Tidy Isn’t Clean


If you knew my friend Rachel, you would have been just as eager to help her fold her laundry as I was. A delightful combination of fun-loving, intelligent, thoughtful, and a bit risky, Rachel is the sort of person you always expect to see planning a new adventure. In fact, it’s almost unbearable to see her discouraged.

At the time of my story, Rachel lived in a duplex on the campus of Baptist Bible Translators Institute where my sister, Michele, was on staff. I was visiting Michele for a week. Rachel and I are good enough friends that I was in and out of Rachel’s house almost as much as Michele’s.

One morning, before leaving for a full day of hands-on language study, Rachel shared with me some personal burdens and frustrations. She was flat discouraged, and nothing I said could cheer her up.

But a few hours later, when I went into Rachel’s side of the duplex to retrieve something I had left, I saw on her bed the very thing I could do to cheer her up. In the middle of the bed was an overflowing basket of laundry. Yes! I would fold it for her.

Mission accomplished, I left Rachel’s house and thought gleefully of how loved she would feel in a few hours.

Sure enough, that evening Rachel called. I could immediately hear renewed enthusiasm in her voice. “Thanks so much for washing my laundry! I sure didn’t expect you to do that.”


“Yes, the laundry on my bed.”

Yeah, you’ve figured it out. I folded Rachel’s dirty laundry.

It may have been a nice gesture, but neat is not the same as clean. Not in laundry and not in lives.

I like neat. I like my life to be neat. I like for there to be no unrest or upheaval.

I like every area of my life to fit in tidy sections—not strewn out like an overflowing basket of laundry.

Perhaps you feel the same way.

I suppose neat is good. (My mother has always said it is.) But if you had to choose, don’t you think clean would be better than neat?

I’m afraid that sometimes we get so content with our tidy lives that we fail to check for cleanliness. In kindness, the Lord sees our preoccupation with tidy, and sometimes he dumps the basket over—just so we’ll be able to see the soils on the clothes.

It’s not really pretty when the basket gets dumped. It’s not comfortable either. Left to myself, I would prefer to believe my life was fine. Plus, it’s disturbing to see the dark stains and find unpleasant odors emanating from my own heart!

On the other hand, the stains and odors were there even while at first glance I thought everything was all in order. So maybe it is better to deal with them. Neat is nice, but clean is better.

I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.—Psalm 119: 75, 67, 71

If your life is tidy right now—if you don’t see areas of sin or pride or insufficiency—will you ask the Lord to expose the grime?

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.—Psalm 119:23–24

You’ll be glad you did.

It might get messy for awhile. But that will just be long enough for you to unfold the clothes, toss them in the washer, and bring them out smelling fresh and ready for use.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.—1 John 1:9

You can fold them again now. Tidy is always a good way to live.