I carried a tray of food, prepared by my mother-in-law, into a cluttered and dusty home. The sole occupant sat where she always sat, on a big armchair positioned so she could see out the window. Her swollen legs were stretched in front of her and her cane, which she used only with great effort, leaned against her arm. She smiled when she saw me, thanked me for the food, and apologetically asked who I was. As I sat next to her and listened to her stories, I was filled with warmth and peace.
Three years later, I was on the floor with my two young children, bouncing them on my legs and singing a racehorse tune. Only a few feet away, my kitchen was in disarray and toys were scattered across the floor. I suddenly felt a reassurance from the Spirit that I was right where I needed to be. Warmth and peace flooded my soul, filling its worn edges and giving energy where there was none.
Another two years forward, I was lying on the bed. A pile of laundry was visible on the floor, and a stack of papers littered the desk to my left as I fed my newborn son for the fourth time that night. I brushed my fingertips against his long lashes, felt his soft bald head, and was thrilled when fingers curled around the lace of my shirt. I was so filled with warmth and peace that I didn’t even mind that I was sometimes awake at three in the morning.
In each of these cases, the Holy Ghost was with me, telling me I was in the right place and doing the right thing, and in each of these cases, I was in a messy home.
I still remember the shock I felt the first time I made this connection—I began questioning my experiences. After all, I had always thought growing up that the Holy Ghost doesn’t dwell in unclean places—so I took that to include dirty homes. And these thoughts were nearly always accompanied by a scriptural reference. We learn in 1 Nephi 10:21 that “no unclean thing can dwell with God.” And the Lord tells us in Doctrine and Covenants 88:124 to “cease to be idle; [and] cease to be unclean.”
The irony in all of this is that I missed the deeper meaning of these scriptures—the importance of keeping our personal temples, our minds and bodies, clean—and instead jumped straight to the physical meaning. I had somehow learned from all of these lessons that my worth as a young wife and mother was all wrapped up in how perfect and clean my house was—and the effect of that belief was devastating.
I was always paralyzed with fear when the state of my home was not so perfect. I often didn’t listen for whisperings from the Spirit because I would look around my apartment and think, “No, there’s no way the Spirit can dwell here.”
I can’t remember the exact moment I realized I could feel the Spirit in a home that fell far short from the temple’s standards of cleanliness. But I do remember when I realized that the Lord, with His infinite capacity for compassion and empathy, saw the less-than-perfect efforts I offered, accepted them, and still sent me the spiritual companionship I desperately needed. He doesn’t need me to be perfect right now—He just needs me to do the best I can.
It hasn’t happened overnight, but slowly I’ve let go of what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles refers to as “toxic perfectionism” (see “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” Ensign, Nov. 2017, 42). I’ve started allowing myself to believe that I can have the Holy Ghost with me even if I don’t have the energy to stay up all night with a teething baby and keep up with the laundry. Instead, I make sure I give the best I can give, and I accept the love Heavenly Father sends in return. I haven’t given up on becoming a better homemaker, I just say yes to the grace and inspiration the Lord has been trying to give me for so long. Because when I keep myself spiritually clean and do what He asks me to do, the Holy Ghost comes, messy house or not.