I hate to dust. So I’m walking around the house, dust rag in hand, doing what I normally do when confronted with something I hate—blaming Eve.
Suddenly it occurs me—dust is not something I can put on her rap sheet. Dust is what man was created out of, therefore, dust was around when God was still saying, “It is good.”
So when did dust go bad? When did it become one of those hated plagues in our lives?
Many biblical characters lived in a desert. Yet we don’t read of them spending time dusting, not even that Martha Stewart rival, the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Why not? My guess is that they had little of what we call dust in their homes.
Dust is what appears on the tables holding decorative items in our living room, on the seldom-used appliances lining our kitchen and on the “cute” collectibles scattered throughout the house. There is, however, no dust on our kitchen table and other surfaces we use on a daily basis. Dust gathers on extraneous surfaces, surfaces whose only purpose is to hold things. It gathers on the things, too, if their only purpose is to be looked at.
What did people of ancient times have to get dusty? Most of the things they owned were used daily, often for multiple purposes. A rolling stone gathers no moss, and a used item gathers no dust. They had little in their homes that was not being put to constant use.
So, in fact, dust might be considered a sign of prosperity. If I couldn’t afford things only for decoration, I probably wouldn’t need to dust. That should lead me to choose one of two reactions—gratitude or simplification. Every swipe of the dust rag should lead me to praise God for all He has blessed me with. I have more than I need, more than I can use. I am financially well off enough to be able buy things purely for aesthetic value. That should bring forth my praise, not my grumpiness. So how do I change my attitude?
First, I try to remember that God is the source of all I have. James 1:17 (NIV) states “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” God has chosen to give us many things, including the income we use to purchase decorative items for our home. If my child were given a gift and, in the presence of the giver, complained about all the work required to care for the gift, I would be appalled. Yet this is the contempt I show toward God when I grumble over having to care for the things He generously allows me to have.
Second, I can consciously choose to give thanks. Paul tells us in I Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV) that we should “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In this home, with this furniture and these doodads that need dusting, can I cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving? How does this work when I dust? I can thank God for the particular item and its value to me—useful, aesthetic or sentimental. Then I could thank God for the way He brought it into my life. I also might thank Him for the person who helped me find it or gave it to me and spend a moment praying for that person. All these thankful options would make the dusting time a time to worship and connect with God and would produce a better attitude in me.
When I find specific thanksgiving too brain intensive, I look back to verse 16 of I Thessalonians 5, where we are simply instructed to “be joyful always.” One Puritan prayer puts it succinctly: “Thou art worthy to be praised with my every breath, loved with every faculty of soul, served with my every act of life,” even if the act is cleaning and the breath is full of dust. I can put on the praise music, loud, and sing my way through the dusting. It’s difficult to harbor whiny thoughts while I’m praising our gracious God.
Third, I can practice being content with whatever I have. Philippians 4:11 (NIV) is Paul’s testimony of learning “to be content whatever the circumstances.” Would I be more gratified living in the Third World with less stuff? Many people there, like those of biblical times, don’t dust, for they have few possessions.
In the book Material World, which contains photographs from 30 countries of average families with all their possessions, I find a stark reminder of my prosperity. Take the family from Mali—the only furniture they own is two chairs and two bed platforms. I’m sure they don’t have to dust, but would I want to live that way? The Ethiopian family has a wooden couch and a wooden box for clothes; the family from India, one chair and two beds, one of which is used as a couch by day. I prefer my life of affluence here, so perhaps I should train myself to be content in my world with the things I own.
What if I find I can’t be grateful and content? It’s obviously time to start getting rid of things, to start simplifying. If I hate dusting that particular item so much that I can’t praise God for it, then maybe I can enhance my relationship with God by throwing it out, selling it or giving it away. Hopefully, that will allow me to rejoice that I no longer have to care for it. That garage sale could be a praise inducer and, if I donate the proceeds to a charity, an act of worship as well.
My ingratitude may mean that I’ve accumulated too many things, things God never intended me to have. G. K. Chesterton said that “there are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” Ridding my home of excess, grumble-inducing possessions can be a way to begin to learn the meaning of “enough.”
Simplicity has become a buzzword in our day. People are beginning to realize that we continue to acquire things without experiencing greater inward satisfaction. Those of us who know Christ should be well-versed in this lesson. We should be able to relax our grip on things, knowing we don’t have to measure up to those around us or find meaning in life through objects. What items do I need to rid myself of because they don’t contribute to a joyful, God-centered life? The act of giving them away can be a sacrificial act of worship to my God.
I may still dislike dusting, but I can transform it into a time of worship. The Creator of the universe has provided me with abundance, and I can choose to thank Him for it. I can use dusting time to evaluate the place of things in my life and allow God to direct me on what to let go of.
So maybe dust never turned evil. In fact, maybe God still says, “It is good,” when I allow it to be my teacher and worship leader.