Tonight, as I reached up and started pulling plates from the cabinet before supper, I sighed. It just hit me in that moment, that I had just pulled these plates out last night, I will pull them out tomorrow night, and the night after that and the night after that. Like so much of life, the dishes in my cabinet go through a never-ending, never-changing cycle. Pulled out of the cabinet, covered with food, scraped with forks, piled in the sink, placed in the dishwasher, pulled out of the dishwasher and placed back into the cabinet, only to start all over the next day.
Sometimes, as I pull these plates out, it is in eager anticipation of a meal shared with friends. I set the plates on the counter in a nervous but excited hurry, usually running late but hoping the company is too. Sometimes, it is with weariness, already tired from the day and knowing that the meal ahead will likely involve loudness, a little arguing, loudness, a moderate amount of silliness, loudness, major negotiations about how many bites are required, and a little more loudness. I set the plates on the counter slowly, and then pause and ask for strength for the task ahead. Most often, I pull them out automatically, without conscious thought other than the basic routine of doing the next thing, getting dinner on the table.
Have you ever thought about how much sameness there is in life? The bulk of our time is spent in routines, doing the same things day in and day out, week in and week out. But these are the things we do without thought. We live for the special and despise the routine, or at the very least we shrug it off as unimportant, the stuff we have to do in between the special or while we’re longing for the extraordinary.
However, tonight I was struck by the importance of the sameness. Pulling those dishes out means that I am about to set a meal on the table that God provided and I prepared, to share with the people I love most in the world, whether they are on their best behavior or not. Doing this over and over, night after night, sometimes gets weary, but it provides a foundation for my family as we talk and laugh and yes, even discipline, at the table.
After dinner, there was laundry to fold and socks to match. Again, I was struck by the sameness of it all. I was folding the same clothes I folded last week, and matching the same socks I matched the last time I matched socks. Again, weariness threatened. The laundry pile never shrinks. There will always be another load waiting to be moved from basket to drawer, dryer to basket, washer to dryer, hamper to washer, and–let’s be honest–floor to hamper. Usually all of the above at any given moment. But folding those clothes means that God had provided them for us to wear, and my family had been healthy and active enough to wear them and get them dirty. It also means that we have appliances that work well to lighten our load (no pun intended).
As my daughter sat down beside me and asked if she could help, I realized again the beauty in the sameness. My children learn how to work through sameness, not through special. Responsibility is learned as my kids do the same chores, day in and day out. And better than that, companionship is learned as well. This family is far too big and the work involved far too much for me to do alone. As we all pitch in on the same chores we did last week, we learn the value of working together and of having a family around us to help lighten the load. We learn to be a team.
Then, a little later, after enjoying a movie together, it was time for the bedtime routine, another “same” that often brings weariness. Arguing over who already used their stay-up night, the Oscar-worthy stalling performances, the giggling and getting up again and again. But tonight, in the reflective mood sparked by the sight of those Fiesta plates stacked up on the counter, I realized there is beauty in this sameness as well. My kids go to bed in the same room, with the same roommates, almost every night of their lives. They get a hug and kiss from their mom and a blessing from their dad. They depend on it, count on it. In a way, their sense of security rests on it. The routine can get tiring, especially when I’m exhausted after a day full of ordinary sameness. But it is meaningful. It is important.
So often we place all value on the special moments in life and give little to no attention or extra effort to the routine. We celebrate the special in our lives and when our lives are simply ordinary we tend to grow jealous over the special in the lives of others. We recognize the importance of big achievements or fame or publicity or accomplishments, and we strive for this, sometimes to the neglect of the daily grind.
God has taught me much in 2016, and over the past few weeks I’ve been contemplating what He wants me to take forward into 2017. I still have more thinking and praying to do, but I’m convinced of one thing already: I want to glorify Him in the sameness. I want to have a new awareness of the beauty in the ordinary. I named this blog site in September 2007 with similar thoughts in mind, but it’s something from which I am very prone to wander. I fall into the trap of thinking if my blog would just take off and gain a huge audience, or if I got a book published, or if I would get more speaking engagements or if the ladies’ ministry would grow or if my works would just gain more recognition, then my life would be considered important.
What I want most for 2017 is to grow to look more like Christ as I serve Him wholeheartedly in the beautiful sameness that makes up so much of my life. One of my favorite Jim Elliot quotes is this: Wherever you are, be all there. That’s what I want in my life. Whether it’s setting plates on the counter or doing the laundry or writing a magazine article or speaking to a crowd of women–my heart investment should be the same in the ordinary and in the special. Because when my heart is invested in the beautiful ordinary that makes up my life, it will then become special. And it will be more special for those I love who live with me in the ordinary.