Earlier today, I put my hands on the back of my desk chair and, to my surprise (and disgust), found that it was covered in dust. I use my desk chair pretty often, but I had never noticed it getting dusty because the back is almost always covered with a cardigan that I keep on the chair in case I get cold.
Needless to say, I know the next spot in my room that will be getting a good wipe down with some soap and water.
But immediately after I pulled my hands away from the chair and found my fingertips coated in dark gray dust, I couldn’t help being startled by the contrast of the dust against my moments before clean hands. And I wondered how often that actually happens to me. Not just with getting my hands dirty – but with my spirit.
See, I think there are plenty of things in my life that I think are clean… but could probably use some tidying up. Or deep cleaning.
And the thing that’s keeping me from cleaning those things is simply the fact that I don’t notice the dust. It can take sticking my hands right into it to realize what’s actually going on.
Again, I know right off the top of my head a few things that are at the top of the list that I could clean up and improve in my life. But soap and water won’t be as helpful with these things as they will be to the back of my desk chair.
Which has me thinking, what does it really mean to be clean? We read about being clean all the time in the scriptures, but can you just decide to be clean and all of the sudden you are? Or is being clean the same thing as being perfect?
Or does it mean something else entirely?
What Does It Mean to Be Clean?
I think we can agree that, while perfection is our long-term goal, it isn’t something we are expected to be while living here on the earth. As mortals, we are learning to become perfect, but we aren’t there yet.
Cleansing, in my mind, is the process that creates perfection in us. You can call it other things – repentance, chastisement, change – but I think all of those things add up to this process of cleansing.
I really like the way Elder David A. Bednar puts it:
We are commanded and instructed to so live that our fallen nature is changed through the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost.Elder David A. Bednar, “Clean Hands and a Pure Heart,” 2007
Basically, if we live so that the Holy Ghost can be present in our lives, we start to become clean. If we live this way consistently, that cleansing can be a daily tidying up instead of infrequent deep cleaning.
Being clean, then, means that we are living and making changes in our lives to be worthy of the Holy Spirit as our constant companion. That doesn’t mean we are perfect; it means we’re actively working toward perfection.
The way I see it, being clean is God’s expectation for us in mortality while being perfect is His expectation for us in eternity. Maybe I’m wrong on that, but when I’m asked to be clean, I feel like it’s more achievable than when I’m asked to be perfect.
That doesn’t mean being clean is easy though. This warning from Elder Bednar makes that clear:
Brothers and sisters, it is possible for us to have clean hands but not have a pure heart. Please notice that both clean hands and a pure heart are required to ascend into the hill of the Lord and to stand in His holy place.Elder David A. Bednar, “Clean Hands and a Pure Heart,” 2007
If being clean was easy, we wouldn’t have to be reminded to cleanse ourselves. It’s a choice we have to make every single day.
How We Become Clean
I think the way we become clean has 2 main parts. First, we have to make the choice to become clean and put our own effort into being worthy, and second, we accept the cleansing power of Christ.
We shouldn’t be intimidated by cleansing. It’s a process, and it takes time. You can’t clean your whole house in five minutes. You do it step by step. Maybe you wash the dishes first. Then you wipe off the counters. Next, you sweep the floor and mop it. Then you move from the kitchen to another room.
It’s a little here and a little there, and you keep doing those pieces until the whole house is clean. The same kind of process works with personal cleansing. If we work on little pieces at a time, we can make a lot more progress than we can by taking on everything at once. In fact, if we try to do it all at once, we can be sure we won’t succeed, and that leads to more pain than progress.
This is something I really struggle with. I just want to fix it all at once. I like to think that if I can just get everything in my life in order, I’ll be in good shape for the rest of my life.
Obviously, that’s flawed thinking.
Here’s another cleaning example. My sister got married a few months ago, but she didn’t take all of her stuff with her when she did. Her apartment isn’t big enough for all of her stuff and all of her husband’s stuff.
Well, the other day, my mom and I decided it was time to clean out my sister’s room so it can be used as a guest room when needed. We didn’t throw her things away, but we did a lot of cleaning. And we found that her room hadn’t been deep cleaned in a while.
So we dusted and vacuumed and organized, and eventually, we got the room to a point where people could stay in it. But what stood out to me as we did it was how much dust and clutter can pile up without us realizing it.
Tying this story back in now, the idea that we can clean everything at once is flawed thinking, but so is the idea that once we clean up everything in our life, we’ll never have to do it again.
The reality is, we clean something, and it gets dirty again. So we clean it again, and it gets dirty all over again. I’m sure many of you moms out there can testify of that.
And it is just as true with ourselves as it is with our houses. We may get our habit of scripture study solid for a while, but after some time, we may find that we aren’t giving it the attention we should. So we have to take a good look at ourselves and find out how to clean the habit so that it works properly again.
That’s all the first part of cleansing. But the fact is, no matter how much we work on ourselves, true cleansing doesn’t happen without our Savior, Jesus Christ.
This story, to me, illustrates perfectly our relationship with Christ and how He cleanses us:
12 And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
13 And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him.Luke 5:12-13, King James Version
The man with leprosy was in a place to see Jesus Christ and come to Him. He did his part to be worthy of cleansing.
And Jesus, recognizing the man’s faith and effort, willed that he be cleansed.
It’s really a simple relationship, but it all hinges on whether we have placed ourselves where we can see Christ and whether we choose to go to Him for aid. The things I mentioned earlier in this post can help us be in that right place. If we’ve done our part, His love and mercy will cleanse us in ways that we didn’t know were possible.
Spiritual cleansing is a gift from God. And while our actions play a huge role in whether we can be cleansed or not, the ultimate and complete cleansing comes from our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ.
This week, pick ONE thing that could be cleaned or improved in your life. If you can’t decide on one, pray to know which thing is most important to work on. Then find a way to bring the cleansing power of Christ into your life. Remember, it might take some time. It might not be a one-week process. But with your efforts to be in the right place with the right intent and Christ’s infinite cleansing power, the changes you want to make will happen in time.