I’m sitting at my daughter’s dining room table once again (third time in a month I’ve traveled up this way for either birthday club or to babysit) watching heavy snow fall from the sky. It’s wet outside, but the snowfall is heavy enough that it’s just starting to stick to the ground. It’s pretty.
I’m sipping a second cup of coffee, something I always enjoy doing on weekends, thinking about this and that. In recent days, I’ve been jotting down some thoughts in an attempt to grasp a good mindset for something I’m working through. There’s nothing intense or heavy going on, but this did take me a little bit by surprise.
I think pretty much everyone who reads this blog has either read my other blogs or has known me personally for a long time, so you probably know my views on home life, work, daily duties, and ordinary routines.
I have often written or spoken about the liturgy of the ordinary, the sacredness of the everyday, the spirituality that can be developed and revealed in the rote nature of our daily tasks at home. I believe that, when it springs from love or devotion to God, it is all spiritual, all meaningful, all the Lord’s work— doing laundry, scrubbing toilets, changing diapers, holding fussy babies, washing dishes, cooking meals, and all of the other endless, daily, repetitive tasks that can seem unimportant, trivial, or even, to some people, mindless.
Our daily work is liturgy,
it is sacrament,
it is worship.
It is all spiritual.
All of our mothering work has a profound imact on the children we are raising. I fully believe that the environment and atmosphere we build in our homes is critical to opening their hearts and leading them to Jesus. Just as it was true for Brother Lawrence when he said, “I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of the Lord,” no work is so small or insignificant that it can’t be honoring to God, that it can’t impact eternity. In fact, it might be in the smallest, most humble acts of love that He is most pleased.
So, while I raised my growing family, I lived by this. And now my children are grown and raising their own children, and I find myself in a role I never imagined playing in life— one I didn’t sign up for. It is a life that was not on my radar when I married and had children and made a commitment to serve both my family and other people from the base of my home.
Now, as you know, I am a “working woman” (as if being at home wasn’t work!), and I’ve loved most aspects of my job in the high school library. I’ve been super-motivated to show up every day, and it has been extremely rewarding to get to know the kids in the way I have. There has been a huge amount of mutual love flowing back and forth. Sometimes I have a sense of an almost supernatural energy lifting me to the top of the swirling rapids of chaotic, angsty teenage life like a well-guided raft. The Lord has absolutely been with me.
So why, recently, have I occasionally struggled with motivation? Nothing has changed about my job. I don’t dislike it at all. I still love the kids. But, somehow, the idea that I’d rather be somewhere else keeps pushing itself into my head, and, if I give it ground, this pushes out motivation. Suddenly, I sometimes find myself thinking, “I can’t bear to catalog yet another book.” Suddenly, the hours seem long— occasionally interminably long— and I’m watching the clock. Suddenly, I’m not especially eager to help that student find book #10 in that fantasy series.
This is definitely not how I feel throughout every work day. I still love most of what I do, and I can recognize that there is no work where everything is super-fun every minute. There’s always discipline involved, always a bit of pressing through the tough bits, and I don’t mind that at all. I’ve always been able to find a way to make things fun to do, to rally those around me and turn it into a game. But I haven’t always felt like bothering lately. It’s strange.
I’m not depressed. I’m not bored. I’m not forcing myself to go to work. I’m not unhappy when I’m there. I just battle thoughts that have never come up for me before. So, it surprised me that I would sometimes feel this way— that after 2 1/2 years in this job, that I would suddenly need to call upon mental discipline to get me through the day.
So, I began to, by faith, press through in the best cheer I could muster, praying as always for the daily miracle of love to inhabit me. Pray for grace to carry me through the daily round. I am no longer a mother raising young children. I am an older woman working with teenagers in a school.
And a new epiphany comes that is really an old, tried and true bit of knowledge for the rest of the world: My current work is my new mundane, my new ordinary, my new daily round. And just as it did with mothering, spiritual life, growth, and depth start right where I am— smack in the everyday, in the repetition, in the over and over again nature of work.
And just as it was with motherhood, the Love we must obtain in order to do this is what makes the work a spiritual work. It is God’s Love in us, not merely us being humanly awesome.
I realize that a little bit of heart-struggle is good. It keeps me paying attention to the spiritual, to understand that the work I do, by itself, is not enough. But when I turn it around and do the seemingly empty, mundane things “for the love of God,” He fills my heart and allows me to do them also for the “love of man,” and then it becomes good work. Eternal work.
If this is true for a mother with children, it is also true for a working woman. Diapers matter. Laundry matters. Cataloging yet another book matters. Smiling, and saying a few words, to that solitary student, always alone in the corner, matters.
So, when natural motivation and high energy flee, I am left with nothing but dependence on the Lord, and what can be better than this? Because it is not my moods, feelings, natural joy, natural exuberance that can make a spiritual difference, but His love.
This is why morning quiet time before doing my daily work is essential for me. It is not about me being super-disciplined and deeply spiritual. It is about me being empty and knowing it. So, I brew my coffee, sit myself down, and just as it did for Dorothy Day, “My strength returns. . . with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.”
Sometimes, though, even after this, I leave the house saying, “Lord, I’m not feeling it today, but I’m counting on Your miracle.” Because if my daily work is to be a spiritual work, I need a miracle every single day. If I am to care about going to my work, being there, doing my job as well as I can, I need the quiet time. I need the miracle.
It is because of God’s goodness and love toward me, in allowing me to struggle at times with lack of desire, that my own lack of love—my own empty heart—is revealed, and this leads me to Him. I have to be filled before I can give.
And, for this, I am deeply grateful. God knows our hearts. He knows what we need. And by His grace, He puts us in a position where we will be more inclined to see our need for Him and seek Him. So, I don’t want to view my occasional lack of motivation as a problem but as a gift— a reminder— that has me looking for the only Strength and Love that can change lives. I can thank Him for the grace of my own emptiness!
“His mercies are new every morning.” No matter what we do, or how our days are shaped, or how many lives we touch, we can all count on that!