*A new monk in a monastery had just finished his breakfast. Finding the master alone, he approached him and said, “What is the meaning of life?” The master replied, “Have you had your breakfast yet?” “Yes,” the monk said. “Then go and wash your bowl.” *
One thing at a time. Pay attention. Listen while you work.
I’m feeling small and quiet today, and I like it.
I’m wearing a flow-y cotton dress and the start of a tan and a pink flower in my hair. My hair is loose and curly because I ban the blow dryer in the summer. I’m embracing my inner flower child. I’m peaceful and happy, at the moment. Which is strange because I’ve been on the receiving end of loads of bad news this week. News about the deteriorating health and marriages of friends. News about Monkees with sick children and breaking hearts. The world seems to be falling apart, all the time, and it can be a little stressful. Especially if one is stubborn and insists upon trying to make sense of it all. Trying to make sense of things is the kiss of death.
During the past few days I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes. It’s a book in the Bible written by a man named Solomon who insists that we quit trying to make sense of things down here. He was a powerful king who used his life to study happiness and the ways of the world. He determined that the hard cold facts are that bad things happen to good people and wonderful people die young and bad people get rich and good people starve and power is abused and people lie and cheat and steal and will do so forevermore. In so many words, he suggests that maybe we should quit saying, “everything happens for a reason” because what the heck do we know? Nothing makes sense. There is no discernable pattern, no way to avoid pain or predict what will happen next to whom. Solomon’s ultimate conclusion is that in the end, “a man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.”
I can dig that.
We all must figure out what our work is. Sometimes it’s what we get paid to do, and often it’s not. Some people’s work changes with different seasons of life and others are called to the same work for a lifetime.
Part of my work is my writing. It’s also a calling and a privilege and a ministry. It’s not my most important work, though. The world could certainly do without it.
My real work is the work I do as a wife and mother. It’s the application of a thousand unnecessary band-aids and the sweeping and re-sweeping of the same kitchen floor and the folding and creating of little laundry piles. It’s the refereeing and car pooling and dinner burning and play-date hostessing and dog walking and tantrum monitoring and diaper changing. Being the mother of small children is a little like Groundhog Day. It’s getting out of bed and doing the exact same things, again and again and yet again – and it’s watching it all get undone, again and again and yet again. It’s humbling. It’s repetitive and solitary and mind-numbing . . . it’s monks’ work.
That’s why I named this blog Momastery. Because we mothers are like monks. We do manual labor, we serve others, we live in community, we nurse the sick, we feed the hungry, we comfort the sad, we sing, we teach, we pray, we breathe deeply, we devote our lives to love, and we ask nothing in return but deeper relationship with God and others, and peace and joy for our followers. Most importantly, like Monks, we are charged with the fearsome privilege of teaching our little people what God is like. With each reaction, each word spoken or unspoken, and each offering of true forgiveness, we teach our children what God’s love is like.
And He knows that there is nothing more important, so He is in our work with us each day. Like monks, we fold the clothes. We wash the bowls. We practice patience. We watch it all come undone and we do it again, as an offering. Our service to our family and our communities is our prayer. Our work is our prayer. It’s how we show God that we Choose Love, every moment. Since loving others through service is our choice, it becomes a spiritual discipline. And eventually our minds shut down and our souls wake up. And there is the miracle that monks and parents share. God speaks to us in the mundane. We worry that what we do is menial and insignificant . . . that people out there do more important things . . . but we are so very wrong. Our work in our homes and with our families is the type of work that is most conducive to prayer, to meditation, to peace. It is the ultimate work. This is why monks choose it. The ordinary is the extra-ordinary. God is in the details, you know.
Lovies, when someone asks . . . what did you do today? Please take the time to answer accurately. You did not “clean the bathroom.” This would be like Annie Leibovitz saying, “Oh, I stood around and pushed some buttons.”
No. Today I created an entire world for my family, my friends, and my neighbors. And I found God in that world. God and I talked and worked together all day. We love this family, God and I. And He loves what I do. He knows how hard it is; He knows. He’s so proud of me for taking care of this family. For getting out of bed each morning and starting over again – just like He does. We are up with the sun, God and me, loving these little people. He cherishes them even more than I do, so He’s grateful that I choose to be His partner in raising them. He is so thankful that I’m willing to spend my life teaching these people what it feels like to be Loved and to Love.
We don’t have to leave home to take journeys together – God and me.
We fold together.
We wipe bottoms.
We dry tears.
We scrub toilets.
He does seem to abandon me before every damn meal preparation. Perhaps it’s His break time.
Then we sweep.
And we spray.
And we scrub.
We tuck our angels in.
We straighten their rooms and blow kisses and shut their doors. We leap with joy that the day is done.
We make things beautiful together, God and me. He is into this, this world and people creation thing. We have it in common. It is work that we share.
Like God, you are an artist, and your canvas is your family.
May God Bless You in your work today.
One thing at a time. Pay attention. Listen while you work. Everything’s a miracle.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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