Learning to let go, starting with the laundry

October 27, 2009 | family, prayer, spirituality


A lot of things — big and small — get in the way of my spiritual growth. And although I typically tend to focus on the large-scale obstacles — pride, envy and other deadly sin type stuff — I recently discovered a small but vexing thorn in my spiritual side. Laundry. I know, I know. Everyone has laundry. Why is my laundry so special that it could cause me spiritual angst? Well, it’s not and it can’t. It’s how I responded to my laundry that was causing me problems. That is, until I took a long, hard look into my laundry basket and saw the light.

I do laundry for an active family of five, so mixed in with the regular socks and towels, jeans and pjs are soccer uniforms, school uniforms, dance leotards and more. It’s constant, never-ending, relentless. You get the picture. But it wasn’t really the washing and drying that always got to me in the past. It wasn’t even the folding that took its toll. It was the putting away. Don’t ask me why I drew the line at putting away. I would sort and wash and dry and fold. Then I would cart the baskets up to my bedroom and wait. And wait. And wait. And the longer I waited, the more the tension and resentment would rise up in me.

Why won’t anyone put away their clothes, I would wonder. What would happen if I disappeared? Would they all go naked? It became a silent battle of wills, although I was the only one aware of the battle. I’m not going to empty that basket, I’d threaten in the dark, quiet recesses of my stony heart.

The funny thing is that in the midst of my laundry loathing, I would be reading various spiritual books on doing small acts of kindness with love, of looking at my daily tasks as opportunities to fulfill my vocation not with a chip on my shoulder but with a smile on my face. And so I decided to let go of the laundry, to stop fighting the piles of underwear and socks that mocked me from their stronghold across the room as I tried to block them from view with a book of reflections by Christian mystics.

I decided about six weeks ago to win this war not in a battle to the death but by bending toward the thing I most dreaded. I started a new routine. As soon as I fold the laundry now, I take it upstairs and immediately put it away. All of it. I hang shirts with a smile. I put pants away as I hum a tune. I am a veritable Snow White these days. I am this close to whistling while I work. And what has happened is amazing. I have gone from screaming and steaming about the piled up laundry to trying to surprise everyone by putting it all away before they realize it’s even missing. I imagine my brood opening their dresser drawers and realizing that the pile of underwear is never depleted.

I have turned an obligation into an act of love. Really. And it surprises me. I find myself putting away clothes without resentment or annoyance, without feeling unappreciated. And all the while I am aware that I have been able to do this only by seeing it as a spiritual act, not a household chore. I am not putting away socks for the thousandth time; I am loving my children and husband as they deserve to be loved. I’ve read about this sort of thing from the likes of saints and sages but I never thought I could make it happen in my own stressed-out, frustration-filled life.

Who’d have thought that I’d find God at the bottom of a laundry basket? I wonder if He’s hiding in the ironing board as well.

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