To write this post, I first had to clean the heck out of our kitchen table.
I do this—cleaning the kitchen table—several times a day. There are greasy kid-prints on everything: the table-top, the backs of chairs, the seats of chairs. There are hard food-type things that are unidentifiable and have to be pried off with great determination. Wet spots. Sticky spots. Greasy spots.
Our table is disgusting. After every meal, after every snack. This is life in a house with four kids ages six and under. Don’t even get me started on the floor.
I do not like cleaning the table and yet there is something so very beautiful about HAVING a clean table. At the end of my scrubbing (and my plotting to serve ALL future meals in the backyard on a blanket), I can see the rich, dark wood. It gleams under the light and invites me to sit and spread out all my notebooks and books and papers and my computer and my coffee and my water.
Sometimes my life feels like one big circle made up of smaller circles. I do the same things day after day in my ordinary life. If I don’t pay attention, it can feel as futile as Groundhog Day or the episode of the X-Files where Mulder kept waking up in a leaky waterbed. It feels purposeless because I clean the table just to clean the table again an hour later.
Why clean it at all?
Despite the repetition, here is a purposefulness and a beauty in cyclical living. There is a possibility of redeeming the thing that I did poorly yesterday. I have another chance to be patient with my kids. I can remember to pray first today when I forgot and just started in on my tasks yesterday. I can choose NOT to eat two cupcakes. (Or perhaps to eat two MORE.)
Even if you don’t need something redeemed, there is also something hopeful in the repitition. We can TRUST it. The sun will rise tomorrow and babies will wake me earlier than I would like and we will rush around like madmen to get Sawyer to school on time and I will remember that I forgot to plan dinner and I will hope everyone naps at the same time so I can have some quietude for even twenty minutes.
If there is one thing I can count on in a day, it is that the table will be dirty. Multiple times dirty. I will sweep the floor and then I will sweep it again. My dog’s hair will fall out all over the house, but he is not growing bald and his fur will keep on growing and fall out again and be swept up…again.
Everything is a cycle. Day and night. Seasons. Years. History, even. (Have you heard it repeats itself?) Life and death.
I can learn discipline through repitition. I can learn about gesture and the action of doing, even if it feels purposeless and I just have to do it again in an hour. I can learn to give thanks in even the small things like the gleaming, dark expanse of a clean table.
God has given cycles and given seasons and they are always moving and turning. As cement would harden in the truck if it stopped its slow spin, so would we, I think, stagnate without motion. Even if that motion feels repetitive sometimes in the moment.
I will clean the table for the sake of the clean table and because it is disgusting to see those crusty remnants of whatever. I will learn what it means to clean and clean well and clean often—even when I would rather be writing. I will find hope when I get in a rut because even the ruts don’t stay. They are in motion, like everything else. I am on my way into the rut or I am in the middle or I am on the way out. (And if I feel stuck in the rut, it’s usually by choice of my attitude telling me the rut is endless.)
My life is a circle and a cycle, but that means that it is moving and movement is never boring. There is something familiar, yet something fresh. Redemption is possible. As far as the east is from the west, so his mercy is made new each morning. I can start with a clean table (hopefully) and end with a clean table and maybe have some clean table in the middle. Perhaps I will learn something of rejoicing and of discipline and even of redemption as I clean.