Contrary to popular belief, the phrase “Cleanliness is next to godliness” isn’t found in the Bible. It was said by John Wesley, the co-founder of the Methodist movement, during one of his sermons. Being raised a Methodist myself, one could say I’m biased, but I agree with him.
Hygiene is held in high regard throughout all of Scripture. There are countless examples of the importance of being both physically and metaphorically clean. But that’s easy to forget that when you’re the one wrist-deep in dirty mop water.
I was in my early 20s when I accepted a janitorial position at a hospital. This decision came shortly after realizing that running a cash register and having hundreds of interactions filled me with overwhelming apprehension. Being young and overconfident, I didn’t expect my greatest challenge to be crippling social anxiety. My hope was that the quiet life of a housekeeper would better suit my needs.
I was right to believe that being a custodian was a better fit for me. I knew the work wouldn’t be glamorous, but I believed in the mission of the hospital. I also trusted that God would look down with grace on a life of service, as meek as it might be, until I found my greater calling.
Unfortunately, I had seriously underestimated how quickly I’d turn bitter surrounded by smarter, stronger, “better” professionals while working in such an intense and prestigious setting. I felt small, like my contribution was too meager to be counted.
Eventually, I navigated a path of gratitude for the position, but it was a true test of the beliefs that I had previously thought unshakable. It’s a journey I’m still working through, but I’ve fortified my faith in the murky depths of that mop water. Faith that I’m where I should be, capable of change, and in the meantime, what I’m doing is enough. I’ve picked up some valuable lessons along the way.
Faith is not a feeling
Finding contentment in my position came with first realizing that being faithful isn’t something you feel. It’s something that you do. Witnessing people brought back to life is certainly an astonishing experience, but being part of it is something else entirely. Even if that contribution feels negligible.
We gave every patient that showed up in that hospital a clean, safe space. It was often one I had created, so although I seldom saw the end result, it was up to me to take action and start the process. I didn’t need to feel like I was participating in something greater. I needed to participate and help bring that faith to fruition, not just watch it unfold.
Take advice with a grain of salt
In each room I cleaned, I’d throw out cards and notes with words I’d run into a lot. “God has a plan,” or “Have faith, and things will get better.” While platitudes like these are often well-intentioned, they offer no practical advice. Neither myself nor the patients I was serving could reap any benefit from them.
These sentiments seemed to reflect the futility I felt toward my own situation as a simple housekeeper. They implied that each of us has less control than we actually do. In reality, trusting my gut and taking action ultimately reaps better outcomes and that seemed to hold true for the rest of the patients and staff. I am grateful that God has a plan, but I’m also really glad I have one, too.
Trust that opportunity is abundant
If God prefers to exist near cleanliness, I don’t think it’s simply that he likes to be organized, although that seems to be true. I think it’s because that’s where opportunities flourish. It’s easiest to paint a masterpiece on a clean canvas.
Since I began my journey as a cleaner, I’ve often wondered whether or not it’s taking me where I need to go. But I think that’s what faith really is. If I can share these experiences with others in a meaningful way, grace will meet me in the middle. All I have to do is prepare the space I’m in for something extraordinary, and eventually, it will show up.