Today as I checked out one of my favorite blogs, The Deacon's Bench, I found a lovely prayer about laundry. Even on Mother's Day, I can't escape my least favorite chore, it seems to follow me constantly! After reading this post, maybe you will feel my pain and send me your sympathy!
Laundry Day…aka…Every Day!
I know what I want on my tombstone…At last, her laundry’s done.
-Kathleen Norris The Cloister Walk
Seven people in our household adds up to lots of laundry, sometimes 3-4 loads a day! Laundry gets done in our house seven days a week, holidays included. It’s no wonder that I’ve come to consider myself to be somewhat of a laundry expert. Please note it is not with pride that I give myself this title, but rather, with disdain. Laundry is one of my most dreaded chores.
A priest once told me that laundry could be a prayer. “Easy for you to say,” I scoffed, “you only have to do laundry for one, your laundry prayer only occurs once or twice a week instead of once or twice a day! I happen to be a prayer snob. I prefer to offer daily prayer in other, less mundane ways.”
But it seemed, that ever since he told me that laundry could be a prayer, I kept running into the “laundry as prayer” theme over and over again. This constant attention to praying with the laundry has caused me to ponder the possibility of this type of prayer more than I would have cared to normally. My usual habit was to do the laundry as quickly as possible, chuck it all into the dresser drawers, and then try to put it out of my mind.
I think that the only time in my life that I might have considered laundry to be a real prayer were the years when my children were babies bundled in cloth diapers. I tried to accomplish the daily chore of lugging the heavy, smelly diaper pail down two flights of stairs to the basement as quickly as possible to limit my time spent inhaling the odor. Although, I can’t forget the time when those diapers smelled sweet instead of disgusting. That was when two-year-old Justin poured all of my perfume into the diaper pail. He was ahead of his time for the scented-diaper market now so popular in the disposable diaper world! Anyway, I would quickly deposit those diapers into the hot bleach water, run the wash cycle twice for good measure, and then hang them, now sparkling white and fresh, on the backyard clothesline to dry. There was definitely something prayerful and old-fashioned about standing outside in the backyard with clothespins in hand, creating white surrender flags with the diapers. It was as if I was surrendering my life to God so he could use me in any motherly fashion he needed me to be at that time. Then, quietly folding those diaper flags of surrender into neat piles contained in the laundry basket, symbolized how contained I felt in my life at home with all those babies.
But today, as I sort endless socks, looking for the lost partners, I could use a little guidance to find the prayer in it. Maybe I could focus on how those socks cover feet so sturdy and strong as they wander God’s lovely world. But, then again, maybe sock-sorting is really meant to be a penance instead of a prayer. I can just imagine the hushed voice of the priest in the confessional..."As your penance, say three Hail Mary's while you fold the family laundry!"
My poor son, Joe, has unwittingly become my partner in laundry prayer. While all of the children take turns emptying the hamper and bringing the laundry down to the basement for me to wash (I refuse to turn the washing job over to the children unless I’m willing to let stains go untreated, colors go unsorted, and watch them overstuff the wash machine with inside out pant legs and socks rolled in balls which would come out of the wash as dirty as they went in!), it seems to be that Joe’s name rolls so easily from my tongue day after day when its time to put the folded laundry away into the dresser drawers. So, Joe is assigned the laundry chore, much to his chagrin. I tell him that he can consider his unhappiness about helping with the laundry to be something that he has in common with his mother. I can imagine him years from now, long after I’m dead, fondly recalling how he and his mom both hated to do the laundry. I wonder, does he pray for each of his siblings as he puts their clothes into their drawers, or does he too, consider it to be more of a penance?
Maybe I spend too much time worrying about whether or not laundry is a prayer. Maybe it’s time to teach my children to press their own shirts, and press forward in my heart to ever-new ways of praying to my God. Could it be time to consider the dusting?