Sunday, November 29, 2009

Order in the House

When I was a kid, my mom tried everything to motivate me to keep my room clean. My sister was—and still is for the most part—an impeccable neatnic. Suffice it to say, I am not. Although my organizational skills have improved drastically since my elementary school days, I lack the innate gift for order. I love order. I just don’t like the work it takes to make it happen.

One of the stories my sister and I love to tell is that of the infamous “Clean Room Awards.” Exhausted with every other attempt at making me keep my room clean, my mom came up with the creative idea to give my sister and me certificates for each day we kept our rooms clean. When we earned ten awards, we could trade them in for a trip to Dairy Queen. My sister earned hers in ten days flat. I don’t remember how long it took me to earn mine. I do, however, remember the momentous day when I was able to trade my awards for a peanut buster parfait.

Something happened, though, between the last bite of ice cream and the next morning. When over the course of the next few days, my mom saw my room deteriorating to its previous state, she reminded me to clean my room so I could earn another award. As the story goes, I told her she could keep her clean room awards because I’d rather have a messy room. Perhaps I sensed the unfair advantage my sister had over me and the stealth attempt to modify my behavior, or maybe I was holding out for the creative right to have my room the way I wanted it. Either way, the saga of the “Clean Room Awards” ended with my refusal to participate in the program. (Thinking back on it, I realize how many DQ trips my sister lost out on because of my boycott. Sorry, Renee. You might want to take that one up with Mom).

Although my mother could never convince me how my messy room affected anyone other than me, as I’ve grown older, I better understand the concept of how my choices affect others. I can’t just claim the creative right to have things the way I want them or excuse a lack of order as part of my personality.

However, this knowledge that our actions affect others can sometimes turn in on us. Instead of making sure my actions do not bring unnecessary hurt to anyone else, I can become acutely aware of how others’ choices are affecting me. In doing so, we I become bogged down in watching the decisions others make. Order becomes less about what God is calling me to do and more about comparing my life to someone else’s.

I’ll be the first to say that my flesh is much more comfortable identifying the places where others lack order rather than dealing with the places of disorder in my own life. It’s the sin of justification. It becomes especially easy when someone else’s choices are creating ripple effects in my life. It’s a self-centeredness that’s hard to recognize because it involves a significant focus on someone else’s actions.

But it’s still destructive, and it keeps me from seeing the places in my life where God is calling me to get it right. It’s a measurement of “relative” order. Compared to my sister’s room, my room was a disaster zone. Put it up against a pig sty, and it wasn’t that bad. To keep me from dealing with my own junk, the only thing the enemy needs to do is make someone else’s faults seem more egregious. If I buy into his lies, I will eventually push away from those who are walking in victory in areas where I am struggling because I won’t like the discomfort that comes with the call to change. I’d rather spend my time belaboring what other people need to do differently.

I’m deeply passionate for order in the body of Christ. As believers, we of all people should take seriously the commandment to “walk in a manner worthy” (Ephesians 4:1). Even greater is the call upon the life of a leader. How easily, though, I can hold fast to that verse when assessing the lives those around me and miss the verses that follow. Any call to order should be given “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Accountability is real—and essential—in the body of Christ. However, order must begin at home—and not just in the areas where we see others failing, but in the very areas God is addressing with us. God isn’t going to ask me how well I kept my life in order compared to others. He’s going to ask me how well I lived my life according to His Word.