Several months ago I started having issues with my dishwasher. I live in a humid climate, and I suppose the humidity was the culprit. I started to find little spots of mold inside the dishwasher. I would clean the spots, run dishwasher cleaner, let it air out, but the spots would return. The mold started to show up in many tiny and hard to reach spots. So I decided to start handwashing the dishes until I could find the time on a weekend to take apart the pieces and give it a complete steam cleaning barring my husband finding the right tools for the job.
And so it began….handwashing all of the dishes, not just the ones that weren’t “dishwasher safe”. With a family of 8 and being a homeschooling mom (meaning children eat all meals and snacks all day at home), I started to spend a lot more time than usual at my kitchen sink. Wash, scrub, scour, rinse, dry, repeat. That first weekend after starting this process I didn’t find the time to address the dishwasher issue…or the following weekends, until finally, Lent was quickly approaching. I decided that continuing to hand wash our dishes would be a great Lenten practice, and continued to do so. As I continued this, the quote on a sign that I have in my kitchen window began to take on a deeper meaning that it had since I first set it up in its place. “God walks among the pots and pans” – a simple, truncated quote from St. Teresa of Avila, but a powerful one. St. Teresa wanted her nuns to understand that we can find God, communicate with Him, and offer ourselves to Him in our daily work. This is something I have tried to put into practice and to truly live out for quite some time now, thanks to the advice of a great confessor.
But now, this quote began to speak to me in a new way. I stopped using the dishwasher because of a problem I had with it, but in the end this small incident showed me the problem that exists with modern conveniences. Okay, I know, it sounds like I may be going off my rocker here to some people, but just hear me out!
Our society loves convenience. It promotes it, creates it, and lauds it. All you need to do is take a look at the kitchen section at the store as one example of this. There is a gadget for everything! There is an apple, strawberry, and pineapple corer, an avocado tool, a Julian slicer, a food chopper-I’m pretty sure that before these all existed humans just used a knife to do all of those things! What about that infamous section called “As Seen on TV”! There you can find a gadget to help you put your socks on easier, a device that specifically is made to reheat pizza to a crispy state in the microwave, and the infamous creation that allows one to simply clap their hands to turn on and off the lights. Convenience is everywhere; it is in our homes, in our vehicles and on almost every corner in our country in some form or fashion.
Am I saying that convenience in and of itself is bad? Of course not. Many modern conveniences have made life more productive. There are modern conveniences that have improved the quality of life for some people. But many conveniences are also robbing us of many important experiences that can have not just an effect on this present life but on our eternal souls as well. Here is what I have learned from my several month experience of giving up one small modern convenience, the dishwasher:
• I am given the gift of more time to pray. What I would have done in maybe 8 minutes (rinse, load, and start the dishwasher) has now turned into on most days a 15-20 minute job, several times a day. When some may see that as a subtraction from my day, it can best be seen as an addition to my day-an addition of time for prayer.
• I am given an opportunity to practice and learn patience and perseverance. Let’s face it-most people wouldn’t say that washing dishes is their idea of fun. It takes time to get every dish, cup, and utensil clean and rinsed. This little chore can help to increase my patience with every dirty item I have to make clean. I also have to see it through, or we won’t have clean dishes for the next meal. So in that respect, my capacity for perseverance is increased.
• I am able to appreciate what I have and find solidarity and unity with those living without the modern conveniences I enjoy. This simple act of washing dishes has led me to think about and pray for people who have less materially than I do, when normally I would just be going onto the next task. Not only does it cause me to reflect on the luxuries I have (like the dishwasher) but it has brought me to think about the basic necessities I take for granted that some in this world do not have and need (like clean water). These thoughts and realizations move us to help others.
• It brings simplicity into life. There is just something beautiful about simple work, about working with our hands. At times when I do simple work in my home (cooking, cleaning, washing, etc.) I imagine Our Lady doing those same human, motherly, necessary tasks with love and sacrifice. I’m reminded that the most important part of my day does not involve notifications on my smartphone, the latest news in the world, or the continual pull of a consumer driven culture. Instead, what is essential and central to my vocation is the interaction with the people in my home who are entrusted to me to take care of physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For me, the simplicity of things like cooking a meal for my family remind me of these truths.
• It can strengthen my will and curb my flesh. Okay, this one has a little to do with the point I made about learning patience and perseverance. But it goes a step further. I have a perfectly good, new dishwasher right there in my kitchen that I could use to wash the dishes. I have the option of convenience. When I choose to make a sacrifice and do the dishes “the long way” I am saying “no” to the easy way out and strengthening my will. This has huge applications in my spiritual life. I learn that I can say no to sin and that my will, with the help of God, can be strong enough to withstand temptation.
I look back at the past few months and smile at how the Lord can take what seems to be such a small and insignificant action of mine. He used this action to teach me new things, bring me closer to Him and to His will for my life. This lesson has reinforced to me the fact that the daily tasks I perform can be used for His greater glory and for my sanctification. My husband recently deep cleaned the dishwasher and got it ready to be used again. I came home from being out running errands one day to him happily showing me that it was ready to be put back into action. I’ve used it a few times since then, mostly so as to show him how much I appreciate his work in getting it running well for me again. But most of the time I just fill up the sink with hot, soapy water, start scrubbing away while I look at that quote from St. Teresa of Avila with a smile on my face.
Monica is a married mother of 6 in Florida who is an enthusiastic convert to the Catholic Church and a lay member of the Home of the Mother. For many years she was a teacher and counselor in the public school system but now she labors with love in her home teaching and counseling the hearts of her own children.