Jesus Smells Like Murphy’s Oil Soap

I1577 – Church Pews
Originally uploaded by rfroberts1

I don’t know why I came.

A plethora of reasons, I suppose. Obligation. Guilt. Duty. Fear.

Whatever the reason, I give up my Saturday morning for it. Meet this ragtag group to pitch in and clean up our church.

I drag the boys along too; telling Jeff something about building character, teaching them to give back…

Now, my twelve-almost-thirteen stands beside me–both arms pulled inside his t-shirt.


It’s cold in this sanctuary.

And no other moms have made their children come to help.

He looks glumly at me with that expression that causes my jaw to clench, blood pressure creeps up.

When does initiation kick in?

The answer appears in front of me in shape of his younger brother. The small one struggles underneath a heavy pew cushion.

It’s just his nature to help. Big brother needs more direction.

I dip the rag into the bucket of cleaning solution, try to ignore the irritation. I break it down slowly: the dipping of rag, wringing out, moving it across the wood…

He just stands there. Stares.

He doesn’t want this job. It will require him to remove his arms from his shirt.

And it’s too cold.

Someone is running the vacuum and the noise is so loud we have to shout to hear each other. It doesn’t help me to relax into this.

I excuse myself.

I stand alone, just breath…wonder why this is getting to me so much. I don’t have to dig too deep to find the answer. I have struggled to love this church in the past few years. There have been too many hurtful words, too much resistance to Jeff’s ministry, too much of what Jesus hates.
I feel little affection for these walls. I have watched my husband’s fledgling faith wings be clipped by words and actions of supposedly “mature” Christians who worship here. I have felt the weight of their judgment. They grow tired of hearing me say it, yet, they offer no apologies. Still do not try to right the wrongs.

But here we are, our entire family giving up our free morning together to do more church work. I can’t help noting that “those” people are not doing the same.

I am wondering if it is time to leave. Haven’t we tried? Three long years and still we fight. I am tired.

I feel the beginnings of bitterness begin to creep into my heart and it is like poison entering my body. Just the tiniest drop and it moves through my blood unassisted–I feel helpless to stop it.

Am I? Am I helpless to stop it?

Jesus help me.

He gives me just enough strength to go back into the sanctuary and continue wiping down the pews. The boys are removing all the hymnals and Bibles from their pockets, making the path straight for my washing. It’s a good job for them–keeps them moving. They stack the books up on the floor…sacred word-towers.

I dip, wring, wipe. I am rubbing away the dirt.

And something begins to happen.

Peace meets me there.

This scent–this oily lemony aroma–has always been a comfort to me. Gleaming wood and contented spirit go hand in hand. I start to sing under cover of vacuum. There is beauty under my hands.

I pick up some gum wrappers. Find a small plastic animal. It makes me smile. I think of the individuals who sit in these pews. Faces come to mind–faces of those I love.

This plain piece of wood, polished and dried has more beauty to me than the most intricate of carvings. It has held the Body of Christ.

I think of the wood that touched our Lord’s skin, soaked in His blood. And my wiping becomes caress. The smell envelopes me as I remember His sacrifice…remember His words.

Some would say that we put too much stock in our church homes. That, we can sometimes come to worship the building instead of our Lord. We mistake tradition for holiness, we trade intimacy for ritual.

It can be true. I have seen it with my own eyes.

But on this morning, hands dripping with Murphy’s Oil Soap, I realize this church will never be an idol for me. It is only when I see Jesus here that I am able to love these walls.

God teaches me. He is a jealous God. He desires me to worship only Him. He has taken me the long way around in this lesson. Jesus edges into my heart and spreads out His arms–nudges away the bitterness. What is left is sorrow. And love.

Salve for the wound.

I’m also over here today…starting our new book club discussion! Stop by and check it out! Here’s the book if you’re curious. 🙂

photo by rfroberts, click on photo for more information.


  1. says

    I heard myself talking out loud as I read this, saying over and over again: “Oh, wow. Oh, wow.”

    Laura, beautiful. And this: “It has held the Body of Christ.”

    What a lovely piece of writing; what a lovely picture of grace — so clear and perfect I can smell it.

  2. says

    Scared word towers….wow, love this whole post. Are you a minister’s wife? I need to read your profile. I see MORE in this post than I can express right now.
    You have a message for minister’s wives. You have words to cleanse their hurts. I hope you share this in a bigger format. B

  3. says

    sending you love, Laura.
    I had a trying week, and was so tempted to just lash out and join the nonsense.
    But then the unbelievable bits happen, the small of the all of it.
    Sometimes change is okay.
    Not knowing can be torment.
    You are Beloved.

  4. says

    This line “He doesn’t want this job. It will require him to remove his arms from his shirt.

    I know this all too well…made me laugh out of a sincere understanding in that reality…

    This is a great great great post Laura…the wrenching honesty and reality of our humanness.


    I remember that Jesus washed and continues to wash my feet…even if I don’t want Him to.

    Makes me wonder – what does Jesus see as He washes my feet? Does He see faces…my face…

    Blessings to you today Laura!

  5. says

    When Jesus came He tore down the barriers erected by the religious establishment. He removed blinders that kept the people from seeing Who He really was. But many chose to keep those blinders firmly in place. And they missed Him.

    Times have changed, but our sinful nature hasn’t.

    Thanks for this beautiful lesson in grace and faith (as a choice to love).

  6. says

    Dear Laura,
    My heart and spirit hurt, jump, cry, and rejoice with yours as I read this. A familiar walk from my own life, a poison that seeped through my veins at one time – only Jesus could help. Only Jesus, and yes, He does smell like Murphy’s Oil Soap, and He smells like Sound Equipment – wires and rubber, dusty.
    I ordered the book; it has not arrived, but I am popping over to HCB to peek. 🙂
    And today, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of tea and just talk.
    Love your heart!

  7. says

    Dealing with our own crutches and masks is hard enough without having to work our way through others and also guide our families through them as well.

    Only time I will ever encourage the shortcut. Grace. Hiz perspective. Hiz heart for us … all of us. From this view, I can love easily and move freely.

  8. says

    There is at least 4 or 5 teaching messages in this post today Laura. You have touched on so many things here in such a beautiful way. It touched and moved my heart so deeply.

  9. says

    I was right there with you, cleaning those pews and feeling those feelings. I’ve been there…a thousand times before and wising I hadn’t heard what I heard, felt like I felt, etc.

    Sometimes it’s hard to know when to hang on and when to let go. One thing is certain, Jesus’ peace can be found in the midst of the struggle; that’s his intention. To walk through closed doors and administer his presence in ways we don’t expect but dearly love.

    You are a good mother; a good wife, and a well-loved daughter of your Father. You make him smile.

    Me too.


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