How I Learned to Love Housework

I am not a naturally tidy person. To put it bluntly: I’m kind of a slob. It’s hard to say whether this is due more to my laziness or to my lack of attention to detail, but I’m the type of person who can step over piles of dirty laundry without noticing them, who forgets to sweep the kitchen floor until there’s an audible crunch when I walk across it.

So you can imagine that when I first left the career world to become a housewife after my son was born, things didn’t go smoothly. I found keeping house frustrating, since the ratio of effort to payoff just wasn’t there for me. A spotless kitchen wasn’t that different to me than a kitchen with dishes stacked next to the sink and a mystery sticky substance coating the floor in front of the fridge, so the work of getting it clean seemed like a waste of time. Sometimes my husband would come home from work and gently mention that he might clean up a bit, and I’d be baffled. What was there to clean? The house seemed fine to me. Then I’d watch him pick up a dirty sock off the living room floor, vacuum some crushed Cheerios from the rug, remove some empty sippy cups and crumb-covered plates from the side table. With each item I’d say, “Oh, that? That bothers you?”

I had settled into a sort of routine of shuffling around the house and doing the bare minimum, occasionally stopping to sigh and ask myself what other arbitrary things might need to be done. I didn’t resent the work, but I did think it was mostly pointless, and I never did it because I wanted to; I’d just put myself in the mindset of imagining what a neat freak would do, and mimic that.

And then I found God, and everything changed.

One of the most surprising results of my conversion has been that I’ve developed a love of housework. I’ve seen a complete reversal in my old attitudes about the tasks involved with keeping the house in order. This doesn’t mean that my house is super clean all the time — I still have that lack of attention to detail and the whole five kids under seven thing that means that my house is messy a lot of the time, but the difference is that I now value a clean house, and I almost always enjoy doing what it takes to get it that way.

How did God change that? Part of it is probably due to the Christian emphasis on service and selflessness, that I’ve come to understand that the path to joy is a path that involves work and personal sacrifice. Some of it might be that it’s easier to manage the craziness of having a bunch of little kids when things are clean. But the biggest thing that changed for me was when I came to understand that order is of God, and that the fight against chaos is a fight for good.

When I was first reading books about theology, the idea of God bringing order from chaos deeply resonated with me. I’d always had a love of astronomy and physics, and when I thought of clouds of scattered dust coalescing into planets, smatterings of planets organizing themselves around a sun in a dance carefully orchestrated by the laws of gravity, I could see the hand of a great Organizer at work. I delved into books that talked about how so much of good and evil falls along the lines of order and chaos: life brings order out of random elements, death returns it to chaos. Peaceful societies are orderly, war is chaotic. What separates beautiful music from annoying noises is the harmonious organization of the notes. And so on. When you take a look at the big picture of the battle of good and evil, you see that so much of what the devil does simply involves destroying order.

At first all of these thoughts were confined to my head and the pages of books,but then I began to see these themes in my daily life. One day I was standing at the sink, rinsing soggy cereal out of bowls and placing them in the dishwasher, and it hit me: I was bringing order out of chaos. Suddenly, the value of this mundane task was no longer subjective. This wasn’t pointless drudgery; it was God’s work! It was a small-scale version of what God did when he created the planets, the galaxies, and life itself. I shut the dishwasher door, wiped down the counters, rinsed the sink clean, and swept the floor. When I stood back to behold the order I had brought to this place, I knew — could feel – that I had won a little battle against evil.

I’m still lazy and will never be one of those women who just can’t sit down because she’s always cleaning something, but I can honeslty say that once I understood the spirituality of housework, I have mostly enjoyed it. The more I’ve meditated on my work as a cooperation with God in the timeless fight against the forces of chaos, the more it has become satisfying to me on a deep level. In fact, some of the best moments in my spiritual life in the past couple of years have been when I was standing in my house after a good cleaning session, looking around at the triumph over the disarray that once reigned, knowing that I just won a victory for God.


Jennifer Fulwiler

By

Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer from Austin, Texas who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She's a columnist for Envoy magazine, a regular guest on the Relevant Radio and EWTN Radio networks, and a contributor to the books The Church and New Media, Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and Style, Sex and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter. She's also writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. As much as she loves writing, her favorite job is being mom to her five young children. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.

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  • digitaldeacon

    I can identify with Jennifer in what she is saying about after her conversion she saw things in a different light, from a different prospective. This happened to me many years ago and I was able to see me and the world around me though a difference of eyes. God does make a difference in the way we see and approach life. Thank You Jennifer for sharing how God has help you see things differently.

  • Cattails77733

    Thank you for your article! This revitalizes my spirit for doing a job I find mundane and unending.  You have reminded me about why I feel a sense of calm and peace when I survey a clean and orderly home; something I value but feel is a continuous losing battle.  I’m now going to reassess my battle plan!

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  • Blobee

    I really liked this article. 
    I remember as a teenage my mother would expect me to clean the house on
    Saturday afternoons while she did the grocery shopping.  I had to clean up the living and dining rooms
    and vacuum the rugs, dust and polish the furniture, mop the floors, and clean
    the bathroom.  My father and four brothers
    were at the family business, a machine shop, catching up on the backlog of work
    from the week.  I used to LOVE this time
    alone, and I would race to get all the chores done before my mom came
    home.  I can recall spending this time while
    I worked praying out loud to God, as if He were right there in the house with me,
    and singing religious songs that came to mind. 
    I can remember feeling such immense joy, such great happiness I can’t
    tell you.  After I went away to college,
    I never was able to recapture those times or that experience, but I have always
    felt there is a deep secret for women in housework and alone time with God,
    doing the work He has placed us here to do: creating a place of wholesomeness and
    goodness, a HOME for our families to live in. 
    It is sacred work.

  • Erika_Marie

    This is what I would like to say after this Lent. I’ve tried and tried to “love” housework but it just doesn’t happen. Even though I know about uniting it to the Passion and offering it up and all that I still don’t feel any “love” for housework and I wonder if it is really possible.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/G56XMH7UDWAXIRHFVAJ6W6YHPI Alice

    Thank you Jennifer for helping us appreciate this most important vacation of maintaining a wholesome, peaceful and prayerful home for the ones we love. I too re-discovered the joys of ironing and vacuuming while listening to TLIG radio(www.tligradio.org). Here there are messages that emphasize the presence of Jesus right in our homes and He encourages us to do everything with love and for love. When we do everything for His sake then even mundane tasks take on very important proportions. Wishing all a blessed and prayerful lent.

  • Susanne

    I would like to encourage Erika Marie to keep hanging in there! There is a saying….get the body there, eventually the mind will follow. Or…you don’t think your way into right living, rather you must ‘live’ your way into right thinking. While I am a certified neat freak who can relate to this article, I have other areas of my life where despite my fervent prayers….the ‘feelings’ aren’t there yet. I am impatient and while I don’t understand
    why….I will just keep on ‘doing the next right thing’ and offer it up. I think the lack of
    joy and good ‘feelings’ makes the offering even more valuable in the eyes of God. I too,
    am trudging the road to happy, holy destiny with you Erika…you are not alone!! God bless!!

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