A maid service which advertises with bulk mail in our town reprimands "Life is too short to clean your own house." The number of meals which families eat out, prepared and cleaned up by someone else, is an astronomical part of family budgets. I even saw a newsclip last week touting the introduction of a Swedish invention which is a bed that makes itself! It seems that we spend an inordinate amount of energy and resources to get someone else to do our homework!Now approaching 72, and learning to accept more help these days, I appreciate occasional assistance with cleaning and gardening. But I prefer doing most of it myself.
I grew up having chores - housekeeping and kitchen chores I was allowed to be responsible for. At times I helped when Daddy fed the cows or drug a trailer behind a tractor to pick watermelons. I don’t remember this as a negative, just something that was done because I was told to, most of the time feeling good about it. I may have not always begged to dust or take care of my little sister, but I loved helping in the kitchen. Cleaning up afterward was just part of the process. The summer I was twelve, I helped behind the counter of the small cafe my parents owned. I had part time jobs as a teenager. That was work, not a chore, right? When I graduated high school at seventeen, entered college, and became solely responsible for getting myself up and off to 7 a.m. classes and to my on campus job, I was given a book with a quotation by Charles Kingsley which still comes to mind when I hear anyone bemoaning “having” to do something.
“Thank God–every morning when you get up–that you have something to do which must be done, whether you like it or not. Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you a hundred virtues which the idle never know.”
I wouldn’t have labeled it so at the time, but I was learning the value of discipline. I also learned that something I accomplish has a great deal of meaning that involves something I am. Beginning all those years ago, I began to understand how I could find deeper meaning in my daily tasks required to care for my home and family. I found great creative energy in gardening, planning and cooking meals, finding ways to make our home beautiful with art and music, encouraging our boys with good books, and offering hospitality to our friends and family. But the weeding, cleaning, mopping, potscrubbing, endless laundry (3 boys certainly makes for lots of washing and ironing) and keeping up with all the practices and games they were involved in could have easily overwhelmed me except for my belief that what I was doing was more than a job that would likely be necessary to repeat soon.
I could pray for the man who would wear the shirt I was ironing. I could be intent on loving the little boy from whose jean pocket I had just fished out a frog. I could focus on blessing the messes as well as taking pride in the delicious meals. For many years, I have kept a small framed poem. It has peeped from beneath the stacks of paperwork on my desk, perched by the detergent in the utility room, and for a long time now has rested on the side of my kitchen sink.
Teach me, my God and King
In all things Thee to see
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for Thee.
~ George Herbert
Kathleen Norris, in her little book, The Quotidian Mysteries, discusses this process of the deeper meaning in our chores.
“…all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down. Our daily tasks, whether we perceive them as drudgery or essential, life-supporting work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings. But they have a considerable spiritual import, and their significance for Christian theology, the way they come together in the fabric of faith, is not often appreciated.”
We may do well to consider any differences with which we approach work (in the sense of a job for which we are paid) and chores, the necessary tasks which order our daily lives and the life of our family.