Faith Motherhood

The Sacred Act of Laundry

Written by Maralee Bradley

I have long struggled with knowing what it means to make Sunday a day of rest. What does “rest” look like when you are parenting small children who don’t take a day off from needing your constant attention and supervision? You know you’ve reached a breaking point of exhaustion when you can’t even imagine what would be restful to you other than just going completely comatose for a day. But motherhood doesn’t allow for such things. Especially not when part of your day of “rest” involves getting children dressed for church and out the door in a timely manner amidst what seems to be constant acts of sabotage– somebody can’t find their shoes, somebody is just starring at their cereal instead of eating it, somebody is having a meltdown over the outfit you picked, and then somebody dirties their diaper as you’re putting them in the carseat. This is hardly restful.

The pastor at my church recently preached a sermon on the Fourth Commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

He encouraged us to think about what is restful for us. Is it spending time outdoors? Is it reading? Is it playing Monopoly with the kids? What is it that for us changes up the pace of our life and allows us the space to reflect? We need to take a break from the pressure of providing for ourselves and our families as an act of faith in a God who truly does the providing. But does that mean that all activity is wrong? 

This sermon sparked a lot of thoughts for me. First, I had to wrestle through the hopelessness of trying to find rest during this season of my life. Then, I focused on changing my concept of rest. What is it that recharges me? As a mother, I think sometimes we are so focused on the needs of others, we have forgotten about our own needs or at least lost touch with them. Are there moments in my routine that are life-giving, therapeutic and even restful? And that’s when I thought about the laundry.

I know we all have household responsibilities that drain us. There are the ones we dread and delegate to our kids as soon as they are old enough. For me, I hate sweeping and mopping. The floors seem to magically look dirty again as soon as the mop water has dried. There’s always a spot I missed. I can’t remember a time I mopped when someone didn’t immediately walk through it, slip, hurt themselves AND ruin the effort I put into cleaning that area. In short– sweeping and mopping are not things I find restful. Whatever that chore is for you, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I hear a lot of people complain about Mt. Laundry and while I can absolutely empathize with the overwhelming nature of the constant laundry cycle, I actually enjoy doing it. It starts with sorting, which is something I like. Then there’s the pushing of buttons on my washing machine and measuring soap. These are precise acts with a right and wrong way to do them and I like doing them right. The washing machine dings when it’s done and I switch out the loads. The dryer makes a pleasant smell in the house, the sound of laundry spinning is calming to me and with each load I feel the relief of progress being made. I drag the laundry up to my room and dump it all on my bed. I sit surrounded by a pile of clean smelling adorableness– tiny socks and little overalls and the 3T shirt each of my sweet boys has worn and princess pajamas my daughter twirls around in. I begin to fold and little piles take shape. That feels like progress towards a goal– something I find motivating and even restful. I turn on a documentary and engage my brain in some new topic while my hands work mindlessly. I fold load after load (I do laundry twice a week at this point) until every dirty thing is clean and waiting to be put away. That’s a job for my little ones to do as they learn responsibility for their own things. They know complaints will mean that next time it will be them switching out the loads and hauling the laundry up and down the stairs.

If you don’t love doing laundry, I’m convinced you’re doing it wrong.

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There was a time I felt guilty for doing the laundry on Sunday. I thought it was “work” and should be avoided. My mother didn’t do laundry on Sundays. But she did make a big roast. In the hospitality tradition of the generations before her, Sunday lunches were a big deal. She would be up long before the rest of us, cutting carrots and potatoes and preparing a meal that would cook while we were at church and be ready when we got home. These are not activities I would find restful, but I think she did. I can imagine her singing hymns (as she often did) while her five kids slept and she spent some quiet alone time in the dimness of the kitchen.

I don’t cook on Sundays. It is a day for cereal and popcorn and fruit and prepackaged snacks. I find the daily demands of feeding my family to be an exhaustion and I need a break. It’s a day I look forward to and feel thankful for as I recharge to face another week of meal preparation for tiny food critics who have yet to learn that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you don’t need to say anything at all. It is constant work to civilize my beloved bunch of heathens and teaching them gratitude for the work I do to feed them is sometimes the last straw to an exhausted mother. Sundays are my day off.

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I think for each of us, it is important to find what we consider exhausting and what we find restful. We need to search for joy in the mundane. We need to look for the sacred spirit in the humble work of our lives. The quiet moment of prayer while your hands are immersed in relaxing, warm, floral scented dishwater. The healthy exhaustion of a lawn well mowed. The giggles and kisses that can happen during a baby’s bath. Sundays aren’t a day we can always escape doing the necessities of our lives, but it is a day we can embrace the beauty in what we’re called to do. We can set aside that day by remembering the importance of rest and joy. We can see God’s faithful care of us and emulate it in the faithful care of our families. We can stop feeling guilty for the work of our lives and instead find peace in the midst of our daily chaos, not in stepping out of it, but in changing our hearts about it.

About the author

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids ages 8 and under. Four were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care in Nebraska) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure.
Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory.
Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood on “A Mother’s Heart for God” and what won’t fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.