The Mother Who Cleans and the Father Who Sees in Secret

True confession: I hate housework, but I'm learning to make peace with it. For years, I failed to embrace all things domestic. Of course, my family would never have survived this long without some household routines, but suffice to say, the discipline of keeping house was slow to develop in me.

A Woman’s Work Is Never Done

I loved raising my children — all that nurturing and caring was very satisfying — but it's all rather messy. I never liked all the chores that went with the role. I failed to see housework connected to my vocation, and did not attach any meaning to it. In fact, I found it “kept me” from all the “other stuff” I wanted to do.

Looking back to my early mothering years, I most definitely suffered from "comparativitis." I was in awe of neighbors who grew vegetable gardens so their children could enjoy organic foods. Women who had time and skill to sew or crochet amazed me. I admired women who cooked with the zeal of Julia Child and others whose flair (and budgets) for interior design rivaled House Beautiful. I once met a delightful gal who “loved” to clean her house — really; vacuuming was "her thing."

Today PictureI was definitely out of their league. When my kids were small, most days my goal was to cook dinner each night, make the bed, and clear a path from the front door to the living room so my husband could walk in after work and not trip over anything!

It took me a while to realize that my gifts were elsewhere. But still, I was self-conscious about the inertia and drain I faced regarding housekeeping. Friends started noticing this shortcoming. They delighted in presenting me with little plaques that read “Dull Women have Immaculate Homes” or “Feel free to write in my dust — just don't date it!”

Over time I learned that my lack of domesticity was a latent rebellion of sorts to growing up as the oldest child — with, naturally, the longest chore list. I also got in trouble the most, and — you guessed it — got extra chores as punishment. Chores always seems to be keeping me from the “other stuff” I so desperately wanted to do, and in my mind they were linked with punishment or poor performance. Somewhere along the way, I missed the vital connection between loving your family and serving their temporal needs. It took me years to understand that my relationship with housework was dysfunctional.

Funny how we carry this baggage around without ever noticing it piled up in the various corners of our lives.

With the increasing clutter from years of marriage and three kids, I knew I had to get better organized, or at least, cultivate a better attitude. My servitude needed to become servanthood, (and my attitude needed a gratitude make-over.) This flaw was, in truth, selfishness. Frequently, I just did the minimum to get by.

A Fundamental Shift

I needed to lay hold of a new image for myself as a woman who, among the other hats she wore, was the keeper of the house. I found it in the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:27, “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” Now here’s a woman who understands the busyness of family life! How could I “look well” over my household?

First, I had to humble myself. Spiritual life isn’t just about interior life; it's about the exterior life, too, and if I was going to surrender my life totally to Christ, I had to give up the messy parts as well. I really wanted to be a loving wife and mom and keep a decent house that honored the Lord. After all He lived there as well!

I had to find ways to see that household chores really could be beneficial for my soul and vocation. In short, the path to humility started with my kitchen floor. I had to choose to walk that path, even when — especially when! — sticky.

This was a fundamental shift in my thinking. The little mortifications of housework and family care were meant to sanctify me, to do the work on my soul that God intended. The ways of my household should reflect the ways of the Lord in my life; doing chores lovingly allowed me to touch the face of Jesus in those I served. More important, it found me on my knees as I searched to find Him even amidst the crumbs, spills, stains, and messes in our home.

Second, choosing to change meant replacing the old tapes that played in my head about chores and hearing a new song playing. Not just figuratively, but literally — when I’m cleaning, there’s loud praise music playing! But it also meant I needed help for my household ways. (For those needing housekeeping encouragement and helpful tips, I recommend professionals like The FlyLady and Messies Anonymous.)

And so, armed with nothing more than my own chore list and a little bit of Scripture memory, I began to engage in mental prayer to find the blessing of chore time. I also applied scriptures like Colossians 3:23: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men.” This was especially helpful when I was doing the menial tasks, the kind that every mother does, but no one ever sees you do or thanks you for.

I discovered that these chores — especially the unnoticed, unseen, loving gestures that care for family and home — are much like the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving: only “your Father Who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:6).

Taking My Scrubbing Captive

Finally, transforming my household ways into prayer and mortification allows me to make peace with housework and maintain my sanity. It provides the proper context I need to approach tasks sacrificially and willingly. It also helps me lead my family with a better attitude as we share household duties and my children work through their own age-appropriate chores. I still fight selfish urges to ignore it all, or to procrastinate, but as a recovering housework-hater, taking these thoughts captive to obey Christ helps a lot.

I’m no expert, and I’m still “under construction,” but here are a few examples from my typical day, using Scripture as a springboard for my mental energies as I clean.

I go to replace the toilet paper that only I, most inconveniently, mind you, notice is empty, and discover that the toilet bowl needs scrubbing. Five people over the age of 13 share this bathroom, but only my eyes notice these pressing needs? “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

Moving from the bathroom to the family room, I spy dirty dishes left behind from junior's movie night with his pals. Naturally, I collect them, add them to the dishwasher without a word since he has already left for "work" where, by the way, he serves and clears tables in a dining hall: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you” (Mt 6:14).

In so doing, I walk past the indoor plants wilting from neglect, so I load them into the sink for a drink: “Let every one who thirsts, come to the waters” (Is 55:1).

I pass the ironing pile. I switch on the iron with this thought: “[T]he sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water” (Rv 7:16b-17a).

In the distance, I hear the washing machine timer go off. The next load awaits my attention: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Ps 51:2).

I take my lunch break out on the porch where I am the only one who seems to have noticed that that the dog peed on the porch again: “She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (Mt 15:27).

I take the dog out for a walk, passing the perennial garden where I see weeds encroaching on the phlox and day lilies. I kneel down to the rescue: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age” (Mt 13:40).

I prepare dinner and in the fading light of day, I spy Mary’s statue in my yard. She is “Our Lady of Grace” — The Virtuous Woman — whose example gently reminds me that “prayer and work” has been a model for domestic life for generations. Indeed we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

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  • Guest

    In my house, the good Lord has an ally, to help keep things on the clean and oderly.

    I have a kitten.

    Leo is as energetic as any small, new, living creature can be. He is affable and sweet, as creatures go. (‘They’re all cute while thy’re young.’) And, if there is a mess in any way, it will be messier when he is done.

    So, in housekeeping, ask yourself – ‘What would Pristinus’s kitten do with this?’ Then, get busy and get it out of the little terror’s way!

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @mail.catholicexchange.com or …yahoo.com)

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