Standing at the kitchen sink the other week, I quickly scraped three-hour-old bread crusts off one of my children’s plates into the food waste bin and then hurriedly put the plate in the dishwasher. The sink was full of lunch dishes and I needed to start on dinner. Also, a writing deadline loomed, and I wanted to get the dishes done and dinner made and the kids packed off to bed so I could get to my computer and finish the essay I was in the middle of. So I moved quickly, a familiar sense of too-much-to-do and not-enough-time filling my chest and flattening my breaths.
And then I stopped as realization dawned. Once again I was living as though there was something else I ought to be doing, something other than the thing I was doing. I saw the dishes and the dinner I had to make as things to be gotten through so I could get on to my “real work.” This is a trap I fall into over and over again. It is also a lie.
If God is present always and everywhere—and He is—then He is just as present with me and active in me when I wash dishes as He is when I write or teach. When I am washing dishes, the dishes are my real work.
I took a deep breath, filled both my lungs as full of air as I could and slowly exhaled. I continued scraping lunch leftovers into the food waste bin and loading the plates into the dishwasher, only this time I did each task slowly, with attention, attempting to be mindful that God was with me, that He was doing a good work in me as I did the good work of washing dishes.
When I turned my attention to the pans, left over from breakfast, I thought of Brother Lawrence, who was as at home with God in the monastery kitchen among the pots as he was in the chapel chanting psalms. What he was doing mattered far less than Who he was with. He was able to be present with God wherever he was because he knew God was present with him.
It is impossible to be present to God when I am blasting through a task as fast as I can to get on with the other things on my to-do list. God isn’t present in those tasks yet because I’m not present in them. He’s present in this task, the one I am doing right now. His grace is sufficient for this task, not for those, not till they become my present task. Until then, focusing my attention other than where I am only robs me of the all-sufficiency of God for this moment, this task.
As I scrubbed oatmeal off the sides of a saucepan, I repented of thinking this work of dipping my hands in soapy water was a barrier to my real work. I repented of my mad dash through a task as rife with meaning and meditative possibilities as the washing of dishes. Dirt and grease, water, soap, scrubbing, cleaning—the possibilities for prayer arising from this task are almost endless, the possibilities for parables of the spiritual life are rich. But even if they weren’t, the task itself would remain good because it is necessary, good because it is a gift to others (in this case my family) and good because God is present in it.
The kitchen is full of the glory of God. The dishes proclaim His handiwork. I just need to show up and pay attention.