Gifts in the Commonplace
Updated: Jan 23, 2018
My days are punctuated by rhythms. The alarm clock rings at 5:50. I stumble out of my dark room and up the stairs to start the coffee, and make sure the boys are already up and getting ready for school. At 6:05, I leave the house half awake with two sleepy, instrument-laden boys for my first school drop-off of the day. Upon returning home, I pour my second cup of coffee and wait in the brief quiet for the girls to wake up and join me. By 8:30, I am showered, dressed, and teaching my first piano lesson. At 9:05, it is time for my second school drop-off, and I return home most days to chores, errands, more piano lessons, and some days, a few sacred hours of solitude for contemplation and writing. Sacred, not because they are more holy than anything else I do during the day, but because I must carve out the time for them lest I be swept down the river of busyness. At 2:00, the boys are home, my solitude finished for the day, and I am on to the evening chores of dinner and nightly activities.
As busy as I am, I am grateful for all the tasks of parenting that punctuate my days.
There was a time, in my early days of parenting, when I went about my mundane duties--laundry, cleaning, meal prep, shopping–with joyless discontent. I wished away the hours I spent caring for my family dreaming of a day when I could once again use my mind more than my hands. Back then I craved quiet and solitude like water, paradoxically also desiring adult interaction and affirmation. Had I not been resolute in my belief that my kids needed me at home, I would have been driven into the workforce by sheer boredom. My life was a collection of inconsequential, trivial, mind-numbingly repetitive tasks which left me mentally atrophied, yet physically exhausted.
I can’t say a single book or sermon or event was the catalyst for my change of heart. I can’t even remember consciously determining that I would “from this day forward” be content in my mundaneness. I simply kept living, obeying, doing. And incrementally my perspective changed. I can only attribute this to the work of God in my life, as no amount of guilt and shame in those early years ever produced contentment. But reflecting back now on these fifteen years of motherhood, I can point to a few mindsets God had to change in me in order for contentment to be possible.
First was my desire to be seen. What a blessing for God to grant me the opportunity to go into hiding – to live a basically invisible existence – for years of my life. I mean that with all my heart. Without the heat of obscurity being forced upon me, the dross of my pride would never have been burned away. I see men and women who have never had the good fortune of going unnoticed and unappreciated for an extended time, and I praise God for the good work he accomplished in those invisible, thankless years. Through them, I learned to find my true self and joy in being the Beloved of the Father, and nothing else. It is as F.B. Meyer says,
“God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.”
The second perspective that had to change was my ingratitude. Ann Voskamp says in One Thousand Gifts, “We don’t have to change what we see. Only the way we see.” I needed fresh eyes to see my surroundings differently, but I had no power in me to change the way I saw. As I lived out my hum drum days, relying on the Holy Spirit and begging God to change my heart, I began to notice my attitude shifting. Instead of craving empathy for my difficult life, I considered the millions of mothers around the world who would do anything to be able to stay home with their children, not to mention the women who couldn’t have children. Around the time my third child was born, I woke up to the reality that these years with my children were zipping by, and instead of wishing for more “me time,” I began relishing the time I had with them. Now, parents of littles, don’t think me a saint. I wouldn’t want to revisit late-night feedings, potty training, or toddler tantrums. It’s ok to not feel especially grateful while cleaning poop off the floor, or goldfish crumbs off the couch. I can testify to this, however: when I view my life through a grateful lens, joy is the consistent result. G. K. Chesterton defines gratitude as “happiness doubled by wonder.” My world was charged with wonder. I just didn’t see it at first.
The third mindset God worked in me to change was my perspective of the tasks themselves. I no longer see the mundane responsibilities of motherhood as vegetables to gag down before savoring the delicious dessert of more meaningful endeavors. Every endeavor is meaningful. From standing over a stove to pulling a tooth to mediating a sibling squabble to prepping for my next piano student to blogging or writing a book – there is literally nothing I do that doesn’t matter.
“If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.” –Tim Keller Every Good Endeavor
Not only did God show me that are all my tasks meaningful, I now see them as gifts to be cherished. Serving my family every day, with all its inconveniences and monotony, reminds me where my real treasures lie, and distracts me from thoughts that might otherwise consume me. When I am meal planning for the week, I can’t be fretting about whether I will find an agent for my book. When I am helping with homework, I can’t be worried about whether my husband will find a good paying job. When I am teaching kids how to play the piano, I can’t be anxiously scrolling through social media wondering if anyone is paying attention to my writing. My duties are an anchor, grounding me to the reality of what is really important.
“The new life into which we were baptized is lived out in days, hours, and minutes. God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.” -Tish Warren, The Liturgy of the Ordinary
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go make breakfast.