Not long ago, I was the mom constantly reminding my kids to go wash your hands. I would even do the smell check, insisting I stick my nose to their palms, so I could be sure the scent on them was lemon verbena or fresh juicy pear, not sticky-sweaty-day-old dirt.
And now, I’ve given up on the suds, the lathering, the smell check, even a water rinse isn’t enforced.
The kids are usually half way through dinner before my husband and I both look at each other- did he wash his hands?!
The answer is almost always, no. Dinner continues and no further direction is given for said child to leave the table to wash up.
I’ve relaxed a little, to say the least.
I pet our puppy, let him eat out of my hand and throw slobber on me, I hold the kittens, wipe numerous bottoms, dig holes in the dirt for my plants, pick up old food off the floor, and then brush my hands on my pants and call it good.
The sink, the soap, the suds, the whole process of scrubbing my hands and my children’s hands is symbolic to me of my fear of the other, of the different, the unknown.
We wash our hands because we think we are dirty, and we want to stay pure. However, studies have shown more washing isn’t always better. There are negative consequences to over-washing, sanitizing, and using too much anti-bacterial soaps and gels.
One article stated, “If you wash your hands too often, you are also removing the healthy oils and good bacteria that defend against disease,” she said.
Blockmon added that in her practice, she occasionally sees patients who use hand sanitizing gel to the point where their hands are cracking. “That actually gives bacteria an easier way to get into their bodies…” Taken from Huff Post, You Might Be Washing Your Hands Too Often
The article ended with a line I’ll always hold on to, “there are germs- even fecal matter- on everything. And despite this, you’re OK!”
Fecal matter on everything. And you’re OK!
I think I’m making this my song for these middle years of life.
I don’t just want to tolerate the uncleanliness in myself and others, I want to rid myself of the urge I feel to clean it up or sterilize it. After six year of mothering I’m finally letting my guard down. My kids wear stained clothes, mismatched socks, their shoes on the wrong feet, and sticky sugar adorns their faces.
Spit on my finger has become my go-to cleaning method for blotting some blood off a scratch, removing jam off a cheek, even today, I caught myself spitting on my finger and trying to wipe up a crusty spill from our wood floor before company arrived.
You could say I am purposefully exposing myself to the stuff that grates against my perfection and pious purity, or what science refers to as germs. It might only be a few small crumbs, stains on my paints, the offenses of another, or dishes in the sink, but I’m choosing to see the mess and let it be.
I’m being intentional about rubbing up against life hard enough so it leaves more than a few marks on me at the end of the day.
Jesus didn’t move away from uncleanliness, he scooted closer. And if anyone could see the invisible germs on everything it was Him, and yet He wasn’t a fanatic religious rule keeper waltzing around in crisp white garments.
Everywhere He went He made messes and decided there would be no distance between He and the messiest of people. He washed dirty feet, touched the leprous skins and souls, breathed life into three-day-old dead people, didn’t lather up before eating meals, mixed His spit with mud to make a healing ointment for a blind man…and called it all good.
I’m sure Jesus smelled rancid.
To the Pharisees, we know, it was the stench of fecal matter.
But for the rest of us, limping, bruised, and hungry, He smelled of life.
Lately, and this might sound gross, I’ve been eating my breakfast in the morning all the while smelling our puppy on my hands. I’ve also been practicing walking by the sink with a smile, letting the oil and bacteria stay a little longer, resisting the urge to remove it immediately. I’m letting clothes go unwashed more often and allowing hands to hold remnants of the day until bedtime. Even as I write this, my six-month old is pooping in her diaper on my lap, and I’m smiling.
Like my kids, I want to keep the dirt under my nails, the salty tears on my face, and the gooey chocolate drips on my lips. It’s my reminder to keep reaching towards the messes, letting the dust of everyday life settle over me like a sweet perfume to pour out on Jesus’ feet as worship to Him, and call it all good.