And all of a sudden (it seemed), the stove was clean.
My right forearm was sore.
The spatula I had used to excavate through the cave of past dinners (and overcooked food) was clogged like a fifty-year-old meat-eating man’s arteries; it was like a shovel, filled with clumps of old spices, burnt vegetable broth and popcorn kernels–like charred altar sacrifices.
The sponge I had used (in “phase two”, which occurred after the spatula excavation), was blackened and smooth with grease. If I passed my hands over it, my fingerprint-skin would gray with dirt.
But all of sudden, the stove was clean.
My head was down, my arms flexing slightly–trying at all different angles–to get underneath the glued remnants of our kitchen mishaps over the past few weeks. I worked as if I was cleaning something more than a stove.
But the work didn’t get finished “all of a sudden”.
In fact, it even had phases.
Phase One: Spatula Excavation
Phase Two: Sponge Elbow-Grease
Phase Three: Bounty Soaking and Wiping
Phase Four: Extra Sponge Elbow-Grease
Phase Five: Resetting Stove Cover-Grid
Sometimes the work in front of us looks too taxing; an “uphill battle”; impossibly deep and intricate. Maybe it looks like a kitchen stove that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks–splotches in places you wish people couldn’t see, and buildups in spots where fire used to burn through.
Maybe the work in front of us only requires, at least in this moment, a first step. Break it into phases. The mess may look like something too big to tackle, but in increments, there may at one point come a time where we can step back and realize that, “all of a sudden”, something looks a bit cleaner; a bit more understandable; a bit more able to be used in a way that is positive and life-giving; maybe it even looks like a full-fledged solution to a problem you thought impossible. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; and let me shy away from idealism, just for this moment.
Because the stove in front of you doesn’t look friendly. It doesn’t invite you in; in fact, it may even grimace and snarl. But we walk through doors that look darker than past caves we’ve ventured into–and through–with the hope and trust that growth, character, and faith-building truth will win.
And as we tackle each nook and cranny–filled with two-week-old macaroni shavings and cheese gratings–we put weight on our arms, and try out different angles, and take it in phases. First, let me excavate; let me lean in; let me wipe clean; let me lean in more; and finally, let me re-set the foundational grid that had always laid atop my filthy mess, whether I wanted to clean what was beneath or not; it was always waiting, after all, for me to use it; it was always functioning and supporting me; the real question was, and is, “Am I ready to start using it at its full capacity, or not?”
Maybe this morning, after church service, I was cleaning more than a stove.