It is a little depressing to think of the amount of time I spend each day doing tasks that will either become undone or disappear the very next day. I get up each morning and make my bed, wipe down my bathroom counter, start a load of laundry, let the dogs out. I go to work and plan creative and meaningful ways to fill my school days, but no matter how good any given lesson is, I’ll still need another one for the next hour, or the next day. I leave work, shop for groceries, go home, cook dinner, and wash dishes. The next day the pantry is just that much empier and we’re hungry again!
Reflecting on this, I wonder how anyone ever gets around to having time for saving the world or leaving a legacy for the future. It can feel a little bit like a hamster on a wheel, and I have been thinking recently about why it is that I keep up all this seemingly fruitless work. Much of it is in response to necessity. I keep finding food to make into meals because we keep getting hungry. I do the dishes and clean the bathroom and make the bed every day because it’s a matter of daily sanity for me to keep my house clean. These are tasks that re-create themselves every day, and provide no benefit beyond their immediate completion, but they are worth the time that they suck up nonetheless.
But not everything falls into this category. I am willing to repeat many of my tasks, day after day, because I believe that eventually my work will produce some eternal result. It’s what Andy Stanley calls the “cumulative effect” of a million tiny installations.
It’s why I keep swiffering underneath the bookshelves in the living room, even though I know that a million spiders will shrivel up and die there, and an entire Phoebe worth of hair will accumulate in that same spot within twenty-four hours. I have faith that each small cleaning will produce the result of my home not being condemned by CPS one day.
It’s why, STARTING TODAY, I force my body to exercise even though my fat does not immediately diminish and the Jennifer Aniston body within does not immediately emerge. I have faith that one day, all of these Pilates 100s and Barrel Rolls will give me the energy to enjoy a healthy life today, and that it will increase my chances of one day being an energetic mom and, even later, enjoying minimally-incapacitated twilight years.
It’s why I tell my students a million times a day to raise their hands before they blurt out their thoughts, or to be more thoughtful with their friends, or to sit up straight in their chairs. I have faith that each day brings them a little closer to a life that is characterized by self-control, thoughtfulness, and self-discipline.
It’s why I keep struggling with questions of my own spiritual journey, even after years of feeling like the answers are long in coming. I have faith that maybe this conference, or this book, or this devotional will unlock the secret that I have been searching for.
And so the metaphorical wheels keep turning, and I return to these tasks each day, like Edmond Dantes chipping away at the walls of the Chateau d’If.
One day, I’m going to break through.