“I can’t believe the last owners left the shelves like this!” I fumed as I scrubbed the pantry shelf. It was our first Friday afternoon in our new home, and there are few things I can’t stand more than dirt, especially where my food is supposed to go.
The boxes carrying some of our canned food were the first to be unpacked, but my mushroom soup had barely grazed the top shelf of the pantry before I realized with disgust that its base was now coated with an unidentifiable sticky substance.
Out came the step stool, the sponge, and the soap as I armed myself to get rid of the imposing goop. Plastic knives were soon added to my arsenal in an effort to scrape it off, but it seemed that the more I scrubbed, the more stubbornly it clung for dear life onto the shelf’s surface. My baby started whimpering, so I paused to feed him his mid-afternoon snack, put him down for his nap, and then back up the step ladder I climbed. The minutes ticked by, and my husband, Tom, poked his head in. “Are you done yet? It’s almost sundown.”
“Should be almost done,” I panted. I gingerly placed my fingers onto the surface of the shelf and then grimaced as they stuck. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Fume, fume, fume.
I reluctantly stopped to get our Sabbath dinner ready and feed the baby again. Our housemate, Stuti, came home, and we sat down to dinner together, though the open pantry door continued to leer at me in the background. As Stuti and Tom were animatedly conversing across our now-empty plates, I slipped out of my seat and slid over to the pantry, up the step stool, and gleefully got my hands back on that sponge. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Fume, fume, fume.
Tom called over, jigging the baby up and down. “It’s Sabbath! Take a break!”
“I have to be almost done,” I whined. The minutes had now become hours. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Fume, fume, fume.
Stuti wandered over to check out my efforts. “Are you sure it’s still there?”
“My fingers are still sticking to it,” I moaned. “The whole thing is coated, and I can only remove a little strip at a time with the knife or my nails through the scouring pad.”
Stuti peered onto the shelf, and then under it. “Hannah, look,” she said, pointing to a seam at the bottom. “It’s just an adhesive shelf liner stuck onto the shelf.” I stared in disbelief as she proceeded to lift up the seam and peel off the entire top of the shelf, sticky substance and all, revealing the original wood beneath it. I sank into the nearest chair and laid down my worn sponge.
How many times have we attempted to scrub away sticky grime in our lives by ourselves only to find ourselves still sticking to it, time and time again? Our Savior pleads with us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28),1 but we glance up from our mire and pant, “OK Lord, I’m coming, just give me a second while I finish cleaning, and I’ll come when I’m done.” Whether we’re trying to clean a pantry shelf, scrub our characters, or get our churches without “spot or wrinkle,” we pride ourselves on cleanliness, on accomplishments. And we’re not afraid of putting in the elbow grease to prove it.
The rabbis and disciples of old could identify. “In the estimation of the rabbis it was the sum of religion to be always in a bustle of activity. . . . Thus they separated their souls from God, and built themselves up in self-sufficiency. The same dangers still exist. . . . Like the disciples, we are in danger of losing sight of our dependence on God, and seeking to make a savior of our activity.”2 Rather than scrubbing away like our life depended on it, do our actions and desire for an end result point to Jesus as our ultimate Savior?
Thankfully, God in His wisdom gave us a reminder every seven days, to lay down our scouring pads and trust Him to do the cleansing, whatever form that may take. While biblical principle instructs us to make preparations ahead of time for the Sabbath, once the sun sets on Friday, we’re to take our focus off our “doings” and rejoice in what Christ has done and is continuing to do in our lives. After all, He is the only one who can peel the stickiness off—be it our pantries, our characters, or our churches—and wash us clean.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5, 6).
1 Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 362.