On Containing More Than Just Toxic Messes


(FYI: I recently added a “Books” page above. You might want to check it out…)




The word containment usually carries a pretty serious connotation in most contexts. It is often used in reference to preventing radioactive release in a nuclear facility or, in a military sense, when speaking of  inhibiting the spread of communism.


When I was a young mother of four children under the age of five, containment of toxic household debris clutter was a serious issue for me.

It became even more serious when we listed our house for sale. We lived in a really nice area where the market was highly competitive. It was in a pristine Canadian neighborhood, and a place where I happened to be the messy, uncultured American who didn’t pull out my stray dandelions from the yard at four in the morning like my OCD-afflicted, achingly polite neighbors did.

The seriousness of mess containment became even more consequential when I discovered that our real estate agent was a true Communist Clutter Officer. A greedy, cruel individual who insisted that top dollar would only be nabbed by homeowners who bowed to the oppression of knick-knack free rooms and sterile countertops.

My real estate Officer’s brutality instilled fear and dread in me. Because my freedom-loving children daily engaged in uninhibited, quasi-democratic playtime, our home’s interior stood as a testament to the effectiveness of a free market system, complete with overflowing clothing items, toys, and foodstuffs.

Circa 1989. The true definition of futility: Organizing the toybox.

Needless to say, our Officer did not appreciate such a capitalistic approach to filling one’s home.

Every time Mr. Officer called to schedule a showing, I would break out in a sweat. I was as motivated to sell our home as he was, but I was convinced there were potential buyers who could overlook our mess and see the value of the place underneath it.

Mr. Officer did not agree. He was a bonafide drama queen, going ballistic at the mere sight of cracker crumbs ground into the carpet or a few innocent socks plugging the toilet. He would fume about such things, insisting that the familiar smell of dirty diapers in the kitchen would lower our home price by two thousand dollars. I politely disagreed, figuring people would be charmed by the “homeyness” of our place. Mr. Officer said “homeyness” was not a word and substituted it with one I would rather not write here.

Agent Officer really needed to get a grip. I mean, it wasn’t my fault that mannerly Canadians have always practiced the unsanitary custom of taking their shoes off at the door. I figured it was their own collective problem if they didn’t protect their stockinged feet from peanut butter globs on hallway tile. I tried to talk to Officer about this, but he merely responded with an upraised clipboard, signaling the end of that conversation.

His dictatorial approach tempted me to fire him on many occasions, but he was, admittedly, one of the most successful real estate agents in the city and we really needed to get our home sold. So, I put up with his clipboard fixation and his perplexing insistence that I rent a storage unit in which to store my children until the home was safely off the market.

I also got creative with last-minute mess elimination. I simply started assigning the older children the task of throwing anything and everything that wasn’t a fixture or piece of furniture into boxes. I would then shove those boxes into the truck camper that was jacked up outside the garage. The camper was the only place that Mr. Officer didn’t show to buyers.

It really was an effective method. I would sweep my arm across a counter or table and just let everything fall into a box. Sugar bowls, dirty dishes, papers, sharp knives, books–all magically dispensed with in one might swoop. Of course, my technique made for some awful sorting-out later, but at least it shut Mr. Officer’s incessant whining up.

So finally, the Day arrived. The Big Day–the Lucrative Showing Day. The day on which Mr. Officer said our most promising buyers so far would be looking at the house. We agreed on a time and I assured Officer that the house would be completely spic-and-spanned from one end to the other. Or, at least look like it was.

I desperately wanted this to be the last showing. My nerves were frayed from having our messy lives continually disrupted and from constantly lugging the detritus of our daily existence back and forth between the house and the truck camper. I was afraid I was losing my mind, especially on the days when the kids were having far too much wild fun. Those were the days when I secretly priced out storage units.

I thought we were ahead of schedule with our bold swooping process on Lucrative Day when the doorbell rang. It was Mr. Officer with our buyers. He was early–drat!

I cowered as I opened the door to face Mr. Officer and his preapproved-for-a-hefty-mortgage guests. We weren’t ready. Not everything was contained. Even ten more precious minutes would have been enough for me to stow the worst of the clutter.

Worse yet, one of the kids’ boxes had dripped pieces of dirty laundry on its way out to the camper. As I stood facing the polished young couple smiling on my front steps, I tried to keep my gaze up and away from the bra that was right inside the door, sprawled across the entry rug. Keeping my eyes fixed as I greeted the guests, I discreetly hooked the bra with my toe and kicked it behind me. I hoped it would remain out of view long enough for Mr. Officer to usher the guests down to see the lower level of our split level first. Unfortunately, toddler A. picked the bra up, put it across her chest, and started parading gleefully around us as the guests stepped in. Officer gave me a look that could have melted the paint on his Acura. It wouldn’t be the last of such looks I would get that day.


My Pharisaism made me act like a successful, but dictatorial real estate agent. I made it my life’s ambition to showcase and sell my faith to unbelievers. Thus, I became very annoyed when my freer, uninhibited fellow Christians didn’t keep their lives clean and contained in the ways I believed they should.

I was infected with the same spirit the ancient Pharisees were. Those leaders had worked for centuries to build an exacting and perfect structure of traditions in which to contain their religion. They believed that God lived inside their container and only the Jewish people who carefully adhered to all the regulations could meet Him there.

