Last Sunday morning, while all good Christians were congregating in church, all evil sinners (including me) were congregating in the laundromat.
I thought we were safe until somewhere mid-spin cycle when the door to the laundromat opened, and a scarily clean-shaven gentleman walked in and said, “A blessed morning to you, brothers and sisters” (a warning sign, if ever there was one).
I could see he had a number of brochures in his hand, but I tried my best not to make eye contact. Sure enough, he came to me first. I think it was because of the t-shirt I was wearing that read: “Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself.”
“Sister,” he asked in the most earnest of tones, “have you met Jesus?"
Not wanting to get into a whole thing about how I was an ordained Baptist minister on vacation in Wisconsin skipping church because I wasn’t Lutheran and, more importantly, was planning to go pan fishing afterward, I simply said, “No sir, I haven't seen hide nor hair of Jesus this morning.”
He then handed me a tract with a picture of Jesus holding a tiny lamb that was looking a bit queasy, and said, “You know, Jesus can wash your sins away better than any of these machines.” And with that, he went to the sinner next to me at the industrial-sized dryer and started his pitch again.
Later, I thought about my new friend and his earnest attempts to save us. Was there a lesson here? Spiritual laundry, perhaps?
Consider the three categories of dirty clothes. First, things that don’t really need to be washed. If you are like me, you tend to occasionally leave clothes on the floor that aren’t dirty — ones you can put right back on and wear with pride.
Similarly, there are things in our lives that don't need cleaning, like our physical traits (signs of aging included), our ethnicities, our race, our gender. These are gifts from God that do not need to be washed; they need to be celebrated and worn with pride to celebrate our maker. As Psalm 139 tells us, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Then there is the second category of laundry which just needs the delicate cycle with the least agitation. In regular laundry, these would be things like silk or polyester. In life, these would be things like mistakes, hurt feelings or use of colorful language because you couldn't get into your jeans that morning.
Don't waste time getting agitated over this stuff. Use a short and delicate wash cycle. Acknowledge that you're wrong; say you're sorry and move on. And do it now. If you wait, delicate stains can become hard to get out.
Which brings us to category three: the industrial-strength stuff. These are the heavy stains that have been ground-in over time. Things like anger, shame, resentment, and self-loathing.
The only thing we can do with this nasty pile of laundry is to get ourselves an industrial-strength spot remover—a spiritual OxiClean—something or someone that will go deep into those buried places and release the stains.
Again, the Psalmists have the answer. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12. When we allow God to work — when we accept God’s forgiveness, something profound happens. The stains start to break up, we begin to forgive ourselves, and we walk back into the world clean and fresh, ready for the work ahead.
The next time you are doing laundry, ask yourself three questions:
1) What in my life does not need washing?
2) What in my life just needs a delicate cleaning?
3) What in my life needs an industrial-strength stain remover?
Do a little spiritual laundry. In the end, it will all come out in the wash.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines. Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.