My time is more valuable than this…

“Life’s too short to clean your own home.”

The words on the brochure accompanied a sweet, domestic shot of a mother and daughter cuddled on the couch in front of a laptop and a father and son playing together. Inside the shiny brochure were package and pricing options for hiring a national company to come and do your dirty work.

It was ironic that I found this while doing a major sort/clean of stacks of papers that had accumulated in and around our kitchen and eating area. We spent our holiday weekend in deep cleaning mode: we are preparing to welcome a new addition to our family and needed to reconfigure our downstairs rooms. If anyone could read this brochure as gospel, good news, it would be us.

Life is too short…that declaration screams a set of assumptions about what is “worth” our time, nowadays.

I was reminded of two things I read recently that I think address some of these assumptions about our time. The first was from a minister discussing how well members of the clergy take care of themselves, and she wrote quite pointedly about how the basic acts of preparing and eating food have become expendable in our daily schedule: “And you know what you’re supposed to do for self-care, but you just don’t have time to do it because your schedule is so stupid that it’s a big special deal to do something like cook a meal…”

The second was from a college professor who has small children who wrote a great reflection on how what is right before us, our real life, can be the last thing we want to embrace, choosing instead whatever set of ideals and distractions seem so much more appealing:

The breakfast dishes (the ones that have to be done by hand) gave me opportunity to practice awareness – when you’re doing the dishes, just do the dishes. But, many of us say, it’s impossible with young children (“it” being growth, progress, enlightenment, meditation, awareness, focus, and so on)! I spent nine minutes washing the dishes and was interrupted at least six times to settle a conflict, wipe a bum, admire what someone did in the potty, find a battery, comfort an owie, and help get a shirt on. I saw anger arise – “Hey kids – get the hell out of my way so I can practice serenity!!”

But it wasn’t the kids that were interrupting – it was my mental formations. On top of all I already have to do, how do I manage to add worries (I’m mismanaging my career), ruminations (I should have picked a different major years ago), plans (need to buy steel cut oats and milk), regrets (I’ve doomed the children by not signing them up for swimming lessons this summer), and judgments (what kind of human being wants applause for going in the potty?).

I was trying to do the ideal dishes – the ones that need to be done in a sunny kitchen in a quiet house.  It’s true, I can’t do those dishes, but I can do the dishes I have – the ones in this messy, loud house where there’s always a child’s needs squeezed between the bowl I’m washing now and the knife I reach for next.

Both of these women speak of a gospel that differs from the good news announced by the national housecleaning company. As I gently unpacked the remaining pieces of my Grandma’s everyday dishes this past weekend and set them out on the dining room table, I thought: is life not sometimes found exactly in the act of sifting flour, spooning ingredients together, setting a pretty table, and scrubbing the dishes after it’s all over? What does it say about us when those acts become obsolete or a luxury or something to be “free of” in our daily lives?

Last night I clicked on a friend’s blog and read a gripping entry where she described how a beautiful, laid-back day with friends turned into her worst-case scenario with her special-needs son involving extensive poop clean-up and later a bed full of vomit. I was struck by a realization: when we believe that life is too short for time-consuming tasks, mundane chores, and messes, this has consequences that reach for beyond our housekeeping. The “life is too short for this task” list can become a “life is too short for this person and the work it requires to love and welcome and care for them” list, and woe to us when that becomes our ideal. Because there will always be someone to hire to spare us from doing it ourselves.

3 thoughts on “My time is more valuable than this…”

  1. For more on this, check out Kathleen Norris’s books, “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” (Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality)” (http://www.amazon.com/Quotidian-Mysteries-22Womens-Madeleva-Spirituality/dp/0809138018) and her later expansion on the subject, “Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life” (http://www.amazon.com/Acedia-Marriage-Monks-Writers-Life/dp/1594484384/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1). She dives into this subject head-on.

  2. Thanks, Jim! I read her earlier works and met her once at a book signing and really appreciated what she had to say! I will look into both of these recommendations.

  3. Thank you for reminding us of the stuff of real life, Erika. I know many academics who miss the obvious truths that everyone in the trenches knows. It’s helped me to realize that theology & academia aren’t of any value whatsoever if they’re not connected directly to living, parenting, serving others, cleaning up the messes (of all kinds!), and persevering in relationships.

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