by Joanna Hayes
I have a troubled relationship with housework. It’s not even a love/hate thing, just a hate/hate. I know some of you get a buzz from it, but frankly, I find Midsomer Murders more exciting.
Even as I’ve pondered housework at great length (in order to avoid doing it of course. I’ve ‘researched’), I’ve been able to come up with a personal scale of hatred. My most-hated housework tasks are those that most resemble filing (drying up and putting away crockery, tidying up a room); my least-hated are tasks that involve some creativity (cooking dinner, unpacking a room for the first time).
But the worst thing about housework is that it’s always there! Every day something needs wiping, washing, vacuuming, or tidying, and it doesn’t go away. BORING!
As I’ve reflected though, I can see that housework is actually almost the ultimate crucible for spiritual growth (ok, so the crucifixion itself might be the ultimate, but housework is at least a close second).
All the necessary alchemy of patience, repetition, love, humility, hard work, holiness, and perseverance are brought together in the melting pot of drudgery that is keeping a house smoothly running.
Every day you have to repeat and repeat task after task that immediately needs doing again! Just when you’ve got all the mugs sparkling and the teaspoons back in the drawer, someone comes along and wants to actually make a drink and use those mugs you just cleaned! And you can either sit and glower at them — perversely wanting to preserve your kitchen as a museum of objects intended for constant use, where visitors cannot touch the exhibits, but only observe from a suitably clean distance — or you can mimic the graciousness of God in bringing the sun up every day, making the world turn every day, sustaining oxygen every day, mostly so that we don’t even notice it happening at all. We take for granted that the mugs are clean and there for using, the air is there and ready for breathing, the light is there and ready for photosynthesising, so we can all get on with life itself.
Of course in Western society, we’ve got a bit of a hangover from the dreadful cocktail of economic prosperity and uber-industrialism that created a sharp division between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ in the household. Back in the good old days (assuming there were some), everyone was allowed to get in on the joy of drudgery. Women brewed the beer; men did the butchering. Women set the fires; men did the darning. No one was deprived of the opportunity to make the house a home and serve one another in love. The idea of continuing to divide up household tasks on the basis of gender seems a bit ridiculous to me, and not only because I’ve closely studied Proverbs 31 and figured out that essentially that woman does everything!
So, despite my personal preference, I want to urge us all to plunge into the cleansing waters of housework, working our selfishness away in the tepid water of the sink, rubbing away our obsession with spontaneity by repeatedly scrubbing the kitchen floor, and embracing gender non-discrimination as we press the button on the machine that says ‘start’.
Just like Brother Lawrence, we may all find that “we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
Joanna Hayes lives in loco parentis with Count Alexei Yanavitch von Hayesky (cat) and 30–39 young women (non-cats) in Sydney’s Inner West. When she’s not teaching them the Bible, cleaning the litter, or praying with them, she blags on Hope FM 103.2 about relationships and blogs at celibateinthecity.net