Growing up, my mom and dad always insisted on Saturday morning that my sister and I would help them clean the house before we got to do anything we called fun. Though it wasn’t meant to be punishment, it sure felt like it. I would regularly complain: “Why can’t I watch cartoons like my other friends? Toilets, again? And do I really have to vacuum under my bed?” I know I was a pain to manage (sorry, mom!).
My discontent with household chores continued into adulthood. After getting married, if our monthly budget allowed for a cleaning service to come dust my dresser or clean my tub, I was all in.
But these days, I count on a list of household chores to keep me grounded. In fact, since the birth of my daughter a year ago—meaning my husband and I are at home with greater frequency alongside a little person who likes to make messes— I’m beginning to see how the routines of the house are a huge part of my spiritual rhythm. I may not have the energy to get up early and pray before baby girl wakes up, but something I can do is approach the routines of my week with intention.
Going to the grocery store, especially if I’m privileged to do it alone, is meditation time. I turn the ringer off my phone. I do not make calls or text. I allow the time of moving from one aisle to the next to be intentional, thoughtful and as slow as I want to take it. From this place of internal quiet, I think critically not only about what we’ll eat during the week but can practice being in one place without my mind wondering off somewhere else.
Unloading and loading the dishwasher, wiping down the food left behind on the highchair, and swiffering the floor reminds me each evening of the gifts of home. It’s an opportunity to cultivate gratitude for the floor, the walls and counters that give my family space to be. I can remain present in the space that gives my body and soul life, instead of grumbling about the mess. I can scrub pans with gratitude for those who just ate food from our home’s table.
Collecting the clothes for the laundry, remembering to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer before they smell, and folding the laundry (before the area explodes with t-shirts in overstuffed baskets), reminds me of what it means to embody life. No one can escape dirty laundry! It’s best if we deal with laundry before it starts to stink. It’s a lesson my soul needs too.
In fact, the rhythms of laundry have been the one household act that has connected me to Sabbath keeping when nothing else does. My discipline is to take Sundays off from the laundry. Of course, Sunday is always the day when we have throw-up explosions (thanks, Murphy’s Law), so it’s not a rule without grace. But the intention gives me mindfulness. Sunday feels like a different day.
Attending to the household rhythms is the one bit I can do. And in this season, I’m thankful for it.
Rev. Elizabeth Hagan will soon start a new position as Senior Pastor at The Palisades Community Church in Washington, DC. She is an advocate for children and founder of Our Courageous Kids, a foundation providing educational opportunities for children living in international orphanages.
Want to read earlier posts our summer series on spiritual practices/disciplines? Find them at these links: Sewing, by T. Denise Anderson; Never on Pointe, by Mary Beene; Photography, by Catherine MacDonald; Pinteresting, by Amy Fetterman; Walking, by Robin Craig; and Summer Sabbath Shift, by Sarah F. Erickson.
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