I show up at the sink to an insurmountable pile of dishes. Nothing is scraped. Nothing is sorted. My frustratingly small amount of counter space has been overrun with remnants of our previous two meals, wadded up napkins between plates, stray silverware, and pans that will need to be soaked. I pause and take a deep breath, aware that the only way to get out of this mess is to travel through it, bit by bit, plate by plate.
I show up at the sink, worship music playing softly through the Bluetooth speaker that lives just inside the cupboard full of drinking glasses to my left. I swing the cabinet door open so the sound can surround my weary soul as I swipe plates with a sponge and drop them into the dishwasher. I’m hoping that the cares I’ve brought with me to the kitchen will wash down the drain along with bits of discarded food I’m scraping into the disposal.
I’ve never been great at staying ahead of the mayhem, and as we’ve added kids to our family, it has become increasingly difficult to keep a tidy kitchen (let alone a tidy house). Most of the time I hobble along, doing whatever damage control is needed to get through the day. I never get beyond feeling like our home is in constant disarray.
Like my kitchen, I am a mess inside—full of anxiety, easily irritated by the squabbles of the six spirited children I gave birth to, weighed down by worries common to mothers everywhere.
It seems like there is not a single thing I do in the course of a day that adds up to a satisfying end. There are always more toys to pick up, more laundry loads to flip, and more dishes to wash.
The portable speaker is turned up just loud enough to drown out the normal sounds of the kids—a necessary reprieve from constant commotion around me—but not so loud I won’t be able to hear if there is an emerging situation that requires my attention. Words of hope fill my ears, and the music draws me into another world. I replace noise with noise, but the worshipful words are a solace; an invitation to quiet my heart before God while my hands do the work they know well. I am transported to a place where I am both physically present in an ordinary kitchen task, but also attentive to a spiritual exchange between me and God.
When I show up at my kitchen sink, God shows up too.
We’ve always had one of those dishwashers that requires a good pre-washing of the dishes before they’re added to the racks. This past summer, something went awry with the mechanics of the dishwasher, and it was out of commission for several weeks, prompting a change in my dishwashing routine.
Everything had to be thoroughly washed and dried by hand. The job required even more of my time than usual. I gave myself to carefully washing every dish with a slow swath of suds, a thorough rinse, and delicate dry with a towel before putting it away to be used the next time.
As I did so, it occurred to me that this is how the God cleanses me: personally, gently, thoroughly. I know more acutely than anyone how much I need His cleansing and His grace, and how I need both even more often than my kitchen needs attention.
When I plunge my hands into soapy water to wipe dishes clean, I pray. I offer God my anxious thoughts and the worries that too easily rule me. I surrender my sense of entitlement to a day that doesn’t challenge my patience. I ask for help, and for a willing heart that will not resist the constant care and leadership, my children require.
Standing at the sink, I do some of the most important business of the day. It is where God teaches me about faithfulness and what it looks like to cultivate the heart of a servant.
Servants cannot do what pleases themselves. They must faithfully do what is required of them, or they are not truly serving. This is a tension I live out every day, recognizing I can choose to embrace the responsibilities before me, or I can fight against the invitation to serve my family in the humble ways God has asked of me.
When I resist the tasks that need to be done in the kitchen (or elsewhere in my home), I veer off in the direction of self-pity, discouragement, and a complaining attitude that sneaks into my heart in the midst of my weariness. But when I apply myself to stewarding home and family, doing the ordinary work of faithfulness, this is where my character is formed. This is where my vision for attentive, intentional motherhood is sharpened. This is where I discover hidden treasures of humility.
My kitchen sink is an unlikely sacred space, but it has certainly become sacred to me.
What does it really mean for something to be sacred? I don’t have any fancy or technical definitions to throw out there, but simply stated, I identify sacred spaces as ones where my heart is changed; transformed from a heaviness, a broken, run-down, discouraged state to something lighter, something different. I may arrive at the sink reluctantly, but as I do what needs to be done, pause within my heart to hear God’s voice, I breathe in grace, renewal, and new perspective about who I am, what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it.
The kitchen—possibly the most critical room in our home—is the place from which all nourishment flows out to fill my family. As I tend my dishes and my soul, I’m investing in the physical and spiritual health of my entire household.
The rhythms of family meals (and the clean up after them) have become a pulse, a consistent beat that draws me to the humble place of servant-mama, an invitation that continues to supply unexpected blessings.
When I flip the water off and dry my hands, I know I’ll be back in a few hours’ time. But I also know that the unending nature of this cycle is grace—drawing me back to the surrender that supplies great joy.
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Emily Sue Allen is the founder of Kindred Mom, and she hosts/produces the Kindred Mom podcast. She is a contemplative, creative soul who celebrates the beauty of a humble, handmade life and deeply values the power of encouragement. She lives with her husband and six kids in the Pacific Northwest, and personally blogs at emilysueallen.com. Find Emily on Instagram.