When the house is clean, I hear a hallelujah chorus in the background. It’s amazing. The sky is bluer, my head is clearer, and I feel like I have the mind space to dream and plan and focus on what I actually care most about in life.

But having kids and keeping the house continually clean is like oil and water.

It feels like I’m on a ceaseless quest to maintain order and cleanliness in our home. During naptime, I watch YouTube videos of people doing “power hours,” cleaning their home as fast as they can in one hour. While the YouTubers discuss their cleaning routines, I go at it with washing dishes, vacuuming, dusting, and spraying down surfaces.

I heard about a book that would help me develop routines so my home could always be pristine. Of course, I immediately bought and read it, in hopes that I could achieve a shiny home. Despite my efforts, I keep falling short. I feel trapped in the tension of wanting an immaculate home and a full and vibrant childhood for my kids. I wind up anxious and dissatisfied with the state of my home, and sometimes my life.

Clean Manger

The other day, as I was listening to the Book of Proverbs on my Scripture-reading app, a verse suddenly struck me: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Prov. 14:4).

Obviously I’m not dealing with any oxen or mangers, but the proverb still resonated.

In Solomon’s time, many families’ livelihood depended on oxen tilling their fields and providing crops to eat and sell. I can imagine living back then and thinking, I just want the manger clean for once. For crying out loud, how hard is it to have a clean manger? And Solomon is essentially saying, “Sure, you can have a clean manger—if there are no oxen. If you want a clean manger, get rid of the animals. You’ll have it nice and clean. Sweep it, mop it, spray it down, get it nice and fresh smelling.” Clean manger, check that off the list.

But without oxen, you don’t have crops. Abundance comes from the animal that makes the manger dirty. If you want the abundance, you must embrace the mess.

Abundance Is Messy

If I were to get rid of the children and the husband, I would have a perfectly clean home. Sparkling counters, floors freshly vacuumed and mopped, everything in its place with zero clutter. I could take a deep breath and enjoy a lovely, well-ordered home.

But what’s missing? The wonderful husband God has provided for me. The precious children, who are a treasure from the Lord. Sure, I could have things immaculate. But how lonely! We may not have a home that is always spick-and-span, but there is a richness in our home. There is life. There is abundance.

Proverbs 14:4 has helped reframe the way I see the mess. The toys on the floor symbolize imaginations expanding, explosions of thought as young minds learn and grow. The crumbs on the floor after lunch are a reminder that little bellies are filled, that God has been faithful to provide us with satisfying food each day. The dusty dresser top is a visual message that our time is being spent elsewhere. The mud on the front mat is a reminder that my son and husband had a blast outside together, making sweet father-son memories. There is adventuring at the playground, water-splashing at bath time, running around the house while pretending we’re trains, and dancing to songs blasting on the music speaker. There is abundance.

And the abundance would be absent if the children who make the mess weren’t present.

God is teaching me to look beyond the mess, to look toward the abundance. To look at the richness and beauty of children enjoying life, of joyful moments with parents and kids, of love and laughter reverberating off the walls. This is still hard, since I really value a clean home (which, to be clear, is not a bad thing). But I pray the Lord grows me more and more in recognizing what matters most, and in embracing the people over the perfection.

In the midst of the mess, embrace the abundance.