The mundane tasks you do every day can help your spiritual life.
When I was still adjusting to life as a wife and mom, my mother-in-law gave me a book called The Quotidian Mysteries.It opens with an anecdote from the author, a life-long Presbyterian who describes the delight she felt when she attended a Catholic Mass for the first time and saw the priest cleaning the chalice after communion. She was delighted that there was a place in such a holy ceremony for the quotidian — daily tasks we all do like cleaning dishes.
That book has stayed with me over the years and helped me to realize that there are perfect opportunities for me to pray and meditate baked right into the daily tasks of housekeeping. It doesn’t have to be drudgery — even tasks we dislike can be elevated by finding the right kind of prayer for them. So for those who struggle to balance the seemingly ordinary with the holy, here are five of my favorite chores that make perfect times for prayer.
1Making the beds
I used to be an avowed anti-bed-maker. “Why make a bed when you’re just going to mess it up again in a few hours?” I would scoff. But then I started making my families’ beds and found that making a bed was, in it’s own way, a little prayer. I took solace in smoothing sheets and fluffing comforters, thinking ahead to the evening when my children would once again be tucked safely into bed. I often found myself praying little prayers of protection over them, and asking for the grace and wisdom to lead them through the day. I discovered that there’s something deeply comforting about climbing into a neatly made bed at the end of the day — it lets my family know that they’re cared for, and that everything will be restored each day and made new.
Kneading dough is a physically intense task but it also has a rhythm that naturally lends itself to prayer.
A few years ago I was making bread daily and attempting to pray the Rosary daily as well. I discovered that the two worked beautifully together. I could match my Rosary to the rhythm of the kneading, and because kneading doesn’t require close attention, I was free to reflect on the mysteries of the Rosary as I worked the dough into nourishment for my family. It was a peaceful, restorative habit that carried over into my family’s daily life.
I’ve never been a natural housekeeper and attention to detail is not one of my gifts. I’m embarrassed to admit that washing windows wasn’t even on my radar until a few months after we moved into our first rental house and my in-laws came to visit. I washed the windows in a flurry of preparation, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the act of washing windows made me happy. I loved cleaning the glass, and removing the particles and dirt and fingerprints that had been blocking the light from fully entering. I loved the way each room looked after the windows were clean. It made me think about confession, and the stains and fingerprints on our souls that block out the full gift of grace. After that, I began to wash the windows while doing an examination of conscience — the two tasks complemented each other perfectly, and the visual and physical reality of cleaning the glass helped make the examination of conscience real and tangible in a way it hadn’t been before.
4Putting away laundry
Folding laundry has always been something I’ve enjoyed, but putting it away was a task I procrastinated. For years, I had the bad habit of folding laundry and leaving it in the basket, which resulted in my kids rooting through clean clothes in search of underwear or shorts — and unfolding half the clothes in the process. Inspired by the success I’d found in making beds and kneading bread, I decided to use the time it took to put my kids’ clothes away as a time to pray for each of them individually. It ended up being one of my favorite tasks after that. It gave me a few moments to connect with God about each child and their current struggles, and often helped me see something in their lives that I’d been missing.
5Scrubbing the floors
No one likes scrubbing the floors. It’s hard, dirty, thankless work, and I spent years avoiding it entirely. Then I read a reflection by the wife of one of my college professors, about how the image of Mary scrubbing Christ’s blood off the ground in the movie The Passion of the Christ gave her a new appreciation for the dreaded chore of scrubbing floors. It totally changed my perspective, and scrubbing floors became a time for meditation on the sorrows of Our Lady and the example of motherhood she set for all of her daughters.
Whether or not you choose to pray in the specific way I do during these chores is up to you. You might find that rosaries are better suited to bed-making and examinations of conscience work easier while you’re scrubbing floors. Regardless, the repetitive, contemplative nature of these chores make them perfectly suited to some kind of prayer, which can serve to remind you that the so-called quotidian tasks of housekeeping are really an integral part of the holy task of home making and raising children.