We hauled two dressers from my grandparents’ house out to Nebraska when we moved back in 2001. They had sat in their basement for decades. My grandfather stored tools in them — rough files, ragged saws, hammers, nails, screwdrivers. The dressers were chipped and scuffed, but I could see in a glance that they were solid and heavy and had good bones.
One weekend I finally decided to paint the dressers white. My number one design trick is paint — white paint, to be specific. Often Brad will come home from work and find a piece of furniture suddenly morphed white – “Oh, the coffee table … you painted it,” he’ll observe. He’s gotten used to this over the years.
Painting these two dressers took all day, even with Rowan’s “help.” I hadn’t considered the dark finish when I embarked on the refurbishing, hadn’t considered it would take four coats to cover every drawer and every surface of both dressers.
Later, after the dressers had dried and Brad and I had grunted them back upstairs to the bedroom, I stood back to admire my handiwork. The detailing on the drawers popped in the creamy white. The finish shone beneath the lamp’s glow.
But when I opened the drawers to put my shorts and shirts and socks back inside, I noticed the grime. Gritty dust had settled between the cracks and crevices during the sanding. A tangled cobweb fluttered beneath the back leg. The interior was ugly and stained, especially juxtaposed against the gleaming white.
The metaphor struck close to home. As I rubbed a damp towel along the bottom and into the corners of each drawer, I realized this is exactly what I do in my own life, too. I whitewash nicks and scuffs. I coat my surface with slick white.
I even whitewash the self I present to God. I pray my polite prayers; I do my good deeds; I read my Bible passages. But do I trust him enough to present the layers beneath that shiny exterior?
Do I allow him to see the real me, with the gritty, cobwebbed corners, the dark underbelly?
Or do I coat myself pretty and pretend, even to him, that I am clean?
He sees it anyway, of course.
Slowly I’m learning that the exterior isn’t nearly enough. It’s fine to start there, but I can’t be satisfied with outward acts of faith – the volunteer work; the worship; the bible study.
No, the process must stretch beyond mere acts, beyond scraping the surface, into the dark recesses and dingy corners of my own self. It’s not a place I want to spend much time – it’s ugly in there, cold and dark. Yet the dark insides are part of who I am, too. And I can’t expect to be washed clean if I don’t admit I’m dirty in the first place.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51: 6-10
An edited repost from the archives.
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