My Soul’s Dirty Underwear

Today’s post is in honor of my friend Nancy Owens Franson, who turns fifty tomorrow, and is looking forward to becoming officially eccentric.

Dirty Sky. Mojave Desert. February, 2007.
Mom’s Notorious Advice

Apparently, somewhere along the way, someone’s mother counseled:

Always wear clean underwear. Because you never know when you might be in an accident and you wouldn’t want the doctors to see you in dirty underwear.

That’s the story, anyway. But I don’t believe it, for three reasons.

First, I don’t recall my mother ever offering me this advice. In my own informal poll, everyone I asked recognized this bit of Classical Mom Wisdom—but nobody’s mom had actually said it to her.

Second, in all the realistic television medical dramas I’ve watched–and I was an  ER devotee, back in the day–I never heard the doctor say: “Treat this one first. He’s wearing clean underwear.”

Finally, as a mom, I didn’t tell my daughter to wear clean underwear. By the time she was old enough to dress herself, she’d absorbed the concept of wearing clean clothes right alongside understanding that seams belong on the inside, buttons need buttoning, and socks go on feet.

Maybe I should ask to investigate. Or Mythbusters. Is there any compelling evidence that a real mother ever told her children to wear clean underwear for the sake of hypothetical emergency room staff?

So why does this apocryphal tale of maternal advice endure?

I think the story lives because it’s an allegory for the state of our souls.

Things I think are hidden from public view–like my underwear, and my soul–could suddenly, when I least expect it, be exposed.

So if I don’t want to get caught dirty, I’d better keep things clean. Just in case.

The problem is, my soul was born in dirty underwear, as it were. And all my scrubbing and soaking and bleaching and striving won’t render them clean.

I can’t clean up the dirt.

But Christ did. His love, His sacrifice, His blood washes away even the most persistent stain.

And all I had to do was ask.

So tell me: Did your mother ever warn you to always wear clean underwear? Have you asked for a clean pair for your soul?

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
1 John 1:6-10 (NASB)


  1. Sheila, I remember my first boyfriend's mother saying this to him, and all the time. She was an ER nurse. Sad that she was so concerned when he was 16-18.

    I much prefer your allegory. Gorgeous. True. Glad I've got clean panties on my soul.

    Happiest of birthdays to Nancy! How you BOTH bless us!

  2. Whew! I was beginning to think that tale was totally made-up! Thanks, Brandee!

    I'll join you in wishing Nancy a happy, happy birthday. We've been waiting for her on this side of 50…we have mysteries to reveal.

  3. I'm not touching this one. But it is funny how we hold on to certain things becuase our mother or father told us.

  4. I was doing some blog hopping and discovered by Lyma Clair. She declares her mother gave her these Fashion tips which included – – clean underwear just in case!!
    Enjoyed story and your analogy and contrast to our Christian life.

  5. Jennifer @

    Who knew that you could find a spiritual lesson in the underwear drawer? You rock, Sheila! 🙂

  6. Actually, Sheila, my mom still regularly tells me this despite the fact that I'm officially 21. I think it's just one of those mom things. But I love how you took it and applied this bit of wisdom to our spiritual lives as well. 🙂

  7. I'm not sure if my mom ever said it or if it was one of those things that just went without saying. But since you're on the subject of dirty underwear and not being able to clean ourselves up…

    You know our best efforts to get ourselves all washed up and pretty by ourselves are what Isaiah called "filthy rags." A certain kind of rag, used, well, let's say monthly.

    I'm so glad He gives us all a new set of clothes, including the under-ones. Love your reminder of it here, Sheila.

  8. David, Always the gentleman!
    Hazel, Thanks for the research.
    Jennifer, it seems those lessons are tucked away everywhere.
    Debra…thanks. For your kind words and further verification that it's not an apocryphal tale.
    Lyla, me too. The King's new clothes are way better than the emperor's new clothes.

    Thanks, everyone, for coming by.

  9. Sandra Heska King

    Well, I've told my husband that. Maybe not for underwear exactly, but for his outer garments. He sees no problem in running "just to town" in an arms-cut-off-paint-stained-oil-smeared-thinned-out-collar-frayed-white dress shirt. Sigh.

    Now my MIL probably also said this to my FIL. Who'd always say something like, "I'm good enough." When he'd drop his clothes on the floor at night, she'd sneak in and replace his shorts with a clean pair.

    I'd like to think Jesus cleans me up and dresses me up even while I'm not aware . . .

  10. Sandra, those are some interesting family dynamics 🙂

    I love that last image, of Christ making us presentable. Thanks.