It’s an apparent theme of this week, dirty floors and dusty corners, that is. On Tuesday afternoon, a strong, capable woman who runs an NGO here exclaimed to me, “Oh, Erin, if you only knew, my floors are so dirty!” And then she went on to describe how deeply her life has changed since she had a baby, and how little time and energy she has to keep up with relationships, daily chores, and most poignantly, the pace or privileges of her previous life.
Later this week, my husband pointed out to me how dirty our own floors are, and I had a hard time accepting the fact without judgment. For me, the floors symbolized the pace at which my life had suddenly flown into full gear, and the lack of balance I’d been able to strike between practically being brought to tears on Wednesday about the lack of confidence I’m feeling about accomplishing nothing here in China, and the whirlwind tour of visits I’d been on these past few days.
While on one of those visits, an NGO staff member asked me whether America is dusty like China–dust everywhere, on the streets, sidewalks, getting into every corner of one’s life. “Every country has dust,” I reminded him, much as I’d reminded my friend on Tuesday, that everyone’s floors get dirty. And then this morning as I was reading my devotional, this dirtiness and dustiness reappeared in an allusion to the sin that we try to strike from our lives in one deep clean, but still creeps in despite our best efforts.
The devotional’s conclusion was that we can’t do one deep clean, but rather have to strive each day to recommit our lives to Christ, and repent of our sins.
And while I think that’s true, and perhaps, helpful to some, the larger lesson for me here seems to be that everyone has dirty floors, and everyone has dusty corners, and that the point is not our need to polish them clean, but our willingness to reveal them, and our imperfections to others, and to rest, not on our own abilities or inabilities, but in the grace with which God accepts us, dust, dirt, and all.
There are moments at which I feel incredibly off-balance, trying to work toward completing a research project in China, and navigating the complex processes that go with it, but I can either dwell on the wobbles and the fears, or embrace this unsteadiness, the way God does for me each day. It was relatively easy and obvious for me to tell my friends and colleagues that everyone’s floors are dirty and every country has dust, but I recognize that when it comes to my own dust and dirt, I’m often less tolerant, less patient, less “above it all.”
Last night, after a tiring day of running around the city, visiting families, and being confronted with some of the harsh realities of life here in China, I walked, nay, stumbled into our apartment rather breathlessly, to find a candle on the dinner table, the sizzling sounds of food being prepared in the kitchen, and white floors, cleaned by my husband, on his day off. These simple things reminded me of grace.
I have concluded that we can either painstakingly scrub the floors, with what’s left of our energy and our sanity, sweep the dust away, and try to pretend we have it all figured out, OR we can find a way to accept ourselves and our faults, like the ones who so deeply love us do, and see ourselves through their eyes. My husband said the other day that grace is “the gift to see ourselves and others through the eyes of God rather than our own, our culture’s, our world’s.” Thank God, he’s so right.