Jesus Smells Like Murphy’s Oil Soap

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.

Jesus edges into my heart and nudges away the bitterness.

He leaves only love.

I’m sharing this post from the archives as part of a synchroblog connected with the release of Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper’s new book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. Will you join us?

My Hazardous Faith Story


  1. says

    this speaks to me right where i’m at today, laura.

    bitterness at the Body we meet with has a familiar taste, and your words, indeed, drip love.

    thank you a thousand times.

  2. says

    I just stopped over from Ed’s blog after I posted my link. You told your story beautifully. I have 2 boys, but they are young. At the age where helping is still a joy. I could picture them, though, standing there with their arms crossed in adolescence, wondering why it’s worth doing this kind of job.

    I love this line, “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.”

  3. says

    What a powerful story of humbly serving those who have not done the same for us. And in the midst of that service, you found what God cares about most: his people. It’s stunning to think of Jesus dying for imperfect people, many of whom will never fully appreciate his sacrifice. Thanks so much for sharing your story today Laura!

  4. says

    Thank you, Laura, for sharing this. You offered your heart and soul to the Lord Jesus. And I’m sure he accepted your sacrifice. And then, oh, he turned it into peace, and a blessing. Amazing Jesus! Who amazes us all.

    Love ya. Praying for you and your beautiful, obedient family.

  5. says

    Thank you for this Laura: It is only when I see Jesus here that I am able to love these walls. We’ve had to leave our church this summer to protect the hearts of our kids, my heart too. It’s been a time of mourning for me, along with the loss of my brother, a hard season.

  6. says

    Someone has to do it. Perhaps there is a hired janitor, but the deep clean comes from volunteers who give out of love. You were blessed, and I do hope your older son finally understood why we “work” when “them” are not doing their part.

  7. says

    Thanks for telling honestly about the hazards of following Jesus, of being His church, of putting ourselves out there to be hurt and criticized and humbled. And to find Him in those very places. Beautiful writing, friend.

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