Our family was blessed to live a few hours from my husband’s grandmother for several years before she passed away. In that time, she became another grandmother to me and I cherish the memories of my time in her home.
One day, while she was doing laundry, she commented about how busy everyone is. “Look,” she said, “It doesn’t take that much time to shake out the clothes as they come out of the wash. You can save yourself so much ironing time by just shaking each thing out a little before throwing it in the dryer. And everything dries more quickly too, not all clumped up after spinning in the washing machine.”
I can still remember my reaction to this statement. Number 1, I don’t iron. Pretty much never, do I iron anything. Number 2, I have absolutely no time to be shaking out baby clothes because I don’t want them too wrinkly. At the time of this conversation, I was pregnant with our 5th baby and our oldest was only 7.
But this memory has stuck with me. It’s several years later, we have 6 kids now, and I still probably don’t have time for shaking out laundry. Except I do, if I’m going to be truly honest.
I was spending my day recently thinking about the Gospel parable of the poor widow and the two coins from Mark 12:41-44 and this was the memory that came to me. The widow gave fully of what she had, she didn’t hold anything back from God. She trusted that He was big enough to care for her as she opened her hands and let fall from them all that she had. How she challenges me to open my hands a bit further, to offer to God more of myself.
Just as the woman wasn’t making grand gestures by the world’s standards, I am not called to either. I am living an ordinary life, with mundane daily tasks and often repetitious chores. What use are these little tasks when compared with the influencers I see on YouTube or the writers and speakers who inspire hundreds, millions? They are worth more than gold if they are to be the path upon which I arrive in heaven. It all starts with doing them with that purpose in mind.
What does this look like in my life? It means slowing down to shake out the laundry. And that’s what I did with the sheets that day. This simple action afforded me the time to be thankful for the conveniences like a washer and dryer, that my kids have enough clothes to wear, and Ben has a job which allows me to stay at home with our little ones. By being fully present in my task at hand, I am not filling my mind with anxieties for the future or fussing over past sorrows. If my mind is full of gratitude, it naturally inclines itself to a Godly perspective. Through God’s eyes, no moment, no chore, is wasted time if it is done in His presence and as a gift for His glory.
This perspective of living in the present moment, that no moment is wasted in God’s eyes, and that my work however small or humble from a worldly perspective has significance in my life’s journey is what I am carrying forward as the New Year continues to unfold.
Well dear readers, it seems my ideas about an ongoing series of series is perhaps not panning out. I do intend to do something with the Colors in the Focolare movement, but I need to learn more, ponder more. That being said, I am not without inspiration to continue writing. We are just back to the old “series” – a.k.a. as the Holy Spirit inspires me so shall I write. Which is what I’m bringing you today.
Presently, I am helping to pilot a new VLCFF (Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation) course on Mary in Scripture. Thus far it has been an enjoyable course. In these first weeks we have been studying typology. Typology, or the study of types, analyzes Old Testament persons, events, themes and motifs that can be seen as prefiguring New Testament counterparts. Some examples would be Jesus as the New Adam, Mary as the New Eve, the Eucharist and the Passover, etc. In this course specifically we are focusing on Mary and Marian types.
We spent quite a bit of time looking at the Gospel of John and how he used types to demonstrate Mary’s role within salvation history. The Wedding at Cana featured prominently in our discussions. We are using an excellent resource by Scott Hahn, “Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God,” (I highly recommend if this topic is of interest to you). In it, he goes into great detail going through the types found within the Wedding of Cana scene. Below is part of a comment I shared within our group discussion:
It is enlightening to consider Mary as the New Eve, and how both had a choice to make. Eve, to take the fruit or not. Mary, to try to solve this problem on her own or to hand it to her Son. As a mom, I know how easy it is to “just do it myself.” To let my kids help, each in their own way and according to their abilities, means that often, things aren’t necessarily done exactly to my specifications or perceived correct manner of doing things. Instead of trusting God to reveal knowledge and His plans for the couple, Eve “did it herself.” Mary, on the other hand, turns to her Son and provides Him the space to do and reveal as He wished.
