It’s a beautiful spring day here in Western Ukraine. Nevermind that the temperature is hovering right around freezing–the sky is blue, and the sun is bright. It seems appropriate, as here in the Eastern Orthodox world, we’ll be celebrating Easter this coming Sunday, April 15. But as much as I love the celebration of Christ’s victory over death, this week always has the capacity to fill me with guilt. That’s because this Thursday is Chystyy Chetver, or “Clean Thursday,” in English. You see, at some point in the history of the Orthodox Church, someone decided that it was a sin to have a dirty home on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, and the tradition of Clean Thursday was born. This week Ukrainian women will labor feverishly to ensure that their homes are spotless by Good Friday, with the majority of this spring cleaning taking place on Thursday. If you took a walk in our neighborhood this Thursday, I guarantee that you’d see many people busy washing their windows. In fact, as I sit here typing, I can see one industrious neighbor already hard at work on hers, and it’s only Tuesday.
To help you understand my guilt, I have to let you in on a secret. I don’t do windows. I don’t mean that I dislike window washing or that I’m too lazy to do it or even that I’m too busy to make it a priority, although perhaps all those statements have an element of truth. No, what I mean is that at some point after having children, I made a calculated decision to stop washing windows. I still clean up the little fingerprints and wet nose art that appear on the inside of our windows, but I only wash the outsides of windows that open into our apartment or give onto a balcony, and in our current living situation, those surfaces comprise only about 50% of the total area of windowpanes. As for the other 50%? Well, I guess I just count on summer thunderstorms to keep them clean enough that they won’t become a complete eyesore.
Why do I do this?
Because I decided that a living mother was more important for my children than clean windows.
It sounds like a no-brainer to me, but apparently my neighbors don’t share my perspective, as I see them hanging out their windows, four, five, and more stories above the ground, determined to make every square centimeter of glass sparkle. But I can understand their point of view as well, because I used to be like them.
I’m a perfectionist by nature, and before we had kids, I was a good housekeeper. I remember hanging out a ninth-story window, polishing the glass, and I looked down at the ground and thought, George sure would be sad if I fell and died. I’d better be really careful for his sake. But that didn’t stop me from cleaning the windows.
But motherhood changed many things, not the least of which were my priorities. All of the sudden, being alive–so that my children didn’t experience the motherless childhood that I did–seemed vastly more important than spotless windows. Other priorities shifted as well, and as a result, you’ll usually find dirty floors around our home in the evenings as I skip the vacuuming in favor of spending a bit of time with my husband after the kids are in bed.
But although I can justify why our apartment isn’t spotless, somehow I still manage to make myself feel guilty on Clean Thursday. Though I know that God doesn’t care if I welcome Good Friday with a dirty home, I still find myself comparing my windows to my neighbors’ windows, hoping they don’t notice that mine are dingy. That may seem silly, especially as no one is likely to notice our windows five and six stories up in the air, but it’s a sign of a deeper problem.
Too often I let myself be influenced by others’ expectations of who I should be and what I should do, when the only person’s approval I need to be seeking is Jesus’. And although He requires perfection, He is easier to please than the myriad voices I hear every day. They come from every quarter, and often their demands are conflicting. Be the perfect housekeeper. ~ Don’t allow mundane chores to get in the way of spending time with your kids. ~ Serve in the church. ~ Don’t spread yourself too thin, or your family will suffer. And on and on they go. Jesus, on the other hand, simply requires that I love God and love others, and He promises to help me do that, if I will let Him.
I want to give myself permission to relax in the perfect liberty of Christ’s commands. I want to give myself the freedom to be what He wants me to be–nothing more, but also nothing less.
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