Doing the Dishes: A Life Lesson

I actually washed some dishes tonight. Like, two pots. It was pretty amazing. I’m one of those people who stuffs as many dishes in the dishwasher as possible, and if there are any dishes left, they sit in the sink until the next time the dishwasher is run. Call me lazy, call me spoiled, call me a poor housekeeper, but that’s how I am.

Come to think of it, I am spoiled. I mean, even as a missionaries’ kid in Bangkok, we had a maid. Gasp! It sounds bad, like those missionaries are really suffering for Jesus over there, but it’s just a cultural thing. Many people have household help in other places in the world. We also had a neighborhood guard (he was so puny I could have beaten him up, but he did carry a gun) that we had to help pay monthly. So, most days our maid washed the dishes (we never had a dishwasher over there), cooked, cleaned, mopped, did laundry, ironed, etc. I really had very few chores to do (guess I’m making up for it now). But she was off on Sunday, so I helped with dishes Sunday nights. And for the record, the first 2 years of my marriage were spent in an apartment without a dishwasher, so I had my share of dishes to wash. And I never want to be without a dishwasher again!

Though I often look at chores as a drag, there is something about working with one’s hands that brings out a sense of pride one feels at the success of a completed task. My clean dishes, clean sink, and organized kitchen awake an almost spiritual cleansing inside. I just finished reading Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris, and in it she says, “Our greatest spiritual blessings are likely to reveal themselves not in exotic settings but in everyday tasks and trials.” How true. Christianity is not a string of mountaintop experiences; it is the day-in, day-out presence of belief and presence of prayer throughout every mundane moment.

The same metaphor can be applied to writing. Madeleine L’Engle said something to the effect of, “Inspiration comes while working, not before.” Norris agrees: “The activities I find most compatible with contemplation and writing are walking, baking bread, and washing dishes. I like the poet Donald Hall’s theory that poetic meter originates in the steady, repetitive rhythm of arms and legs in motion.”

Even in the midst of repetition, we are all a part of some mystery. And there may we find our inspiration and our salvation.


  1. wherewander says:

    Once I read that your inmediate environment was a reflection of your state of mind. I remember that statement because every time I cleaned up and organized my place and then I sat on my couch and saw how well my work had been done and how armonious and peaceful was everything around me, it coincided with a need of organizing my mind. It seems that it´s easier to start from outside.

  2. Nina Badzin says:

    This 100% resonates with me as I’m FINALLY getting back to writing at least two pages a day of fiction. It sounds like nothing to someone who doesn’t write, but as a fellow writer I’m sure you understand. It feels so good to see two pages each day fill up with words. And it’s hard work (for me!) It’s that hard word that brings the satisfaction.

    • kksorrell says:

      Well, it’s pretty amazing that you’ve already written 2 novels, even if they don’t get published. Two pages is a lot per day. I hope it is going well. Remember, give yourself permission to write crap. (That’s a quote by somebody or other). Just write, write, write, fill up the pages, and the really awesome stuff will emerge! (Not that I’m saying your writing’s bad or anything, that quote just always helped me to plod through!)

  3. Nina Badzin says:

    And . . . I just answered your question on my baby name post on my blog, but I’m posting it here too in case you don’t see it there. 🙂

    Found you! 🙂 What a beautiful blog. Love the earnest posts. No MFA for me. I majored in Poli Sci and Spanish, but I got a master in English Education and taught middle school and high school English for a few years. I started writing (with actual goals) in January 2007—exactly when my 2nd child was 3 months and I felt an itch to nurture the non-parent side of me.

  4. Anna says:

    I read Acedia & Me a few years ago, and it is one of my top reads – I love that book (though I admit I sobbed through a few chapters towards the end, which made my husband think I was completely nuts! Anytime I get down about the daily chores of life, I go pull out Quotidian Mysteries and read it again – I think I have read that little book a dozen times.

    • kksorrell says:

      I loved hearing the story of her husband. I thought there were a few parts that got a little bogged down/boring, but overall it was a wonderful read. Have you read her book called Dakota? That’s my favorite of hers.

  5. Heather Foster says:

    I love what L’Engle said about inspiration. I was just on the blog How a Poem Happens (which by the way features poems by Jeff, Nickole, and Carrie!) and all of them say they do get inspired but it’s while writing a poem, after the work has begun, not before. It’s an important lesson.

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