Ever wonder what it’s like to have the Holy Spirit speak to you through your own words? That was me as I finished writing this. I wonder if I got the smallest taste of what it was like for the Gospel writers or other biblical authors. To have written something not totally of your own inspiration. The words were yours, but somehow, they came from someone else.
These words are ones I’ve needed to hear, and needed to hear, and yes, needed to hear over again. And they are words that, obviously, I haven’t been able to effectively teach myself. I needed them to come from someplace else. A Godly place.
Whenever I hold on too tight, I cannot hold onto anything at all. The more I try to control a situation the harder it becomes to manage the smallest details. A concrete example.
I have tried for many moons now, years actually, to have better control over waking up on time. Yes, we’ve had lots of babies and rocky sleep and teething and nursing and all the things. Yes. But deep down, I’ve known that there were definitely periods of time between the hard that I could have been rising earlier than I was. I wanted to be able to get up before everyone else, to have that morning time with God, to have time to stretch and exercise, to read a book, to listen to the birds, to have a cup of tea, to…..whatever! Just to get up! Of course, I’ll probably never get all those things done in a single morning before everyone else wakes up (I mean if I started at 4am maybe but since I was having trouble with 7am I’m thinking baby steps were a better idea).
Then, I heard a powerful idea. Coming full circle, it’s something Chiara of the Focolare said. It is from the end of a meditation on what Jesus did for each of us in coming to earth and sacrificing Himself so that we might go to Heaven. I will put the meditation in full below. But the short phrase that I have carried with me is, “For you, for you Jesus.” All that I do, I ought to do for love of Jesus. Before opening my mouth to speak, before choosing what work to do next, before disciplining or praising a child, it’s all for Him. This little phrase has radically altered so much of how I act, when I remember to say it frequently. And I can tell when I haven’t been.
How does this relate to getting up in the morning and relinquishing control? I no longer get up and out of bed for me. I get up for Him. When the first words on my mind when the alarm goes off are “For you, for you Jesus!” I’m immediately turning myself outward. I am getting up for Jesus. To be with Him in prayer, to stretch my body so I can serve Him and my family better. Some mornings I am getting up to simply read a book or to knit a few rows of a project. But I am getting up and out of bed most days of the week before any child is awake or at least allowed out of bed. I am not perfect but I feel the habit forming. This wasn’t something I could do on my own, I had to let it go. I had to find a different purpose.
So now, I find myself trying to order my day around this phrase. For you Jesus, I will cheerfully go about my chores, knowing that when I work cheerfully the work is done more efficiently. For you Jesus, I will chase Nathan around swim lessons because the skills the confidence his siblings are gaining in the water are worth his pterodactyl screeches. For you Jesus I will help Ben cook tofu nuggets (yes, really. They were my idea but Ben made them…and everyone ate them!) because it is good for our family to continue broadening our palate and appreciation for all kinds of food. For you Jesus, I am typing this blog post instead of knitting the shawl that’s sitting on the floor at my feet waiting to be loved, but I felt the Spirit’s promptings and instead of ignoring them, I am full of peace.
Here is Chiara’s reflection in full. I do not have the reference for where and when she wrote this, unfortunately. I found it in a collection of meditations titled, “Heaven on Earth: Meditations and Reflections.”
Speaking of Jesus, Paul writes, “…and he gave his life for me” (Rom 5:8). Each of us can repeat those words of the apostle: for me.
My Jesus, you have died for me, how can I doubt your mercy? And if I can believe that mercy with a faith that teaches me that God has died for me, how can I not risk everything to return such love?
For me…Words wipe away the solitude of the most lonely and give divine value to every person despised by the world. Words that fill every heart and make it overflow upon this who either do not know or do not remember the Good News.
For me…For me, Jesus, all those sufferings? For me that cry on the cross?
Surely, you would never give up on us. You will do everything imaginable to save us if only because we have cost you so much.
You gave me divine life just as my mother gave me human life. In every moment you think of me alone, as you do of each and every person. This – more than anything in the world – give us the course to live as Christians.
For me. Yes, for me.
