Chipping Away

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.

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6 responses to “Chipping Away

  1. I can relate to that feeling, especially at school. I was talking to another teacher yesterday about doing “fun” activities that make them enjoy the subject. It takes so much time to do the prep work, and then usually you finish saying “well, what did they learn from that? i could have just as well done a worksheet for all they got out of it”.

    But we must press on. It is in our faithfulness to do the small stuff that we build character. And it is productive in the sense that if we didn’t do those things routinely, one of two things would happpen (or possibly both)
    1: Though we would seemingly have more “free time”, we would spend it frustrated at the state of things around us
    2: All the small things would add up to one gargantuan task that would be very overwhelming.

    Of course, I think you and I are alike in our need for things to be a certain way, others might say perfectionism. 🙂 Some people can not do all the things that you feel are necessary (swiffering, wiping counters, making bed) and can live in the insuing state of untidiness just fine. I am married to one of those people and have several friends would probably classify themselves the same way. And that is fine too.

    By the way, we don’t have school today due to the snow! How cool is that! 🙂 It worked perfectly, we got to have a work day yesterday so I could get stuff accomplished (even if that just included hanging posters and rearranging my desk area), and no school today when the kids are supposed to come back. 🙂 Have you had school at all this week?

  2. persevere, dear sister, persevere.

  3. I think I am constantly reminding myself of the “cumulative effect.”

    John often calls me tenacious, and I do find pleasure in accomplishing tasks, both big and small, significant and mundane. But I do get bogged down in the day-to-day, waiting for something spectacular to happen or some passion to well up inside of me so that wiping the bathroom counter doesn’t matter so much anymore, and I’m ready to conquer the world.

  4. Wow, if I actually wiped down the counter every day, that’d be a pretty big step for me.

  5. This post sounds alot like King Solomons feelings in Ecclesiates. Check it out. Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now all has been heard; here isthe conclusion of the matter; Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

  6. @ Lydia- I keep Clorox wipes under the sink, it makes it easy and makes such a difference! (works for the toilet, too, although I don’t do that each day…)

    @ doctork- good point!

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