On Doing Dishes

When you’re young, and you imagine your future, I doubt many of us include in our images the daily tasks– laundry, dishes, commuting. I mean I certainly didn’t. And I probably think about them too often now: How much time do I really spend in the car on my way to and from work, in traffic? How much of my life have I spent doing laundry and dishes? If I spent as much time on various projects as I do watching TV, how much more could I accomplish?

And those thoughts get to me. I’m somewhat disappointed in the vision I had for the future because it never included these things. It never included going grocery shopping or being tired or writing 170 issues of the same newsletter at work. It mainly consisted of having friends who were always ready for an adventure, having my dream job, traveling to Europe and Africa, having the perfect home and family life, and changing the world. Now my home life is pretty good and I’ve been Europe a few times, but the rest?  I’m turning 30 in October and I’m feeling the difference between that vision and my reality in a big way.

And I’m not saying there’s a flaw in my life because of the chores and daily tasks. It’s just not what I imagined.

Last night, after a big family barbeque at my parents’ house, I found myself alone in the kitchen. So I thought, well I’ll just do the dishes for my mom before we go home. The house was quiet since most of my siblings had left (and taken their boisterous children with them). So I did the dishes in the quiet. And I thought to myself at some point, this isn’t so bad. It’s kind of nice actually. I’m not changing the world, and I’m definitely not in Europe, but this is kind of nice, doing the dishes for my mom.

And I thought about the dishes and my mom. I thought about how my mom built this life for us– for me, my dad, and my four siblings, how she raised us and invited our friends and husbands and wives and children into the mix as the years went on, how she cooked for us and cleaned up after us, how she volunteered in the community and went to work driving a school bus everyday, all for us. I thought about how she used to make us dry ten dishes every night while she washed them and how she used that time to talk to us and how we’d sometimes dry more than ten because we were too busy talking to notice.

I don’t know if this life is what my mom imagined it would be. Maybe I’ll ask her sometime. She’s washed a lot more dishes than I have, and done a lot more laundry, and worked more days, and volunteered more hours, and been much more tired than me. She’s never been to Europe or worked her dream job, and her home and family life isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. And as I washed the dishes, I thought, sure, she’s changed the world though. These are dishes that served her family. These are dishes that brought us together every night at the dinner table growing up, and out in the backyard tonight for a barbeque. These things matter, don’t they?

I know some people love these daily tasks, whether it’s about making a home or earning a living for your family, or finding a way to do what you’re passionate about doing. Some people were prepared for this. I don’t know that I was, but it’s a lesson I’ve learned at least twice now, and probably will learn again.

When I first got married, I remember standing at the sink in our little apartment doing the dishes. Chad was on his way home and I thought, it’ll be nice for the dishes to be done when he gets here. He’ll appreciate that he doesn’t have to do them.

I thought, I don’t mind doing the dishes because I’m doing it for him. And those kinds of thoughts stayed with me for probably the first couple years of our marriage. I would do things that I didn’t enjoy doing, but had to get done, because I knew I was doing them for him and that mattered. And it still does, even when I forget, even when I’m mad about how many dishes there are.  So I don’t think there’s something wrong with my life because I spend a lot of time doing dishes and laundry, commuting to my job to write my 171st newsletter, or settling in for some TV after work because I’m too tired for an editing project. I think it was my vision that was flawed. It only ever included the exciting.

But there are things in life we have to do because they need to be done. We don’t necessarily choose to do them, and sometimes they aren’t very exciting. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find meaning in them. Conservatively, I’ve spent more than 18,000 minutes of my life doing dishes. My mom has spent more than 160,000. So we can think of it as time wasted or as time spent serving the people around us. And when I think of what that means, serving the people around us, I think that might be how Jesus changed the world.


4 thoughts on “On Doing Dishes

  1. Wow this was an excellent piece. You took the words right out of my mouth. I’ve often thought that if my life just had some greater purpose that I’d be more fulfilled. However, if we embrace the moment, give thanks for where we are at, and loving serve those around us, we will have an abundant life. I think it is that we tend to think that the grass is greener on the other side. It’s just greener where you fertilize it. We fertilize life through service. You are shifting your perspective on the significance of the mundane. 🙂 (I’m working on that too.)

    I really like your statement: “And when I think of what that means, serving the people around us, I think that might be how Jesus changed the world.”

    Jesus washed his disciples feet. In that he showed he was a God who came to serve. It was in serving, especially through his choice to endure the cross, that he radically changed the world. We too, in serving others in the mundane, as you said, will be able to change the world, even if it is only in our home.

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    1. Thanks Kelly! It’s so easy to forget that we don’t have to do BIG things to make a difference. I have to constantly remind myself of the value of simple service. AND not to look for recognition for it either.

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  2. Hi there!

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog – I’m glad you did!

    I feel as though I could have written this post – I love your insight into the fact that you’re doing mundane tasks FOR somebody, and that perspective makes all the difference. I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit lately, having left my engineering job to be home full time with our daughter. Thanks for sharing.

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