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Most days on this country hill are a blur. With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning. In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention. Stuffing a ratty t-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same t-shirt on the clothesline.
The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and one of the most startling discoveries of my life has been that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine. It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life. It’s why you’re doing it.
Why do I do what I do every day in my home?
Why do you do what you do?
Hopefully, we are both coming to the conclusion that our labor of love is a fulfillment of God’s great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.
And sometimes, for me, the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones who share my last name and my DNA. Loving others in our homes is more than a feeling, and it is likely to include the inconvenience of vacuuming the mud from their shoes, replacing the groceries they consume, and washing loads and loads of dishes and bedding.
To Love Is to Labor
To love is to labor, and for the believer, there is an inseparable connection between the routines of domesticity and the quotidian mysteries of spiritual practice. Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation. In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God.
In Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel, asserts that “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures: avodah. It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple. ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)
The Spiritual Discipline of Housekeeping
It is, therefore, possible to draw parallels between the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:
1. Housekeeping is an act of generosity.
God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping. In Scripture, He finds lost things; He prepares tables of abundance and blessing in hard places; He kills the fatted calf and invites the neighborhood to a party. Therefore, engineering the comforts of home, taking on the mess in the bottom of the refrigerator, and performing the domestic routines that preserve order and hold chaos at bay create a feeling of home wherever they are performed with love, and they pre-figure God in His role as Homemaker.
Mired in the here and now, we forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world. By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste. Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us and forward to an eternity in which the connection between worship and work will be forever eliminated.
2. Housekeeping is a work of welcoming and provision.
Just as the incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and space, God’s compassionate homemaking sets the standard for the work of His women and men who long to create safe and welcoming spaces for His glory.
There is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life. In our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God. Organizing a cluttered closet, sanitizing a nasty high chair tray, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house — these are all as quietly mundane as the work God does in our time to water His trees with rain or, in history, to arrange for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Israelites.
God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love. Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:
“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:16,17)
Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God!
Joining you in the holy work of sandwich-making and laundry-folding,