In a way, the Pharisees determination to create a solid law structure was understandable. Throughout history, the Jewish people had gone through times of rebellion against God and gross idolatry that had resulted in periods of harsh punishment. Several hundred years before Jesus arrived, the seeds of Pharisaism had already been planted by leaders who strove to prevent God’s people from straying so dangerously outside the boundaries of the Law. They felt they had no choice but to set up hedges of traditions to keep their structure ceremonially clean, and to keep the dangerous, unclean pagan stuff out.

However, as I talked about in my last post, the Pharisees lost sight of the fact that God cannot be contained inside anything. Ever. Not even a law structure that they had reinforced and made as impenetrable as a twentieth century nuclear containment building.

There was simply no allowance made for messes on the inside of the Jewish religion. As a result, the Jewish people who wanted a relationship with God had to box up their honest sin clutter and haul it outside whenever the Pharisees came around. The people had to pretend like their lives always looked that clean. It made for a nerve-wracking, manipulative, burdensome faith practice. And it felt to the people like there was no way out. There were stuck in a deep religious rut.

Arriving completely outside of the system, however, Jesus was in a position to pull his worshipers out of their rut. He did it in ways that were so unorthodox to the Pharisees that they absolutely refused to accept him as coming from God.

For one thing, Jesus didn’t just tolerate uncleanness, he faced it, embraced it, loved it, forgave it. That was the point of the Good Samaritan parable. He took a person whom the Pharisees would have viewed as their social enemy–a traitorous, vile, unclean Samaritan–and cast that man as the hero of the story. Jesus illustrated how it would be the outcast, the outsider who would truly love and minister to people in the New Kingdom.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, it was those contained within the scrubbed system–the Jewish religious leaders–who would turn a blind eye to the injured person and walk around his suffering without even a gesture of mercy. The Samaritan, an honest and open sinner, would be the one to sacrifice his time and money to help a needy person.

And so, the only way that I would ever rec0ver from Pharisaism would be to stop adhering to a system of thought that believed it had to be clean and pretty in order to contain God. Like the Apostle Peter when he really thought he was strong enough, righteous enough to always be loyal to God, I would have to face the fact that my heart had hidden weakness and shame lurking just beneath the surface. All it would take is a jolt of unexpected confrontation for it to ploop out, right in the open in front of everyone. And that would actually be a very good thing, because honesty always pays bigger dividends than phoniness ever can.


In the case of my home marketing efforts, something bad was bound to happen. We couldn’t live in the dishonesty of immaculateness indefinitely and not have something real ploop out eventually. On Lucrative Day, I remember scooping up my lingerie-displaying toddler and racing up to the kitchen while Mr. Officer knowingly ushered the guests downstairs. In a panic, and without an available box within reach, I grabbed anything and everything in sight and stuffed it in the oven. Wincing at the terrible squeaking noise that the oven door had recently developed, I closed it with a mighty shove, thankful that the oven window was dirty enough to hide the google eyes of the stuffed monkey that was peering through it.

I then herded the kids out the back door to wait with me on the patio while the potential buyers inspected every stupid inch of my faux-clean home. They certainly took their sweet time. It seemed like forever that I had to try and amuse the kids with sticks and leaves. (All our outdoor toys were in the front seat of the car.)

Finally, through the open kitchen window, while overhearing Officer Agent regale the benefits of a tiny, er, compact kitchen, I heard a most dreaded sound. It was the awful, terrible screeeech of the oven door. The distinct noise of our grungy mess plooping out for all the world to gaze upon in disgust.

I then listened helplessly to the plinking and rustling of objects hitting the floor and the simultaneous gasps of the observers, followed by ten seconds of complete silence.

My horror was eclipsed with a sudden inner rage. What kind of sick people peer inside an oven when they’re looking at a home for sale? What has this world come to?

I took a moment to gather my wits and then went into the kitchen to try and salvage whatever shred of decency might still be had. I walked in to see the stuffed monkey, a pile of Lego, several dirty socks, various magazines, books, a stray piece of bread, a hairbrush, some plastic cups, a large tennis shoe, and of course, the bra, all spilled out onto the open floor and open door of the oven. It was utterly, excruciatingly embarrassing.

I can’t remember exactly how I tried to verbally mop up the situation. I’ll never, ever forget, though, that those were the people who did buy the house. In spite of Officer Agent’s extreme disapproval. In spite of our goofy mess. In spite of our failed attempt at perfection, the house sold that very day.

Honestly, it was a lucrative day, after all.


So, now I close today’s post with this thought:  Messes can’t be contained forever, they have to be dealt with.

Has our modern church system, replete with paid clergy and Sunday traditions become dangerously close to the Pharisaical nuclear containment buildings? Have we tried to compress Jesus down to something we can contain within our system?

And if we have, then will we reject Him if He returns outside this system? Will we fail to recognize Him if His methods and politics and love go completely against our theological traditions?

Dare I open this squeaky door?

Dare I even ask such questions?




4 comments on “On Containing More Than Just Toxic Messes

  1. Janelle says:

    I would totally look inside the oven! I’m not sure why? Must be a Canadian thing. 🙂

    • Oh Janelle–now I feel terrible about referring to oven-lookers as “sick people!” Your writing conveys you to be a very kind, intelligent and sane person. I think this post actually gives a good reason for people to always look in the oven of a home they are looking at to buy, eh? Thank you for your feedback!

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