Finding meaning in laundry and dishes

I have spent more time in my house this year than any other. I know you have too.

Because I have been in my house so many hours, days, weeks, months, my life seems to be all about laundry, dishes, vacuuming and cleaning that little area right around the base of the toilet.

There are a million other things I’d rather do instead of housework. Then I hear in my Grandma Ferguson’s Depression-era-Oklahoma accent in my head: “Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to do the dishes.” Grandma Ferguson wiped counters, swept floors, sliced fruit and cooked casseroles. It was the way she showed us love. It was the way she loved God.

One of my favorite memories of my grandma was when she taught me how to iron my shirt for church. She soaked the shirt in water and starch, old-school style, before showing me how to make sharp creases on the sleeves without burning the fabric. It’s strange how close I sense her, remembering that scene. Through love, a simple mundane task — made holy.

Poet Wendell Berry says, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” In other words, there are only places we have forgotten were sacred. Yes, we remember that our home is holy, but sometimes we forget that the yard, the laundry basket and the sink too are holy.

Suddenly, discarded plates hold meaning.

My husband is much better than I am at making these ordinary tasks holy. Baking bread and tending the garden are ways he shows his love for me and for our sons. Mowing the lawn is a time for prayer and meditation. It is when he sorts out his thoughts with God.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote in her autobiography, Story of a Soul, that it was in the midst of her daily household jobs that Christ was most present to her. What if I changed the lens through which I view these duties?

There is a stillness, a quiet in these repetitive routines of folding shirts and towels or drying a sink full of wet plates, stacking them neatly in the cupboard. There is a servant quality to these household duties. As we perform these simple tasks with love, we become more like Jesus, who came among us as one who serves.

When I perform these tasks with intention, with love, my eyes open to Christ’s presence. Household jobs become much more enjoyable. They become acts of prayer. Our space becomes calm and pleasant, instead of panicked and rushed. It is no longer simply a house, but a home.

The 17th-century monk Brother Lawrence understood this as he wrote, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

I want my sons to feel the closeness I felt with my Grandma Ferguson. I want them to find beauty, peace and God’s presence in what others call a chore.

Northwest Catholic - September 2020

Shemaiah Gonzalez

Shemaiah Gonzalez, a member of St. James Cathedral Parish, is a freelance writer with degrees in English literature and intercultural ministry. Find more of her writing at shemaiahgonzalez.com.
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Shemaiah Gonzalez, miembro de la parroquia de la Catedral de Saint James, es escritora independiente con diplomas en Literatura inglesa y Ministerio Intercultural. Puedes encontrar más de sus redacciones en: shemaiahgonzalez.com.