I first wrote this piece in 2006, but it came to my mind this morning as I was facing yet another kitchen full of the aftermath of getting the family up and out the door to school. There were so many things I would rather do than clean up. Yet, as I reflected on the fact that putting my house in order is my ‘job’, well, I just did it. And I stood back and admired the tidy kitchen before I sat down at my computer to work on some other needful things. Better than facing the dirty kitchen later in my morning, when feelings of resentment would probably accompany my tidying efforts.
In any case, here’s what I wrote, which still rings true in my life today.
I had to apologize to my children yesterday after school. I have been home ‘sick’ for the past few days, and after my energy level began to pick up I found myself cleaning and tidying like I haven’t done in some time. And the only reason I can think of for the renewed interest in cleaning, is that I’m actually AT HOME.
My life as a homemaker is usually quite busy, and I don’t enjoy all of the chores that come with my job description. Many of my tasks are outside the home too, and most of those are more enjoyable. So, my days usually include a variety of things, from walking my dog, to helping in the classroom, to grocery shopping, to errands, and even the occasional coffee with friends. I have tried a number of different ways to accomplish my tasks in the home, both scheduled and non-scheduled. The scheduled approach is best for me, so that on Monday I know it’s laundry day. There isn’t any doubt that its laundry day, it just is. I don’t have to justify, rationalize or wonder, It’s just laundry on Monday.
Problem is, on Mondays I’m not always home for the day. And our laundry piles are pretty prolific. So, making it laundry day doesn’t get it done. Only being at home and working through it systematically gets it done.
So, this week, being at home and sick, reminded me that I haven’t been home enough. As my husband kindly reminds me from time to time, it’s all about balance. And when the scales are full of dirty clothes on one side and no clean ones on the other side, then that’s definitely not balance.
When I was home I saw other indications of unbalance in the form of cobwebs, burnt out light bulbs, grubby bathroom taps etc. And I felt badly for two reasons. One, that the job that I’ve been entrusted with isn’t being done to the best of my abilities, and two, that I’m setting a less than excellent example to my kids. How can I, with good conscience, tell them off for not making their beds, when I haven’t made mine.
So, my apology to my kids was for both of these reasons. I want them to know that I blow it some times, and that I’m human. But I also want them to know that our family values include doing our best, keeping our commitments, and meeting our responsibilities, even when it’s not fun stuff. Would I rather be out grocery shopping than scrubbing toilets – absolutely! Does the thought of 10 loads of laundry fill me with joy? Not really, but I do feel joy when the job is complete. Even if the hamper stays empty for only a few hours, I feel a certain sense of accomplishment at a job well done, at having given my best to the task, and at having been true to my commitment to care for my family.
Because I love words and the impact they have on me – they stick – I thought of a little line of words that I could think about when the lure of e-mail is greater than the messy kitchen. It’s simply this, “The discipline of first things first”.
The word discipline might not sit well with you. It’s received a bad rap, I think, as we immediately consider the negative connotations of disciplining our children, or the stern teacher disciplining students. But discipline has another side to it. It’s about choosing to do what you have already committed to. It’s about meeting priorities, even when they are not pleasant. It’s about choosing the important things over the needful things of the moment. It’s about lining up my behaviour with my values.
My spiritual life requires discipline. It’s so much easier to call up a friend for emotional support than to pray to my heavenly father. It’s easier to keep on doing chores and running errands than stop for a quiet time of reading, meditation, and praise. It’s so tempting to sleep in on Sunday morning rather than joining together with God’s people for worship and teaching. You may think that choosing the latter in each case sounds like legalism, but for me anyway, the discipline combined with the desire allows me to make better choices. Better choices for me anyway. You will have to decide what’s ‘first’ in your own life.
Today was a good day. I chose to read my devotional before I started my day’s work. I chose to clean the kitchen before I answered personal e-mails. I chose to finish what I had started, before beginning a new project. Not martyrdom, simply honouring my priorities. Everyone’s will be different. But everyone has them. It’s a matter of sticking to them, and that does take discipline.
Trying to be faithful in the little things,
I come from a long line of strident women
First born porcelain cleaners.
I have cleaned white bowls for 40 years
if you count the early days when my brothers did yard work
and I polished taps and sanitized alongside Mother.
I tried to levy birth order then
for wrinkled finger tips, upright vacuums white noise, and
dusters made of outgrown undershirts.
Stared with longing out the window for
a clue less obvious than
the flowering buds of my own soft flesh.
Come to think of it,
I denied things long after;
my femininity an afterthought,
broadcast an ‘I Can Do Anything’ mantra like a war shield,
blazing fearless into
life and love.
Life inside me changed everything.
Womb blossoming like a June rose
fragrant with maternity, all thoughts of
equality cracked like the precious hand
of my grandmother’s china doll.
Clarity came with mother’s milk and creation,
my benediction to a long line
of strident women