Why is it that we do big messy jobs for other people that we need to do but have neglected to do for ourselves?
My husband and I are spending two weeks grandparent-sitting while our daughter and son-in-law are in Israel. Although the house has been cleaned, there are still proverbial “pockets of poverty”; wastelands of homemaking neglect—the laundry room, the Chevrolet Suburban, the top shelves in the two-floor-high living room and family room, and the garage. It took me three days to conquer the first-floor laundry room, a day to empty the car and another 139 bucks to have the outside washed and the inside detailed, and considerable balance to angle myself on the ladder so I could pull down the décor pieces and scrub away four years of dust.
I figure I’ll let the garage go—but then, I just might get inspired somewhere in the second week; who knows what extremes a Christian woman might go to for her daughter?
What is interesting to me about all this is that my own laundry room is not in the greatest of shapes, the tops of my armories are also accruing dust, and due to a lack of time and organization, the garage is so full we haven’t been able to park the cars for a couple of years.
So why am I going to all this effort for my daughter?—whom I love, of course, but who is also younger than her mother (of course). Why spend three days cleaning her laundry room when about two to four hours of labor would bring my own into good shape?
I found myself pondering, I don’t remember anyone—not my mother or my mother-in-law—doing this kind of work for me. But I do clearly remember the clean clothes stacking up on the laundry table in our century-old house in Oak Park, Illinois. I do remember, how, with four kids, an inner-city pastorate and a number of young-adult live-ins, just the simple materiality of life could become overwhelming.
I don’t remember anyone doing this kind of work for me. Perhaps that is the clue to why I am working so hard to put these physical spaces to right. People did other things for me—Mother never came to my house empty-handed, my father swooped his grandkids up to spend weekends at the retirement farm, and my in-laws were great about taking us out to restaurants (as well as keeping a pool cleaned and open for terrific swimming Sunday afternoons).
However, there just wasn’t much help for me when I was a young mother, with the purely physical labor of life.
I have a friend who is a near saint, and as far as I can tell, who survived an emotionally deprived childhood. In addition to her own offspring, my friend and her husband took in her grandmother as well as her younger siblings—one to love into death, the others to love into life. One of my friend’s brothers was mentally disabled. “How can you give to others what you have never received yourself,” I once asked her—because that is what I now observe her doing. She smiled and answered, “But that’s the point, isn’t it? I always try to give away what was never given to me.”
I think this is what is happening with my daughter’s laundry room. I am doing for
her what was never done for me. And instead of letting my act of love descend into onerous comparison (No one ever helped me with my piles of neglected work. So why should I do this for someone else—even a daughter?), like my friend, I need to learn better to give away the gifts I have never been given. And I must remember to do this intentionally—because there is something reciprocal that occurs. We do this giving what we have not been given for others, but we also do it for the sake of that self still within who was once neglected.
I must do this giving simply because I know what it means to get behind with the laundry (and the car, and the high dusting, and the garage); to give the gift because I remember what it is like to move children through the days (day after day) all the while trying to live my own demanding life too. This is what a Christian woman should do—love a daughter (neighbor) as herself.
Something amazing happens when, like my saintly friend, I intentionally give as a gift what I never was given—it heals the little deprivations and neglects from the past that still sometimes gnaw at my present.
Oh, heck!—perhaps I’ll tackle that garage after all.
Your Christian Blogger,