The Spiritual Discipline of a Messy House

Is a tidy house worth the stress?

It’s a season of snow melting and sun shining through windows and spring cleaning.

I’m driving home from a chiropractor appointment, singing. It’s afternoon and my husband is home with our youngest as he only teaches part of the day on Mondays and the sky is stretched blue and peaceful above me.

Then I arrive at home, step inside, to find clutter, to find markers on the table, toys scattered across the floor, books off the bookshelf, and dirty dishes on the counter. 

Never mind that Trent and my daughter have had a lovely time playing board games – I don’t see that. I see mess. More than that – I see chaos and I’m anxious to control it. 

“Trent – why didn’t you put these things away? Aria, come and clean up,” and in an instant that peaceful blue sky disappears inside a very messy soul. A weary woman who’s somehow become determined to control her world through a spotless house.

And I know it. I know it in the pained silence that follows, in the strained look across my husband’s face, feeling he’s failed me when in fact he hasn’t – and my daughter’s normal exuberance hushed by the sudden tension between Mommy and Daddy. 

All for a tidy house. Is it worth it?

As I stand in my immaculate living room, the blankets folded precisely, the books and toys where they need to be, I come to the realization that it isn’t. 

My house, in fact, doesn’t even look lived in. And I too feel stifled by this awful prison of orderliness.


For in fact all this folding and putting away is simply an attempt to quiet anxieties caused by sorrows too large to handle. By a world I cannot fix. By problems that cannot be put neatly into a corner or swept into a dustpan. Anxieties which Jesus wants me to give to him but somehow I keep taking back.

So that night I announce to my family that I am implementing the spiritual discipline of a messy house. I will no longer be tidying up during the day – that I will spend it, instead, loving on my family as I should be, and that come evening, we will all clean up our mess, together. 

First John 4:18 says “Perfect love casts out all fear” and by choosing love over anything else – over a tidy home, over control, over worry, over stress, we choose peace – we cast out all fear, all anxiety. 

We cannot fix the world. Only Jesus can. But we can love. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a tidy home but may we all choose the better thing, as Jesus admonished Martha – Mary chose the better thing, sitting at his feet and learning his ways. 

I want that. I want to choose learning from Jesus. I want to choose love. Will you join me?  


  • Emily Wierenga

    Emily Wierenga is a wife and mother who is passionate about the church and lives in northern Alberta. She is the author of the memoirs Atlas Girl and Making it Home (Baker Books), and the founder of a non-profit working in Africa and Asia.

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