Parables – Part 3: The Parable of Dirty Windows

A parable is literally something “cast alongside” a truth in order to illustrate that truth. The website Got Questions labels the 35+ parables that Jesus told as “inspired comparisons “and then adds that a common description of a parable is: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”-a definition from my childhood.  Jesus often ended a parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This was his call to listen to the parables, not just as one would listen to an ordinary story, but as one who is seeking the truth of God. I hope that my little parables inspire that intent in you. (This post was first published in 2018).

Parable of the Dirty Windows

To me the most important feature of a place to live is the amount of light that comes through the doors and windows. Therefore, I was ecstatic when each time our manufactured home was finally placed on a lot (moving the home 150 miles is a blog post all its own), the sun shone through four walls of windows and two doors. I reveled in the shades of pink during both dawn and twilight and gave thanks for every sunny moment in between. 

Of course, keeping more than a dozen windows and two screen doors clean and spotless was a hindrance, but I managed to keep everything shiny for at least six months of the year. When I was no longer able to lug a step-ladder and climb to the top, two wonderful men from church took over the task.

Almost two years ago, we sold that house and moved to the second floor of an apartment complex. Now we have windows only on one side, but we do have a patio door in our living room leading out to the balcony which nearly makes up for that. Keeping the outside view from the windows clear is harder. Last year apartments in the three buildings across the street were power-washed. I gazed in envy (and frustration) as the guys loaded their trucks and left the complex without touching our building. The apartment manager told me they couldn’t afford to clean all the buildings every year; our building would probably be done next year. 

So, you can imagine my excitement a few weeks ago when I came home with a load of groceries and glimpsed the power wash truck at the far end of the block on our side of the street! As soon as I saw the two college guys in red shirts decorated with a SHINE logo approaching our building with ladders and hoses and a noisy machine, I emptied my balcony (including nearly two dozen pots of flowers) so that they could scrub the deck as well. They sprayed (powerfully) the entire side of the building, windows and all, and then one of them climbed the ladder and sprayed and scrubbed the balcony. As the young man stepped back down the ladder, I thanked him profusely.

My excitement didn’t last long. When I glanced out the air-dried dry windows, I saw nothing but huge, dusty spots.  Evidently power washing is not suitable for windows – even if the guys’ shirts promise SHINE.  

So, as always, I look for the message of the lessons life brings me. The first thing that popped into my mind was a phrase quoted frequently by my mother-in-law. “Be careful what you wish for!” I wished for clean windows and ended up with dirtier windows. Then I thought of a phrase I learned in Al-Anon, “An expectation is a premeditated resentment.” That phrase has helped me through a lot through the years, but the expectation of clean windows has been in my mind for nearly a year. I have already set myself up for resentment. Then I thought of a phrase very popular in my Dutch community where we symbolically wash the main street during Tulip Time every summer: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  That long-resented proverb brought some clarity. I said to myself, “This window mishap is not as bad as you are making it, Karen.”

Now as I reflect on this, Paul’s phrase in the King James Version of my childhood comes to mind: Corinthians 13:12:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly . . . .” This is a metaphor of profound implications: we need the faith to believe that what we and think we know and understand will be made crystal clear “then.” What I hope I will remember is that windows aren’t important enough to be crystal clear – now or then.

Finally, I thought of the one sentence that has truly been a life-changer for me and millions of others who take its lesson to heart. It is the first sentence in the Serenity Prayer: “Lord give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

I have cleaned the balcony door a couple of times since then; it gives me a beautifully clear view of my surroundings. That particular dirty window I can change.  And when I look out  the other ugly spotted windows, I am grateful for a homely reminder that I can look at life with bitterness or disappointment or an “it’s not fair attitude” or I can choose to accept the things I cannot change (even the smallest things) and be rewarded with serenity.  

2020 UpdateSince this post was first published, we moved yet again to a first floor apartment in the same apartment complex. It has the same floor plan except a regular door opens onto a patio – not as much light, but much easier to navigate without the stairs.  I was pleased to learn one summer day that 2020 was the year for this block of apartments to be power washed. I hoped for a miracle, but the windows ended up just as ugly. I could reach these, but I knew my back wouldn’t allow me to wash them. After a year of looking through the spots, I gifted myself with a cleaning lady to spend a couple of hours doing the tasks I no longer could – including washing the windows.  Even she could not eliminate the spots.  This time I sighed in disappointment and went to gaze through the clean  front door at my beautiful patio flowers.

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