Monday, December 17, 2012

dirty dishes



“Where’s Matt when we need him?” I thought. Our roommate had been gone less than 48 hours and already the kitchen of our intentional community was suffering neglect. The counters were speckled. The dishes were grimy; the dishwasher full. I assumed this would happen when our neatest roommate moved out (his weekly chore was, after all, kitchen duty). I didn’t think about beginning to fill some of the void. Yet there I was, stacking plates, running the dishwasher, scrubbing the pans, cleaning the counter.

I did the dishes today. That wouldn’t exactly make me a hero. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to do the dishes today.

Every once in a while, I get in these pious moods where I take joy in doing small things for others. I blush to admit it, but this was not one of them. 

All I wanted to do when I got home after work was get cozy and watch my favorite Jane Austen novel turned movie. But there they were, two skillets, one pan, a crockpot, plates and utensils, mocking my weariness in all their oily glory. It’s a good thing I didn’t see them all at once, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to take the sponge in my hand and turn the hot water on.

The dishes and pans came at me from all sides: next to the stove, in the kitchen corner, by a towel—littering our kitchen counter, collecting grime from the meat grease, dotted with crumbs.

They smelled too. This was no prim affair. Soapy, clear water instantly turned black and brown. The blue sponge was quickly camouflaged. Unidentifiable particles swam sloppily, drowning one moment and resurrecting the next.

Sometimes I hummed a holiday tune. Sometimes I sighed exasperatedly. The internal struggle continued. Did these dishes know what kind of day I had? No, they didn’t. All they cared about was getting clean, being put away, getting reused.

And thank God for that.

The dishes made me step outside of myself and serve others. I wasn’t in a soup kitchen. I wasn’t in a nursing facility or hospital. I was in my own home, serving the people I see almost every day—the people who often get forgotten in my quest to serve, the people who may not even remember to thank me.

Brother Lawrence, however, reminds us in The Practice of the Presence of God, "We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed."

So maybe my act of service wasn’t particularly glorified or heroic on a worldly scale. But doing it with love was. Because love involves serving others, even if it's not exactly first on our to-do list. By doing the dishes, I was serving a hodge-podge group of people that I’ve come to love, even though I’d had a long day. And that’s all that matters sometimes.

I got every single plate—even the ones I hadn’t accounted for. And before I knew it, I was pulling out the counter cleaner and scrubbing the stove. I don’t know where God gives us this energy or drive…or even why. I don’t know what made me go above and beyond, nor do I know how I got there, in the kitchen of my intentional community in Washington D.C., scrubbin’ away.

What I do know is God has a funny way of answering prayers for growth and holiness. And it’s swimming somewhere amidst the dirty pots and pans.