Brett and the girls left town for about 24 hours and I stayed behind to get some much-needed rest. I fully intended to read three books while drinking endless cups of tea and sleeping at least 14 hours. But, before I started my book, I put on a load of laundry. And when I went to transfer it to the dryer, I found a load in need of folding. And when I put the clothes away, I found a disaster in Olive’s closet. As I cleaned her mess, I found 7 sippy cups under her bed. When I went to put the sippy cups in the dishwasher, I saw that it was full and needed to be washed. After hand washing the remaining dishes, I noticed the counter was dirty, so I cleaned it, along with the kitchen and dining room tables. And the chairs. And the floors. And maybe a window or two. Nine hours later, I was ready to start reading. So I opened my book in bed and was asleep after three pages. I drifted off feeling like I’d completely blown my alone time. No leisurely walks, no martinis with my cousin, no scripture memory to report.
Yet, somehow, I woke up rested with no regrets about cleaning.
I sensed God telling me, “This is living.”
I still misunderstand being with God. It’s not about waiting for a good stack of time to power through books or escape on an extended prayer retreat—although that kind of alone time is more than valuable and important. But life is rarely retreats or books or even Sunday mornings at church. Life is all the space in between. It’s the frustrating dog accidents or scrubbing crayon off the walls. It’s the routine of getting the mail or unloading the dishwasher. It’s buying stamps and returning calls and making the bed or going to work.
And this life, this routine, this unloading the dishwasher and loving our physical neighbors can be our greatest act of worship.
I’m frustrated with the overgeneralization the female population has made regarding the Mary and Martha story in Luke 10. Martha was stupid. Mary was smart. It’s about being, not doing. So, how am I supposed to know when it’s ok to make dinner and when I need to be in my prayer closet?
Luke purposefully coupled Mary and Martha with the story of the Good Samaritan. Both are stories of attentiveness to Jesus-- the idea of worship through listening at Jesus’ feet and actively loving a man beaten and left for dead. Action wasn’t the problem for Martha. Her problem was that she failed to really see Jesus in her own house.
Of course, it’s important we understand that God values who we are instead of what we do. But we’re attacking the issue from the wrong angle if we criticize Martha for working. The bigger question is, did she ever look Jesus in the face? Did she pay attention to him? Did she realize he was in her house?
As we go through our routine, do we realize God is in our house?
Kathleen Norris in her book The Quotidian Mysteries talks about laundry and liturgy being very similar in nature. Laundry always has to be done. No matter how many loads have been washed, you can never fully cross that one off the list. Worship is the same. We are in constant need of communion with the God who speaks to us regarding who we are.
If our goal in our routine is ever to finish or accomplish, we’ll be frustrated enough to slam our head in a car door. It’s never done. Work comes every morning. Towels must be hung. Children still need us in adult hood. Friendships must be maintained. But this is not wasted work. This is the rhythm of life.
And this rhythm offers constant opportunity to open ourselves up to the new and the transformative even in the midst of the mundane.
I spent nine hours picking up toys which will end up on the floor tomorrow. I spent nine hours windexing handprints I know will come right back. But I also spent nine hours alone with God, allowing God to awaken my truest desires and call out my harmful motivations.
The Israelites were so aware of the mundane. That was the wilderness—the stuff of everyday life—setting up home, gathering food and looking for water. But it was this very stuff that God was using to teach the Israelites how to become the people of God.
And housework gives us the opportunity to be, even as we’re doing-- to recognize it’s not about finishing, it’s not about accomplishing, it’s about living—day in and day out, figuring out how to be present to Jesus who is present to us.
Our routine grounds us in the truth that we are human. That no matter what grand things we do, we still need to wash our dishes and fold clothes. We still need to answer the call to daily commune with God so that we can learn to be the people we already are. And as I wait for my kids to get back, I know I’m more in touch with my truest desires than I was nine hours ago.