12 January 2009

Cleaning the Kitchen?

After Sunday dinner, you look around the kitchen at the stacks of dishes, piles of glasses, mountains of pots and pans.  This room was clean a few hours ago and it'll take a long time and a lot of work to get it there, again.  And it won't stay that way for long, but will need to be cleaned several times each day … today… next week… forever.  We don't wonder why housework is viewed as drudgery.  The striving for a clean kitchen, or clean laundry, or a fully-stocked pantry never ends.

The way we think and talk about things has a great deal to do with our attitudes about them.  He who defines the terms wins the debate.  We see this in things as important as the words culturally used to describe abortion and marriage; it's also true in our everyday approach to keeping our homes and caring for our families.  As I read the chapters in Keeping House about feeding the hungry, I realized that my attitude toward cleaning the kitchen was causing discontent, disappointment, and discouragement. If a clean kitchen is my goal, I'll fail several times each day (after every meal and snack). How disheartening! I end up trying to cook with an eye toward a clean kitchen, which means I don't do as good a job of feeding my hungry family.  As the kitchen is used and dirtied, my work to clean it is undone and ruined.  It was time to redefine my terms. 

A kitchen that stays clean all the time isn't fulfilling its purpose. Instead of trying to get my kitchen clean, I now approach it as preparing it for the next meal.  

As I look to ready the kitchen to prepare the next meal, I acknowledge and embrace the ongoing essence of the purpose of the kitchen, or, to use one of Andrew Kern's favorite terms, the nature of the kitchen.  I acknowledge that the purpose of the kitchen is to prepare food to feed hungry people.  I also end up with a more realistic standard for success: not a clean kitchen, but one ready to be worked in.

Trying to keep a clean kitchen becomes a battle, with as many defeats as victories and the victories are tenuous at best, always swallowed up in defeat.  There's no energy to carry you along, but instead a sense of continually pushing a rock up a hill that then tumbles down on top of you again, that this is a useless task of unrelieved monotony, as Sisyphus experienced and it was hell.

Focusing on preparing the kitchen for the next meal gives the job a momentum that makes the enterprise easier. Success may thus be defined in a more limited, less grandiose way, but that just means I have more opportunities to experience that success and that's encouraging. Success may also be defined a bit more broadly: perfect cleanliness isn't necessary to prepare a meal; good enough is, well, good enough.

God probably could have created the universe so that it didn't need his ongoing, sustaining activity, but he didn't.  As he wills and works to sustain the very molecules of my pans and utensils, I am privileged to take part in the ongoing nature of that sustaining work, in my own small and dependent way.  As he brings order to a disordered soul to ready it for good works which he created in the eternal past, so I can bring order to my kitchen to ready it for the good work of feeding the hungry.  I get to take part in his provision for my family, nurturing them, caring for them, loving them.

I must admit that getting the kids to clean the kitchen has been a battle for years.  But their attitudes are slowly changing too, as I encourage them to prepare the kitchen for our next meal instead of simply cleaning it.  They're also more willing to cook or bake, knowing that that's why the kitchen is clean.  It's much more inviting than when the focus was a clean kitchen.

An anecdote: Saturday, we had a tech in to give us an estimate for a new heat pump.  Normally, I cringe at having tradesmen in my kitchen because it's not usually a pretty picture.  However, after a week of preparing the kitchen for the next meal, it was in fairly good order.  I was able to offer him a cup of tea, and could make it without having to clean out the tea-maker or wash any cups.  Because we'd prepared the kitchen for the next meal, it was a simple process to provide a bit of warmth on a cool morning, a bit of hospitality to a stranger.  There was a liberty in this that I don't usually experience.  To most of my readers, this may not seem earth-shaking or different, but it was a big deal in our house because this has been a struggle for so long.

What terms might you need to consider and re-define?  I'm thinking about this question in other areas involved in keeping my home and have more posts planned along these lines. I'd love your input!


1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a beautiful and thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    I'm working on redefining "grading papers." I'll get back to you...