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August 24, 2013

a quiet mind

A while back, I read an article about a lady who lost her upscale NYC job in during the recent American economic downturn. The woman who used to make $300 per hour moved home to Idaho and began working a more average job. One of the joys, for her, of having to live a simpler life was that of making homemade food made sense again. In the interview, she said, "When you make $300 per hour, you can't afford to make homemade soup." But when financially, it made more sense to make her own soup again, she was happy with the change.

I always liked her story. When I was an interim manager at my last job, I thought of her comments, when there were nights I worked much later than I wanted to. I'd grab take-out for supper or eat candy from the vending machine. When I'd rather earn a few bucks less and have the pleasure of eating homemade soup, the overtime was not so welcome. Money doesn't buy time, or quiet space in your mind.

Enter Asia—one of the biggest adjustments in home life here has been having a maid. With previous roommates, in Canada, we made chore charts or took turns cleaning. Here, the questions are not about who will do the work, but questions like What work will she do? and How often should she come? and How much should we pay her? Maids are part of normal life here.

My housemates are accustomed to house help. I could get really accustomed to it, too. With a maid to make the bed, clean the floors and bathrooms, wash the dishes, do basic cooking, and do the laundry...there are few household tasks left for me.

But in the past few months, I realized that I miss the open mental spaces created by mindless work. I often used to fill those moments with sermons or audio or a few good movies or good music. These would be background sounds as I did day-in-day-out tasks like washing dishes and chopping vegetables. And I find that I miss that "free brain time" being forced into my routine.

I miss standing at my sink with rays of light falling on me or looking out windows edged with frost. Enjoying the beauty of a pile of pitted plums. Listening to the deep clunking of eggs jostling in the pan as I boil them; frying onions and garlic for some dish or another. I'm no housework-lover, but there was something about scrubbing toilets to the sound of Clough, vaccumming while you listen to the book of Joshua, or simply working in silence, that was good for my soul.

And I knew that God was not just on mountain tops or in the newest technology. He was not restricted to temples or churches or priestly garments. He didn't just come for us to have successful jobs and employees to do our bidding, though there is nothing wrong with either.

I found God between the potatoes as I chopped them. In the corners of the fridge when I wiped them out. In the organizing and labelling of the pantry shelves. In the cleanliness of a fresh bucket of mopping water. I don't mean this in a pantheistic-god way, but in an omnipresent-God way. In those simple motions, I learned that even the tiniest, most routine tasks dripped with Him. He is before all things and that by Him all things hold together. The quietness of my mind during those tasks helped me to seek Him. And the mental exhaustion created by certain jobs can often keep us from Him.

As I skid green peppers off my cutting board with the side of my knife, I sort and organize my thoughts, as well. Thoughts that don't have time to sit, to simmer, to grow, when the maid is asking what to do next. When the doorbell is ringing first by the garbage man, then the ironing guy, and then the second ironing guy, and then the electrician, and then the electrician again....

It isn't wrong to outsource your housework. Sometimes using the maid is just good business. If I can do two hours of my own work, it more than pays for two hours of her work, there is profit. A foreign friend commented that it sounds like people here are lazy. Yes, some are. But so are some North Americans. The problem is not who does our housework or yardwork but the attitude of both the employer and the employee about the work. 

A B!blical worldview infuses every aspect of work and life with purpose. I've been reading this book and learning that generally, when truth is prevalent in a culture, we see the rise of a middle class. Pagan cultures have always been marked by great rifts between the rich and the poor. This makes sense, because only when He redeems us, do we truly know the value of human life, and the rich begin to help the poor. We see our lives and our work as holding purpose beyond self-fulfillment.

A local friend told me, "Our holy books do not teach love for everyone. For example, I have friends who will not take an auto driven by someone of a different religion. When I got to know you, I realized that your life wasn't so divided like that. What this God," she said, indicating her copy of our book, "says about loving everyone, I like that."

The life she described, the heart without improper divisions and categories, is not truly my heart, but it is the one we should all strive toward. Where the street sweeper and the investment banker live lives of equal value. Where the person who chops the potatoes and the person who pays the potato-chopper are of equal value. Where the prayers that come out of us in one locale don't ring hollow in another. Where sincere smiles and genuine concern are not reserved only for particular people. Where the category called "human" isn't divided into varying castes that determine our value. A life of integrity. Wholeness in love.

Division of labour is almost in the blood, here. Certain tasks are simply not done by certain people. The maid tries to fight me off if I try to help her with the dishes, even when she's swamped with work. Some days, I fight her off in return, because doing a menial task can sometimes be the best way to live love.

As I write this, I see the glorious One, 
who had not only his heavenly courtroom 
but indeed the whole universe at his beck and call.

I see him stooping, grabbing a towel, and washing dusty feet.
This is how I know that every work has value.
This is how I know that no work is below me.

Our maid quit, recently. And I haven't minded, too much, that more housework falls on me. Granted, I haven't cleaned my bathroom in a while. But I relish the quiet as I polish glass table tops and wash dishes and reorganize the pantry. For a little while, I have my quiet housework time back. And I've seen Him here. Sometimes I've spoken aloud with Him. I love finding Him in the middle of the day-to-day, and even if we're wrestling or I'm rebellious or I'm struggling...I know He is here.

Find Him. Take a slower, lower job if you have to. Hire a cook. Or cook your own soup. Sit at the top of a glass office building and call important meetings. Or sit in a small, unknown place. But may your mind have the quiet it needs to seek Him. To find Him. At any cost.

Love the Lord your God with all your mind.

1 comment:

  1. My recent days have felt very small and insignificant...your words here touched me, reminding me to see the value in this season and to be thankful because He is here with me. Life is not mundane when I have that perspective.