You’d think having a housekeeper would be great. Floors vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, and bookshelves dusted, all while you’re out having fun. You come home, and everything’s done. Does it get any better than that? But my parents had a housekeeper for a while when I was in high school. And it didn’t take me long to realize that it’s not quite what you’d expect.
To begin, I never could understand why it was necessary to clean the house before the housekeeper arrived. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a housekeeper? But every time, my mom would rush around telling everyone, “The housekeeper will be here any minute. Hurry up and clean the house.” Is there anything about those two sentences that makes sense?
And that wasn’t the worst of it. The real problem was that the housekeeper actually cleaned. Everywhere. Even the nooks and crannies: you know, those dark corners of your room with the layers of dust and debris that accumulate after weeks (years) of neglect. Most people have enough common sense not to notice that those corners even exist. Or, if they notice, they know better than to say anything. But not the housekeeper. Housekeepers can’t help but see the dark corners. That’s what they do. They’re supposed to peer into the dark corners, spraying, wiping, and scrubbing until all the nooks and crannies are finally clean, probably for the first time.
The housekeeper sees everything.
My problem was my bed. Or, more accurately, under my bed. As far as I’m concerned, the space under your bed is good for one thing and one thing only: cleaning your room. As long as your room has no visible junk, it’s clean. So the fastest way to clean your room is to hide the junk. Under the bed. Technically you could also use your closet, but the bed usually works better because it’s more centrally located and you can push stuff under it from multiple directions. So, when mom would sound the siren announcing the imminent arrival of the housekeeper, I’d head to my room and promptly stuff everything under my bed. That was my dark corner.
Everything was fine as long as she didn’t look under the bed.
She always did. Housekeepers are nosy.
We didn’t get along.
I have the same problem with God. For some reason, no matter how many times I hear the Gospel, I still don’t get it. Not all the way. There’s a part of me that still thinks it’s just too good to be true. God can’t possibly love me. Look at all this stuff under my bed! And, as I lie curled up in the dark corner of my own shame, I begin to think that this is normal. This is the way it’s going to be. Sure, God may have great plans to transform me in the future, after I die. But for now, this is it. Everyone knows that real transformation is a myth.
The saddest part is that I know none of this is true. I have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), raised with him to a new life freed from my slavery to sin (Rom. 6:1-11), indwelt by the Spirit of God to be renewed and recreated in his image (2 Cor. 3:18), forgiven, loved, redeemed. That is the truth. I know it. But at times I struggle to feel it.
It’s like I have a phantom limb. That’s what they call it when a person who has lost an arm or a leg insists that they can still feel it. Although the limb is no longer there, the feeling of the limb is so real that they’ll even complain about it itching or hurting. It’s a mirage, but a powerful one. For the Christian, shame operates the same way. In reality, there is no shame. Jesus took our guilt and shame on himself and nailed it to the cross. Before God, we are naked. The shame is gone.
But it doesn’t feel like it.
We’ve worn our coats of shame for so long, that we can still feel its abrasive rub on our skin and smell the musty odor of long-kept secrets wafting from its pockets. We know it’s not really there. But, it’s hard to hear the quiet whisper of our heads over the terrified screaming of our hearts.
So, convinced deep down that there’s a part of me even God can’t love and won’t transform, not in this life, I hide. Stuffing my dirty laundry under my bed, quietly guarding my dark corners. And, in the process, I deny the Spirit’s power, God’s love, and Jesus’s death on the cross. I don’t mean to, but I do it anyway.
Instead, I need to keep living into the truth, daily throwing myself into this grand story of the gospel, consciously denying the seductive allure of the darkness, intentionally gathering around myself faithful people who help me see the truth of Gospel instead of the phantom limb of shame. No easy solutions here. Only a lifetime of transformation.
The housekeeper is here. Don’t hide the laundry.
[This is an excerpt from a book that I’m writing about the gospel, Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. You can read the other excerpts and keep track of new ones as they become available on my blog.]
About Marc Cortez
Theology Prof at Wheaton College, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.