I have always admired that many churches like mine rely on their members to keep chapels clean and orderly. With the exception of professional maintenance, HVAC, plumbing and the occasional deep cleaning, volunteers clean our buildings each week.
In large congregations or "Wards,” families might have the responsibility of cleaning just once a year. They also might be paired up with another family, and the work sure goes quickly with so many hands.
In our small congregation or "branch" in Woodstock, Va., families get as many opportunities as they'd like.
We empty trash cans, vacuum, clean windows and mirrors, straighten hymnals and mop floors in the restrooms. Sometimes the chalkboards need cleaning and wooden trim begs for a date with a dust mop.
It should be a family activity, but bringing the children along can be a mixed blessing. The older children can be helpful, but the younger children are usually underfoot or on top of trash cans. I’m sometimes frustrated at the "speed" of their work and how shiny, more interesting things so easily distract my junior janitors.
Asking my youngest to scan the chapel floor for forgotten coloring books, crayons or pacifiers guarantees I’ll soon hear a piano playing or, if we’re lucky, an organ. His older brother once turned on the microphone and announced from the pulpit that he was running for president.
Last week our name came up on the cleaning calendar. We cleared our schedule on Friday night and set out to prepare the building for Sunday’s services. In the car we agreed to a plan of action and specific assignments. The team was enthusiastic. Spirits were high! Optimism reigned!
It didn’t last long.
Fifteen minutes in and I was already frustrated. I’d asked one of my boys to push a large, rolling trash can around the building and collect trash from the smaller cans in each and every room. When he was done — or when he said he was done — I checked his work and found that while he’d certainly tried, he’d come up short.
He didn’t miss everything, though. That boy found enough lost trinkets to open a pawnshop.
At some point throughout the adventure, the children asked their mother or me for assistance completing the job at hand. They explained that they had done their best and promised they would try harder next time.
They asked for help; we gave it.
We followed them around the church checking and improving their work in almost every case. We appreciated that the quality of their efforts was considerably improved from our last cleaning assignment.
As I made a final walk through the building turning off lights and locking doors, I took note of how each child had been successful to varying degrees. In a few cases I needed to do very little to take our children's efforts from better to best. In others, I did more work on their assignment than they had.
Yet on the drive home, I once again wondered if next time my wife and I should do the work ourselves. Maybe it would go faster and be less frustrating. Maybe we wouldn’t have to do so much improving and fixing.
Several hours later I ended my day in prayer. As I do each night, I told my Father in Heaven of my struggles and shortcomings. I told him I was trying my best. I was doing all I could do on my own. I believed I’d done just a little better than the day before. I pleaded with him to take my efforts from better to best.
I told him how much I loved him and how I recognized that it was impossible for me to do it all, or any of it at all, without his help and his love for me.
Afterward, staring at the ceiling and struggling to slow my mental wheels, I considered all the messy spots in our lives that require regular cleaning. We all make mistakes and do our best to fix them. Some of our mistakes are more easily remedied than others, but every effort requires a bit of heavenly assistance to finish the job.
Because he is perfect.
We are not.
No matter our age, we’re all children, aren’t we? We’re imperfect children who need assistance in all we do. We’re strong in some things and weak in others. Even the very best among us, the kindest, the most noble, the most humble, the most obedient need heavenly grace to take our works from better to best.
I can’t wait to clean the chapel again.
I think I'll take my kids.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at [email protected] or www.jasonfwright.com.