Finding God in Housework

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When I was growing up, there was always a domestic helper at home to help with the chores. But in the 9 years I lived abroad and the 8 years that I have been married, I have cleaned and kept my own home, and I hope to continue to do so for as long as I can. The reason is because I have come to believe that housework is actually good for my soul. And that is why even when I had a full-time job in parish ministry (with crazy, unpredictable hours), I still persisted. I have been mulling over this for a long time and I thought it’d be nice to share this. Who knows, maybe I’m not the only one who has this experience!

1. It keeps me contented with less

I quickly learned two principles after moving out on my own. First – the smaller my home, the less time I will need to spend cleaning it. Second – the simpler, less cluttered my living space is, the easier it will be to clean. Perhaps it’s a blessing of laziness, but I’m not someone who enjoys spending hours vacuuming, mopping and dusting. But I do like to have my living space clean, tidy and pleasant. Over time, I have found that I can be contented with less, and that truly, “less is more!” The time that I save in cleaning and maintaining my home, I am able to spend enjoying it. I have a feeling that if my husband and I really hope to move in downward mobility, we need to continue doing the housework on our own!

2. It keeps me connected with reality

When there is someone else you pay to clean up for you, it is easy to take a comfortable home for granted. It is certainly the case for me that when I have to clean my own home, I am very aware how quickly dust and grime gather. Every time I pick up the mop, I am reminded of a basic principle of life – labour is a necessity – and if I’m not doing it, somebody else is.  I also learn in a very real way that consistency in work makes the work itself easier than when I procrastinate and try to clean up weeks of dust and grime in one go. This leads me to reflect on the other areas of my life where I tend to be lazy. Have I allowed dust and grime to gather in my relationships – with God, with myself, with others?

3. It makes me appreciate others more

Over the years, as I continue to contemplate as I do my chores (yes… I actually find that cleaning can be prayerful!), I have found that I am growing in appreciation of and gratitude to blue-collar workers. I am pampered – in hot and humid Singapore, I often keep the air-conditioning on while I clean. It’s still tiring work though, and I find myself thinking of the many other people who do much harder labour under the scorching hot sun or in stifling, poorly-ventilated environments. I find that I bring them into prayer (which I never used to do) and that I am also much more mindful about giving those I see regularly a friendly smile and greeting when I pass them.

4. It teaches me to sanctify my home

Physical space is only one aspect of a home. When I spend effort maintaining the physical environment and making it comfortable and pleasant, I also grow to ponder on how I can keep the emotional and spiritual space in my home beautiful too. What would it take such that my home is truly a haven for my husband and I, and anyone who steps through our doors? How can I make my home a place where people can easily encounter God and experience his peace?

In recent years, my husband and I have grown much more aware that the activities that we do in our home contribute to its spiritual climate. When words and acts of love bathe this space, our home becomes a loving space. When prayer and silence reverberate through this space, our home becomes a contemplative space. Our home is our monastery where we learn to pray and work and serve one another in love. Our home has become the space in our lives where we launch out into the world and where we return into loving silence every day.

5. It keeps me humble and teaches me to serve

As I said earlier, I do not enjoy manual labour. I am quite inordinately attached to comfort and pleasure, and the fact that all my life I have been financially well-provided for doesn’t help. It is all too easy to buy convenience and pleasure at every turn. Doing my own housework keeps me grounded. It is a spiritual discipline I practice regularly where I do something I do not want to do out of love for my husband because I believe part of being a loving wife is providing him with a pleasant home to rest and unwind in after a hard day at work. I am someone for whom acts of service is really not a preferred love language, so housework is a powerful way for me to learn the true spirit of service where it is love and not personal preference that guides my actions.

Let me be clear – I don’t wear “I do my own housework” as a badge of pride, and neither will I hesitate to employ help to clean my home if doing my own housework no longer contributes to making me a better disciple. But for the time being, housework has been an unlikely spiritual aid for me and I just wanted to share it!

Oh… and if you’re wondering why there is a picture of a cold drink for this post on housework? It’s because the labourer deserves her reward!

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