And so, Lord, for the years that remain, allow me also to say:
While not every home may have a designated “guest room,” most families have some kind of space or plan for how to host guests. In our home, our guest space is multi-functional. When we do not have one of our parents (our most frequent guests – hooray for grandparents!) staying with us, the guest room serves as a sewing/weaving/film scanning/3-D printer/violin practice/overflow storage room. That’s quite a lot for one room. Whenever I am preparing for someone to come stay, I usually end up in the middle of it and wonder, “Where am I going to put them with all the stuff in here!?”
No matter how multi-functional your guest space is, there are things you do when you know someone is coming. I can recall whenever my own grandmother would come to stay we always had to clean the bathroom. It didn’t matter if it had been cleaned the day prior, my mom always (at least it felt like always, she may say differently) had to have the bathroom clean. I have a little mental checklist I try to get through at least 24 hours before a guest arrives. It goes something like this:
Clean the bathroom (surprised?)
Dust the guest room
Verify the sheets are clean
Clear off the table as much as possible to allow for guest use
Tidy room as much as possible, lament over how crammed it is, wish I had better storage solutions, try to cram the yarn boxes deeper into the closet, remember the closet doors won’t close because of the looms in the way, straighten the bed covers again because I can at least make that presentable, close the door and say it’s good enough.
It’s not perfect, obviously.
There’s another kind of guest I’d like to consider. So far, I’ve been thinking about the planned guest. What about the unplanned or spontaneous guest? What do you do when you child wants to have a playdate or you think it would be nice to have a family over for a weekend bbq? Depending on when you make those plans, you may or may not have time to overhaul your house.
When we lived in California, I dreaded having anyone over. I felt like our home was never clean enough, that I wasn’t prepared enough. I did not have a good system of cleaning and staying on top of things. I was easily overwhelmed with the prospect of hosting someone. I wanted to be the person who had it all together. Standing on the corner talking with a neighbor, playing at the park with a friend, the facade could stand. But to come into our home it would quickly crumble – at least from my perspective. I am a little sad to look back at that time, to see my lack of confidence in who I was and that I was enough, even if my home was quite less than magazine worthy (spoiler alert, it still isn’t magazine worthy). I know there are some friendships that I did not cultivate as I could have because of these doubts.
Back in 2010, the English version of the Roman Missal underwent a translation overhaul. One big change came during the Eucharistic Prayer. After singing the Lamb of God, we kneel. The priest elevates the Body and Blood of Jesus as says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” In the old translation, we said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word and I shall be healed.” Today, this response has changed to mirror the words of the Roman centurion from Matthew 8:5-8 who said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” The faith of the centurion was so great, Jesus healed his servant on the spot, not needing to go be physically with him.
When we echo the words of the centurion, we are placing ourselves before Jesus, asking Him to heal us even in our brokenness. Even though our homes and hearts are not perfect, our checklists not complete to welcome him. We acknowledge our unworthiness. St. Paul says it more eloquently than I ever could: “But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And again, “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-34).
Jesus does not say, “Get it together, then I’ll come over.” Yes, we are sinners. We are broken. But we are not lost. Jesus is the best kind of guest if we just let Him in. He will help us with our daily tasks, He will encourage us when times are tough, and no matter the mess, He will never leave us in our neediness. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve cleaned under the beds or not.
We are entering Holy Week. We’ve gone through most parts of our homes, considering how the function both physically and spiritually. As we transition to these holiest of days, the Church invites us into her home in a unique way. For each of the days of Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), once a year liturgical experiences are celebrated. We are entering the heart of our faith, the Paschal Mystery which is Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.
Every year we celebrate these sacred mysteries. Jesus didn’t wait for the world to be ready before He came to save us. Every year we are invited to delve deeper into this gift of salvation, to invite Jesus to a more intimate relationship within us. Every day we have the opportunity to welcome Jesus into our home, but these days of Holy Week are exceptional.
This week, instead of focusing on our physical homes, take the time you have been using with these reflections to spend time on your spiritual home. Have you invited Jesus into your heart? Take Him on a tour of the work you’ve done these past weeks. How have you grown? Where do you need His mercy, His strength or His tenderness? Think about the Triduum days from last year. What liturgies did you attend? Stretch yourself and plan to attend one more than last year. Embrace these days and the spiritual drama that is unfolding. These days are one big story and we are invited to enter into it.