The laundry is a microcosm of my spiritual life. Allow me to explain--
Last week, in the confessional, among other sins, I confessed to disorganization and a general lack of discipline with certain household tasks. While I try to maintain an orderly home, my house contains certain "hot spots" or regular problem areas where disorganization is the rule, rather than the exception. Throughout the years, the laundry is consistently one of these areas.
With each child there is more laundry, and the disorganization grows. I have tried different systems, kept them for a very short period of time, and then resorted back to the periodic laundry emergency system (PLE system)--the kids have no clean clothes so it it time to spend the entire day doing laundry. About once every day 7-10 days, we would hit crisis mode. Mr. Red wants me to let all our readers know how mean I am to him when the emergency periodically arises.
The periodic emergency system has seen some small improvements over the years. After the last baby I started doing at least one load per day, but do not take the time to fold or sort the clean laundry. This resulted in the periodic folding emergency system, also known as the PFE system. This is the system currently in place.
On most days our guestroom serves as a very large disorganized dresser. At any given time, there are about 8 loads of clean laundry dumped in a very large pile on the bed. Eventually the emergency strikes, and I have two children and my husband spending 1/2 hour each morning sorting through clean laundry to find a matching pair of socks. Mr. Red rarely complains, as he sees the PFE system as a huge improvement over the old PLE system--clean lost socks are better than dirty socks, right? Our daughter disappears for hours at a time looking for a specific treasured outfit. Our son simply wears whatever is left in his dresser, regardless of color scheme or season. Eventually, we are late for something important because nobody can find their clean clothes, or someone is dressed in a completely inappropriate outfit. I then declare an emergency, temporarily suspend all unnecessary activities, and spend several hours folding laundry.
During confession, I began to explain my laundry system to a good priest. He said that in many ways, the laundry represents my spiritual life.
I'm good in a crisis. When an emergency strikes, I can really buckle down and get through the rough patch with focus and concentration. I don't get overly stressed by the "fire" or "emergency" AND I feel a real sense of accomplishment when the job is complete. I always feel really great when I am finished folding the laundry and everything is really organized. The way I see it, the messier things are to begin with, the better the rush when the folding is finished.
Spiritually, I rely on God very well in times of crisis. Each rough patch seems to remind me to pray and seek God's help. When the emergency passes, so does my perceived need for prayer and assistance. Daily discipline is where my prayer life needs the most work. Taking a specific time each day to offer my whole self to God is a constant challenge for me. I will spend time daily doing so many other tasks, but praying only seems to make that priority list when the going gets rough. A set time of prayer, even just 10-15 minutes, must be a part of my daily routine.
I tend to make things part of my routine when there is an immediate consequence for failure to accomplish the task. Kitchen cleaning, for example, is something that has to happen immediately after a meal. If the dishes sit, they are much harder to clean. If pancake mix dries on the counter, it takes 5 times longer to scrub it clean. Ants make a permanent home in my kitchen if things are not thoroughly wiped down each evening. For all of these reasons, I clean my kitchen well each night. While I am sometimes rather tired, I do this task with a general sense of peace, a purpose, and I am able to offer the work to God.
As a busy wife and mother, my household tasks, when offered to God, will be my main mode of prayer. Offering each folded sock and each folded shirt as a prayer for it's owner is much easier when my folding is done as part of the rhythm of our week. Currently, my system of emergency folding makes this sort of offering almost impossible. When emergency strikes, my sole focus is on getting the task accomplished in as little time as possible, not in offering my work as a prayer for those I hold most dear. I become task-oriented, not people-oriented. I tend to view my spiritual life this way as well. Time with God can become something to check off of a "to-do" list, rather than about fostering a life-long relationship. Living in emergency mode only increases my tendency to focus on the task, rather than the person.
I am not naive enough to think that we can have a system or a routine for everything in our lives. In the life of a mother emergencies will inevitably occur. For this my disposition is a huge blessing. But living with emergencies that can be easily controlled and avoided by basic discipline has poor consequences for my relationships with other people, and especially for my relationship with God. In all honesty, the laundry, absent some terrible stomach bug or a recent return from vacation, should never be an emergency as it is as predictable and certain as the mail. While failing to fold on a particular day doesn't have the same immediate consequence as leaving a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink, it's consequences are long term, and have an effect on my relationships with other people. The days when I am folding, I rarely take the time to just sit down and play with my children. It is hard to enjoy their presence when I am thinking about the task that lies ahead. Similarly, my relationship with God suffers as I struggle to be docile to the Holy Spirit when I'm frantically folding my 7th pile of laundry.
And it is these relationships that are the real call of my vocation. I organize my home and accomplish many tasks each day, not because I fear the consequences or because it feels good to look at an empty laundry basket, but to serve the wonderful people in my life. Such service is done in the most loving manner when it is regular, timely, and always focused on the person behind the task. And this is my new resolution with the laundry.