Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dishes and God's Grace

Our children share the responsibility of washing the dishes in our house. They alternate days, because they found it too difficult to work together. They don’t like this chore and complain about it regularly. Yesterday was Teresa’s day and after much footdragging she finally went to the kitchen and did them just before Sharilyn began preparing dinner. As she worked on dinner, she needed several items that Teresa had just washed. But when she pulled them from the drying rack, she found that they were not really clean. We discussed how to deal with this. At times we have made the children rewash individual items that they didn’t wash properly. This time we decided that she should have a second day of washing dishes to help her recognize the importance of doing the job well. This morning when I put away the rest of the dishes though, I didn’t find any other poorly-washed specimens, so it seems that her failure was limited to a few specific items that are harder to wash.

This afternoon while enjoying a cup of tea in the gentle afternoon sunshine that streamed into our kitchen, I began to consider washing up some of the dishes myself. Normally washing dishes is not my job, but occasionally I will do it voluntarily as an act of kindness and to demonstrate servanthood to my children. They have a difficult time with the thought of doing any unpleasant task they are not obligated to do. So I hope by occasionally stepping in and relieving one of them of a required task, they will see an example and choose to emulate it. So far this hasn’t been highly successful.

As I contemplated whether to wash dishes for my daughter, I began to wonder whether I would be sending the right message today. After all, she was supposed to do them to help her learn to do a job correctly. Would my doing them show her gracious servanthood, or would it show her only that she could get away with being unthorough? I thought about the fact that she probably wouldn’t even receive my labor with thankfulness, because she rarely says thanks for any favor we do for her. Because of this I started to lean against doing anything for her. But then God interrupted my thoughts. He asked me to think about this in light of his love and grace. Does he stop showing grace to us simply because we fail to thank him for it? Does he stop loving us because we don’t respond the way we ought? Thankfully he doesn’t!

Considering this question further I realized that one of the main reasons we fail to receive grace as grace, be it from God or from others, is that we believe in our hearts that we deserve it. I operate as if I believe God must treat me with love and kindness, so when he doesn’t I’m put out and when he does I take it for granted. I see the same thing in my daughter. She doesn’t respond with thanksgiving to my acts of kindness toward her because she feels she deserves them anyway. She may not express appreciation for me washing the dishes in her place because she feels it was unfair for her to have to do them in the first place. Once again I see my relationship with God reflected in my relationship with my children.

I understood that my decision to wash or not wash should not be dependent on the likely response of my daughter. But I still didn’t have an answer to my original question concerning the balance between showing servanthood and teaching responsibility. I don’t know that one can make a hard and fast rule about this. I think it must depend on how the Spirit leads in each situation. Some parenting methods overemphasize discipline to the detriment of demonstrating loving service, while other methods overemphasize grace to the point of encouraging irresponsibility. I want to find a balance that displays both in healthy, proper measure. In the end I decided to wash part of the pile of waiting dishes. Our drying rack cannot hold that many dishes anyway, so to attempt to do them all would have meant stacking them in unwieldy towers on the drying rack. I left the items that Sharilyn had found unacceptable yesterday, so Teresa will still need to follow through on her responsibility to do those well. But maybe she will also see an example of undeserved kindness that will enter her mind and heart and eventually bear fruit. She hasn’t discovered my work yet, so her response remains to be seen.

1 comment:

  1. This post touched me, thanks for writing it. I think your efforts in matters such as these will pay off, you sound very scrupulous in matters.

    I like the analogy to how God interacts with us. Where I am at, I live with 15 other people. We have a strict chore system in place that keeps the entire house clean (each person cleaning a separate part). Fines if you shirk.

    But dishes are rather communal, so it's easy to get away with doing too little. The system we put in place, though, puts everybody on a rotating schedule much like yours - someone cleans and puts away all the dishes at the end of the day. People are motivated to clean their dishes online, now, because they know what it's like to get stuck with all the dishes from before. They also feel responsible for making sure the person after them has an easier time of it.

    While your situation analogizes our relationship with God, mine does so for the Christian community, where all things are to be held in common, and sharing (esp the workload!) is the name of the game. I liked the connection I was able to make here.