How vacuuming and doing the laundry makes us more human

The back-and-forth, back-and-forth motion of the vacuum has a sort of soothing quality to it. Right before my eyes, dust and bits of food, and stray Legos and little pieces of stuff vanish as I drag the vacuum back and forth, back and forth. The drone of the vacuum not only can help put my baby to sleep, but it also blocks out some of the noise that our house is so full of. And for a moment, in the eye of the swirling pandemonium that is life these days, I have a bit of peace, as I drag my big ol’ Dyson around and back and take the extra time to get out attachments and clean in hard-to-reach places; because, right then, order is coming from chaos! It’s a task that has a definite beginning and end and you can immediately feel accomplishment, which, for someone who enjoys the mystery of story and has the job of raising small children, having a task both completed and done to satisfaction is pretty worth a gold star.

Credit: the next family

It also allows me a few moments to think and dwell and ponder. As my hands are involved in their task, the mind can more easily move about. I’m finding, too, that when vacuuming or doing the dishes that I use them as concerted moments to pray.

In a fabulous, small volume (a lecture transcription), The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work”, Kathleen Norris draws attention to how very mundane tasks are invitations to experience the holy. She writes, “It is precisely these thankless, repetitive, boring tasks that are hardest for the workaholic or utilitarian mind to appreciate, and God knows that being rendered temporarily mindless as we toil is what allows us to approach the temple of holy leisure. When confronting a sinkful of dirty dishes … I admit that I generally lose sight of the fact that God is inviting me to play” (27). She comments on children’s delight in water play and that it is “difficult for adults to be so at play.” We are invited to play when we do dishes, or vacuum or fold the laundry!

Her text is full of delightful gems to tuck into your pocket when you feel you’ve been losing a battle against the tyranny of the mundane. She writes (concerning marriage — but it really is applicable to much more), “It is not in romance but in routine that the possibilities for transformation are made manifest. And that requires commitment” (63). It’s not in the blinding-light moments, but the accumulation of little, daily ones, that our character comes out, and has the possibility to change and grow.

Norris’ own wonder as she returns to her faith on the heels of observing the priest “doing the dishes” during the Catholic mass as he cleans out the chalice used to hold the wine, is grounded in the gifts of the everyday. Mundane tasks like laundry, and baking bread, and feeling the warmth of water on your skin as you do the dishes. Because the dishes and vacuuming will need to be done, day in and day out; the relentlessness of housework is something that most of us long to escape. But they, too, are gifts. Structured moments that cause us to pause, or to lose ourselves in thought or prayer, or simply remind us that even in vacuuming I am following the divine example of bringing order from chaos. That there is something in the mundane and often drudging housework tasks that participates not only in what it means to be human, but also what it means to, more specifically, be human made in God’s image.

Did you catch that? When you do simple things like iron or vacuum, or pack lunches for your kids, or wash your clothes, you are living out your identity as being made in God’s image. There is value to your work — not simply in its effects on you and your family, or on your use of that time to think and ponder and pray — but also as you do the work itself. So as you waver between drudgery and duty and delight and wonder as you go about your daily tasks, may these tasks help you to circle back again and again to elemental truths: that you are made to bear God’s image to the world, that you get to participate with him in daily ways to help bring order out of chaos, and that you might even get a bit of relief from the noise.

flower photo1

This is the thirteenth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.

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7 Comments

  1. I love this! I’m the kind of person who used to hate the quotidian–but I’m learning to take joy in service and chill out in the ‘now’. I usually don’t get any profound thinking done–but I can honestly say I find joy in folding laundry now!

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  2. This is great, you write really well! Honestly, I have always struggled with laziness, but getting married and having children have opened my eyes to the truth that God actually likes work – wants us to work. There is something from Him in us when we are productive, part of the image of Him in us, as He worked {and continues to work}. Realising this has helped change my perspective on my housework as part of the whole scope of wifery and motherhood.

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    1. Sarah, I’m so glad you stopped by. I wrote that post for the October 31 Days challenge as I was looking for ways to find beauty in the mundane. It’s such a great practice. I love how the “why” for your more mundane tasks is informing your practice of them at home. That is so encouraging. I hope you’ll come back to Circling the Story and share more of your wisdom. 🙂

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