A long winter is fading into the calendar. Sunlight seems more content to lounge around past dinner and may even reach through the early spring chill and kiss our skin with bits of red if we lean its way.
The world draws us closer together as it warms. The cold and darkness that made us slowly withdraw from one another begins to disappear as birds sing, trees sprout colors, and neighbors who’ve ducked into cars to escape the cold linger once again to catch up and chat across driveways and busy sidewalks. Winter can make us strangers.
I entered this season of Lent feeling the weight of a winter season in my spiritual life. I have felt a bit like God was my neighbor waving quickly and ducking into his front door across the street to escape the snow and ice the past few months.
As the new light of the Easter season approached, I was hopeful my spiritual life, like all of nature around me, might break out of its lethargy.
I stood at the edge of my driveway talking with my neighbor and happened to glance back toward my house. Extended daylight had snuck to the edges of my garage and exposed it before the world as a noticeable wreck with tools and boxes and dirt cluttering the floor. Twilight stood at the hedges near our front porch illuminating the flower beds littered with dead leaves and winter’s grunge covering the path to our front door.
My garage was a disaster and our front porch didn’t look too inviting either. The new gleams of light accentuated the need for a little cleaning … and spring cleaning takes some commitment.
I set aside time to go to work. First, I cleared clutter from the garage, ran boxes of unnecessary items to Goodwill, organized shelves, and swept floors. Then it was time to clear our front walkway: sweeping away the remnants of winter, trimming back hedges, washing the grime from the porch, clearing the way for guests to arrive.
In the middle of all this labor, I stood back and noticed that my housework was actually clearing the pathways into my home. As I swept spaces and uncluttered walkways, I was reminded of how often our souls are compared to a house in the biblical narrative. Looking around my home reminded me of the mess that winter had left around my own heart. I began to reflect on the similarities between spring cleaning and prayer.
Prayer, like spring cleaning, is work: It requires intention, time, and effort. And so that Saturday I began to practice Lent and celebrate the advent of spring by committing myself to daily prayer.
My spiritual winter began to break toward warmer temperatures.
I found a spotless garage floor and immaculate front porch can keep the floors inside your home clean. Most of the filth we collect on the floors inside our home is tracked in from the dirty garages and walkways outside of our home. I discovered the process of praying can effectively “sweep away” selfishness, bitterness, jealousy — the muck that circulates around my day-to-day life and gathers on my “garage floor” seeking a way into my heart.
Maybe one of the practical benefits of faithfully practicing prayer (or spring cleaning) is to help keep us from tracking so much “dirt” into our hearts.
Jesus talked about standing at our front door and knocking; Paul in Hebrews described us as God’s house or temple and Jesus talked about moving into our “homes.” I have been reminded that a moment of prayer is also a rare instance in our day when we acknowledge that we are NOT in control of our destiny. It is also when we recognize the need to invite God into our home.
We so often focus on prayer as our path to God, but I wonder if it isn’t the other way around. Maybe it is more like trimming back hedges and straightening the walkway that leads to our front porch than we could imagine? Perhaps the more we pray the more conditioned our hearts become to the truth that we need God’s visitation. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, speculated that prayer is not so much about clearing a path to God’s door before he will open it, maybe it is the other way around, “…because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door.”
Yes, the frost is fading into spring and the more intentional I am about keeping the real estate near my heart in order, the more God seems to be showing up in my life. As we move together in the light of Easter, I hope you will join me with a renewed commitment to prayer and a little bit of your own “spring cleaning.”