Every day is the same – shop, cook, dishes, laundry. Sweep, wipe, scrub, pick up. All the papers, all the arguments, all the scheduling, all the homework. The monotony can turn a happy heart upside down. So much unpaid time and effort spent on things unseen, neverending, undone as soon as they’re finished.
Perhaps the thought has come to you:
I feel like I’m a slave in my own home.
Not fun, right?
This line of thinking easily fosters resentment, frustration, and even depression. Since the house will never clean itself, a new perspective is necessary to cut through the daily mire in which we home managers often find ourselves stuck.
Four practices have helped me change these feelings and keep giving to my family without losing my mind. (These are addressing the inner dialogue of the heart rather than other external or relational factors.) Perhaps putting one or more into practice will brighten your outlook as well.
1. Practice Gratitude
Resentment is often the foundation of the “slave” thoughts. Resentment has a way of stacking up, and it doesn’t have eyes to see what is good and right. I’ve found that the quickest way to displace that negativity is with the power of gratitude. Intentionally seeking something to be thankful for can change the dirtiest cottage into the most beautiful castle. Chores laced with gratitude cease to be unendingly demanding task-masters. They become instead mysterious opportunities for joy.
(The) habit of discontentment can only be driven out by hammering in one iron sharper.
The sleek pin of gratitude.
A few examples:
Piles of laundry mean we have more than enough clothes to wear.
Stacks of dirty dishes mean we have more than enough food to eat.
Stinky, dirty toilets mean we have running water, sanitary conditions, and a functioning local government.
Schlepping to and from ball practice means we have children – whose very lives are a gift – with ten fingers and ten toes and four-chambered hearts and lungs healthy enough to breathe deep.
I am physically and mentally able to fulfill these responsibilities (mostly), and this too is an amazing gift of health and life.
2. Embrace the Mundane
Pulling the fifth load of laundry out of the dryer while humming “Sing Sweet Nightingale” usually doesn’t feel long-term significant. But even in the mundane, lessons of character and faithfulness are growing inside of me. It is a sign of maturity to embrace the mundane.
“It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation… We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, bealing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by startin where we are… We must look for blessing to come from unlikely, everyday places.” -Kathleen Norris, Quotidian Mysteries
As I do this hard life-long work to find beauty in the mundane, guess who’s watching? Every day I remain faithful to this work, I have the opportunity to teach my children by word and example that real life is boring, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Character is being built. Values are being instilled.
Normal life is filled with monotonous, unseen tasks. Few moments are glamorous and easy.
Perseverance – We can do hard things; we don’t give up, even when we don’t feel like it.
Stewardship – Taking care of what we’re responsible for is important.
Family – We are a team; we do things together. That means chores, too!
Servanthood – Serving is a kingdom value that Jesus modeled for us.
Hospitality – Welcoming guests is a big deal, which includes creating a clean space.
When complaints rise, revisiting these bigger values helps contextualize our small-ness. It doesn’t make the work easier, but remembering the truth is helpful:
“The crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines.” Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary
3. Work Together
When the voices come back again, I consider how engaged the kids have been around the house lately. I often realize I’ve made it a one-woman show, shouldering all the cleaning because it’s easier to just do it myself; I do it right; the boys work hard at school all day so I don’t want to give them more work. I am resentful because I feel alone.
But maintaining a home is not about being perfect, and it’s not me vs. the mess-makers. It’s an all-in team effort. Each family member can be responsible for a few chores during the week, and eventually for their own particular brand of messiness. Even two-year-olds can pick up shoes and put them in a basket. The carpet may not be perfectly vacuumed by my nine-year-old, but if I can let go of perfection and know that I’m not alone, my heart is made cleaner, and we all benefit. Sharing the load, even in theory, helps diffuse my resentment.
4. Keep Dreaming
Even with gratitude and a bigger picture in mind, another thought rises: “I am meant for more than this.”
Yes, you are meant for more! Don’t let anyone say otherwise. You are not a slave. You are not a victim. You are a child of God. You have chosen your life and it is good. And don’t be ashamed for wanting more. Restlessness is often a signal that something new is coming. Don’t let the desires of your heart die under a pile of laundry; give yourself permission to dream big dreams and look forward to the next season of your life. Begin to take small steps toward your big ideas. If you don’t know what the “more” is yet, start exploring and brainstorming with the people who know you best. Finding the time to feed our souls and pursue our dreams is a challenge, but it is so very necessary to feeding hope and joy in the midst of everyday ordinary life.
You have permission to be fully alive.
Just remember, “one day” is a both/and scenario. One day when you are running that new company, you’ll be BOTH stretching your wings AND cooking dinner most nights. The dishes won’t wash themselves after you go back to school for your master’s and find your dream job. All these chores will still be around.
As you continue to be faithful in the little things, may you hold the housework in one hand and the dream in the other, and count them both as good for all your days.
One more thing: You’re doing a great job.