5 Ways to See God in Ordinary Household Tasks
UPDATE: To hear an interview on this post with the author on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air Show, click here (fast forward to the 28:45 mark)
To say the least, God is easily misunderstood. Many take God to be a grandiose, out-of-reach source of guilt and outdated morals, and, in any case, seem to assume that God and everyday life simply aren’t compatible. That assessment couldn’t be further from the truth (though the “grandiose” bit is pretty spot-on), and yet even lots of people who are firm, faithful believers in God — myself included on many occasions — tend to feel that God is still somehow far away. We know He loves us and never leaves us, but man, can’t we just get a little affirmative nod from Above every once in a while?
Well, it turns out those little signs may be right under our noses, but we either are attentive to other things or simply don’t have an adequate understanding of the nature of God to understand that our day-to-day life is chock full of opportunities to witness the Divine. So much is made of lives being “exciting enough” anymore, that we all have a tendency to believe that somehow our lives in the day-to-day aren’t good enough.
I’ve previously used a quote by Fr. Robert Barron about the goodness of simple, seemingly insignificant daily occurrences. It also applies well here:
God is the unconditioned source of goodness, truth, and beauty. Therefore whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful participates in God and reflects God. And so…the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, a beautifully-proportioned building, a handsome face smiling in friendliness, an innocent child at play, a crisply executed fast break, a well-written television program, all these things in their truth, goodness, and beauty speak of God.
We’re driven by our culture to believe that something far beyond simple, daily tasks are needed to find fulfillment or worth in life. However, if we look in the right places and do those tasks with the right mindset, our lives will become infinitely more valuable than we ever though possible, especially in the eyes of the One who created us and our day-to-day life.
Here’s five great places to start:
1. Opening the blinds.
There’s something that speaks to the soul in opening the shades on a warm, sunny morning (or even a chilly, winter one) and letting the light of the new day into a cozy home. Light has long been an identifying characteristic of God — “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), the Transfiguration of Jesus, beautiful multi-colored cathedral stained glass windows — and It’s no different in this case.
Light is one of the most basic goods of our lives. Without it, we could do almost nothing, but light has value far beyond its mere use to us. As Fr. Barron went on to say, “Light is that by which we see, that which illumines and clarifies. But at bottom … light is beautiful.” There’s a spiritual aspect of ourselves being fed in the simple act of opening the windows and letting light into our lives. What’s more, doing so physically is bound to help us do so metaphorically in our spiritual lives as well.
2. Making food.
Whether we’re cooking for ourselves or for others, the act of preparing food to nourish our bodies is one of the simplest “goods” we can experience or accomplish in life. We were given by God a body which needs nourishment in order to live, so by the very act of nourishing ourselves and those around us, we actively participate in the will of God for us on the most basic of levels. Health and well-being are intrinsically good things, therefore acts that bring those two things about profoundly “speak of God,” especially when they’re done for others.
The next time we make a meal for someone, or even for ourselves, simply thinking to ourselves, “my hands are being used to prepare nourishment for someone who was created and is loved by God,” helps us to be better aware of both the Father’s immense love for us and for the dignity of ourselves and those around us.
3. Using a towel.
Drying dishes. Drying hands. Drying feet. Wiping your child’s face. Cleaning up messes. The night before He died Jesus used an ordinary towel to wash the feet of his disciples. What might be an odd or insignificant practice otherwise was made profound in the person of Jesus.
Feet, in the First Century, would get incredibly filthy from walking dusty roads, so it was customary for a host to provide not only water for foot washing, but also a servant who would wash them. It’s a great service when anybody does it, but considering that the Son of God/Second Person of the Trinity/Creator of the Flippin’ Universe knelt down and did a servant’s job in washing the feet of his friends makes the act all the more remarkable. Each time we use a towel, especially using it in service to another person, allows us to remember that humble act of Jesus and make our act all the more meaningful.
4. Dusting & Vacuuming.
Dance Moves: optional.
What on earth can dusting and vacuuming have to do with the spiritual life? One of the easiest traps in life to fall into is a sense of complacency, of allowing struggles in our lives we’ve successfully worked against to find a hold once again in our lives. Another all-too-common occurrence in our lives, if we’re not careful, is to let decisions “make” themselves instead of exercising our will and making a definitive choice according to the fruit of prayer and the whisperings of our conscience. In essence, it’s easy to let the dust build up on our souls just as it is on the coffee table.
Dusting and vacuuming, the routine sprucing up of the places in which we spend the most time, are good things on their own simply because taking care of our possessions is an intrinsic good. However, they can also serve a great symbolic purpose if, while doing them, we consider areas in our lives that have perhaps grown a bit dusty. Thinking through our day or our week while moving and shaking behind the vacuum won’t just result in a benefit within ourselves; the people we love most will also enjoy those fruits.
5. Cleaning the windows.
The dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding uttered perhaps one of the more classic lines in modern film when he said (repeatedly): “Just put some Windex on it!” After all, what’s better: a smudgy window, or a sparklingly clear window?
Just like the cleanliness of a window is directly related to the ability to see clearly what lies on the other side, so too does the state of our lives directly relate to our ability to see clearly through that “window” into the spiritual life. If our lives become smudged, mud-splattered, or covered with bird feathers from those dang robins that keep flying into it, chances are good we’ll see a lot less clearly what the best direction for our lives are. Next time you bust out the Windex, we ought to consider the parts of our lives that could use a little of the blue stuff themselves.
St. Therese of Lisieux, the physically-small-but-spiritually-large saint best known for her “Little Way” of holiness, once said:
“Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.”
We can be partakers of this “Little Way” too. We just have to know where to look.