest. I said it was the best. Big difference. BUT I do think there are ways to make it a little easier each time. Specifically these two ways:
The first critical element to joyful obedience (at least in my estimation) is a pattern of behavior that we come to trust. In other words, every time Christ asks for obedience and we choose to obey, it ends well. Maybe not the way we expected. And probably not with some major increase in worldly possessions or comforts (in fact, there may even be some pain involved). But it ends well. In such a way that we can look back on the experience and say to ourselves, "I'm really glad that happened the way it did."
As I was talking to Macy and Grace about our spring cleaning project, I found myself repeatedly recalling past similar (positive) experiences that I knew would be happy memories for them. "Remember when we played the music so loud that Dad scared us half to death because we didn't hear the car or the door when he came in?" (giggles) "Remember how good it always feels to walk into your room and NOT step on some random sharp object on the floor but see everything perfectly in place and then slip into your clean sheets for a good night's sleep?" Etc. You get the picture.
I think God reminds us of past positive experiences with him as well. But the thing is--we have to have HAD some to be reminded of them. And of course the more we have had, the more quickly they tend to come to mind. Thus the pattern of behavior that we come to trust. Christ asks us to obey. We do. It ends well. Repeat.
The second critical element to joyful obedience is dialog. You know. Talk about it. Pray. Read scripture. Have a little back-and-forth with God. He can handle it. ;-)
Suppose I had said to my children, "We're cleaning all day Saturday, and that's that." Do you imagine that would have led to joyful obedience? I think not. By God's grace, I've learned better methods. :-D In this case, dialog was key. We talked about why we needed to do this and what wonderful benefits it would lead to. Things like--all of their things would be in the right place and easy to locate when needed. We would probably find some "lost items" along the way as we cleaned out closets, under beds, etc. And fortunately they're enough like their Mom that the idea of "order" in and of itself is appealing enough to use as a persuasive factor. So we talked about those things. And they liked the idea. Then we talked about the actual methods of achieving our goal. We'll play the music really loud. :-D We'll work together on the big projects and divide the small projects and have contests to see who can complete her task first. AND the cherry on top--we'll reward ourselves when we're done. Oh yes. (They're all in at this point.)
Now I'm not saying that God is necessarily promising physical rewards for our obedience. But what he does promise is ongoing dialog and help. That is--His presence with us. He doesn't just say, "Do" and then abandon us. He says, "Do with me" and then works right beside us. Many times the reward for our obedience is quite simply Christ. A closer relationship with him. Yet another experience with him that strengthens our faith. The dialog that we get to have as we walk obediently beside him every day. And this begins the cycle again. Next time he tells us to obey, it becomes that much easier. Not because the situation itself is easy. But because we know the end result of all three of our options. And while this last one might be the most difficult to *want* to do, we learn over time through repeated experience that it is the BEST choice. Because each time He asks us for obedience, He walks right beside us through the process. He strengthens and protects and provides and loves. OH how he loves in such a way that we never want to leave his side. And when we learn that the only way to be constantly by his side is by obeying each time we're asked, the decision to obey gets easier to make. And the joy that comes from obedience increases. Because we like things that end well. Things that end well bring joy. And I'm pretty sure being bound to Christ and obedient to his call is the ONLY thing that ALWAYS ends well. That should make it (at least a little) easier to do, right? :-D Let's give it a try and see what happens.