My 5-year old son was standing quietly watching me steam clean our floor one evening, which I just figured was amazing in itself since I do it so infrequently. But after a few minutes he said, “Hey mom, if you say a prayer and then steam comes out, then your prayer can rise to heaven on the steam.” I was floored (pun intended) that he would make such a connection between work and prayer. “Yes,” I replied, “Steam cleaning the floor can become a prayer to God!”
I’ve been reading this book called Holiness for Housewives by Hubert van Zeller, with its alternate title being “Praying While You Work.” It was written from a spiritual director to housewives, but whether you are man or woman, work inside the home or out, the principles apply to all of us. What I’m getting out of his writing is that it’s the work itself that can sanctify us: our ordinary every day tasks become a prayer when offered to God.
“The only thing that really matters in life is doing the will of God…Your whole business is still to look for God in the midst of all this [housework, daily tasks, etc]. You will not find him anywhere else. If you leave your dishes, your housekeeping, your telephone calls, your children’s everlasting questions, your ironing, and your invitations to take care of themselves while you go off and search for our Lord’s presence in prayer, you will discover nothing but self.” pg. 13-14
He writes this in reference to thinking that it would be holier to be anywhere else than where you are. Isn’t it easy to get trapped in that train of thought? If only I had less kids, fewer responsibilities at work, more time. Maybe if I had joined the convent instead, then I could pray! But that is not what God is asking of us who are married. Marriage is a vocation, and God meets us where we are at now.
“So it is idle for you to complain about the drawbacks to spirituality that you find in your particular vocation. There is nothing that you are up against that God has not given you the grace to surmount. You can, if you want, turn the monotony and the drudgery and the distraction into an expression of love.” Pg. 16
“It becomes a matter, then, of developing a system of prayer within the framework of your God-given duties. It will be your system of prayer – not necessarily anyone else’s. You will have to find a way of communicating with God by means of and not in spite of the calls upon your time and energy and patience…Your whole purpose, then, is to work out a way of praying that directs every effort towards God – and to work out a way of directing effort so that everything becomes a prayer.” Pg. 26
He goes on in the rest of the 63-page book to give some direction on how to do that very thing. It takes effort and practice to assume this attitude of prayer and remember God throughout your day, but take it one step at a time and it is possible!
“The whole question is how to respond to the grace God is sending now.” Pg. 38
A podcast I like to listen to by the Lanky Guys, reflecting on the Sunday readings, once described us living in a snow globe of God’s grace. God has given us all the grace we need to be patient with our children, to love our spouses more sacrificially, to be virtuous and dedicated in our jobs, and the grace to live our vocation to the fullest! The grace is all around us and we just have to reach out and grab it. I was on the treadmill when I heard this metaphor, and right then and there I closed my eyes without falling and called out to the Holy Spirit to fill me with His grace for the day: to be disciplined in my duties and fervent in my faith, to instill virtues in my children and grow more in love with my husband. And I felt that grace! Just by reaching out in that moment, my walk on the treadmill became a prayer.
It could be typing on the computer at work, or taking out the trash when your spouse asks you to, or stopping your to-do list to read a book to your kids. By reaching out for God’s grace, any of our efforts can be directed to God, and our life can become a prayer.
“The saints were those who sank themselves in their work, and so sanctified both themselves and it.” Pg. 17
Prayer when Exhausted By Housework (pg. 81
Lord, I am sick to death of making beds, cleaning, and all the other jobs that go into keeping this household together. Grant me a clearer sense of my vocation to this work so that I may think less of the drudgery and more of the spiritual opportunity that it gives me.
Be with me in the duties of my day; and when, as now, I feel like dropping from fatigue and boredom and I long to be rid of it all, rouse in me a spirit of endurance and greater generosity.
Help me to make more of an effort to model myself on You. The daily work in the house at Nazareth was not without its hardships, and in the work of Your ministry later on, You were both weary and pressed for time. Help me to remember this when I find myself being suffocated by housework. Amen.