Almost exactly 3 years ago, I wrote a post on Finding God in House-work. I felt a prompt to revisit this topic again of late. Circumstances have changed since that post I wrote. For one, my home has also become my primary work and living space for the past 3 years. It is where I pray, read, research, write, correspond and meet with many an appointment for long spiritual conversations. Secondly, for the past 2 years, I have had the invaluable help of a part-time cleaner who comes to my place weekly and does the heavier cleaning and ironing for me. But that hasn’t exempted me from cleaning and tidying up every day, and on most days it feels practically like a spiritual discipline. That’s what I wish to reflect on today.
1) Crafting Physical Space that Holds Emotional and Spiritual Space
I am a very visual person. The physical environment I am in has a big impact on my mood and emotional state. When the space I inhabit is messy, cluttered, and dirty, I tend to feel restless and unsettled. When the space I am in is visually calm, tidy, spacious and beautiful, I find it much easier to reach an inner state of peace and quiet.
It takes time and effort to make the bed every morning and to spot-vacuum the floor of debris, dust, and hair. It takes time to do the dishes, clear the trash, and wipe the kitchen counter and floor dry. It takes time to wash, dry and fold the laundry (even though the machines do the heavy lifting!), and to keep track of all the different things that need to be washed. It takes time to take stock of what toiletries, detergents and groceries are running low and time to keep our home stocked and running smoothly.
There are times I feel frustrated at how much of my daily time is taken up by the mundane and I catch myself trying to rush through my chores so that I can get to my “real work”. But then, with grace, I catch myself. It may not feel glamorous at all, but the wonderful truth is that these mundane chores can sanctify my home and me as well if I do them with love! And the truth is that I often do those chores with joy because I look forward to enjoying a tranquil physical space when I pray and work, and to providing my husband with a comfortable space to rest after a long day at work. And it is always with great joy that I prepare my home for a guest because crafting a physical space of comfort and calm goes a long way in aiding my ministry of holding emotional and spiritual space for others!
2) Honouring My True Self and Accepting Limits
I am no Martha Stewart. I don’t do fancy decor and I don’t enjoy baking or cooking. It took me quite a bit of personal growth in order to come to enjoy the unique way that I home-make and stop measuring myself against some imaginary ideal standard or worry about what kind of impression I am giving others. What I spend on for my home and what I do is what first and foremost gives me joy and life and what I love to share with others.
One of my oldest and closest friends who spent an afternoon at my home recently laughingly said that my “branding” was tea and coffee (and hot cocoa)! That is certainly true right now, but I am open to evolve and change with wherever life guides me. Home-making is for me now a daily spiritual practice of grounding me in my authentic self and respecting my limits. There are days when the bed will be left unmade and things left around the apartment instead of being kept away. There are days I decide that the finite energy I have is needed for something else, and these “cheat days” are an exercise in freedom and humility because I am not bound to HAVE to keep everything perfect.
3) Learning to Love Simplicity
I am actually a very lazy person when it comes to physical work. I would rather expend my energy on intellectual labours or in conversation and teaching. But because it is important to me to have a clean and comfortable physical space to inhabit, I don’t tend to add things to my home that are fancy but impractical. The first thing I think of when buying furniture or a new appliance is “how easy or difficult will this be to clean and maintain?” Over time I have come to appreciate simplicity and not owning too many things. That’s not to say we don’t have expensive things – but whatever we decide to own tend to be chosen for function and simplicity of maintenance – and of course, aesthetics! And if there is something that is just taking up space for some time, I will find some way to sell it or give it away so that it can bless others and not clutter my home!
This practice of simplifying is not limited to external and physical space. In fact the more important aspect of simplifying is to keep my mental, emotional, and spiritual spaces uncluttered and life-giving. But I always find that my external reality often reflects my internal reality and vice-versa. The “discipline” of keeping my home simple helps me to appreciate simplicity in my interior life too!
4) Practising Gratitude
When I tidy and clean and make my home, I am constantly reminded of how blessed I am and how much I have to be grateful for. I live in a country that is safe and secure. I own a very comfortable home. God has provided for me generously through my husband such that I can enjoy many things and share these things with others. I am always grateful for technology that makes preparing food and drink or cleaning so much easier, and for technology that equip our home for comfort and enjoyment.
5) Need for Growth
Being in touch with my home so consciously also provides me with frequent reminders of the areas I can grow in. There are impulse buys that are never or hardly used (stationery, books, novelty electronic gadgets) that I need to acknowledge when I put them away or try to decide if I should sell or give away. Then there is the matter or waste and environmental friendliness. This is an area that has not featured greatly in our consciousness, but one in which we are becoming more aware of and mindful. Caring for this home will hopefully lead me to greater love for and concern for my larger home – Earth – and the larger family of humanity and all God’s creatures. There are times I feel overwhelmed by how much I seem to fall short, but that is when I can put what I learn from home-making into practice:
Just start where I am, and take things one at a time.
Do what I can today, and begin again tomorrow.
It’s not about getting everything perfect, but doing what is in my capacity joyfully.
There is always much to be grateful for, as well as much to ask forgiveness for;
but what matters is that everything, both good and bad, subsist in Love.
As long as Love permeates my heart, then “all things and all manner of things will be well” (Julian of Norwich)!