“Mama, can we have a tea party right now?”
“Mama, can we paint with watercolors [right now]?”
“Mama, can we make a snack (with 8 different ingredients)?”
Because my children don’t help with every aspect of preparation and clean-up in our daily lives, they don’t understand how much work is involved for each activity. Thus, I repeat often, “Almost everything takes preparation and clean-up.” Perhaps in their minds, tea parties magically assemble and then afterwards the tea cups wash themselves like we see in Beauty and the Beast. Or, paints appear when my children want to use them and disappear when they are finished. Snacks float down from the counter without effort.
But real, responsible life isn’t like that. If we want to thrive, we prioritize much of our time in preparing and cleaning up. If I want my daughter to have clean clothes for when she dresses herself in the morning, we have to wash, dry, and put away her clothes the day before. If I want to feed my family tacos before noon, I will likely need to brown and season the hamburger the night before. Then, I look to chop the veggies soon after breakfast.
Some days I step back and marvel that all five people in our family are fed and clothed. What really amazes me is that the apples went through 8 steps to become the applesauce that’s on each plate–and the dishes will go through at least 4 more steps before they are clean in the cupboard. Phew! My life is often spent (not wasted, but spent) in these simple, mundane rhythms of preparation and clean-up.
I used to theorize, “If only I didn’t need to eat every day. I would save so much time and energy for more important things!” Yet, God in all His wisdom created me with this need. In Ecclesiastes 3, He even gives us a glimpse through sagacious Solomon:
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted…
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 (NASB)
While there’s a lot more to this incredible list, these three sound a lot like preparation and clean-up. God listed these among the rhythms He chose for us, His beloved children. On purpose, He created food for my body (1 Cor. 6:13). On purpose, there are seasons to plant the garden and seasons to compost the dead stalks in the garden. On purpose, there are times to build block castles and times to take them apart.
To be honest, I often find these rhythms of preparation and clean-up monotonous. Yet as I remember that all of life is marred by Adam’s fall, I realize that sin probably made these daily tasks much more cumbersome than they once were (Gen. 3:19). A fruit salad dinner is no longer just a stroll down to the orchard section of Eden. Instead, it requires months (or years) of planning, planting, and cultivating. Yet because Jesus has not abandoned us to our fallenness, but has come to live life with us, He desires to redeem these daily rhythms of preparation and clean-up. He desires to use these dish-washing and fruit slicing times to help me be the woman He created me to be. Added on top is the concept of restoration– elevating each person to the place originally intended for him or her. I can be a woman filled with grace and love while I make pancakes for my family. So, instead of cursing that I have pancakes to make and a friend I feel obligated to entertain while I make them; now, I commonly invite my people into the mess of preparation and clean-up. “Come, spend time with me and do the ordinary things I’m doing. I’m making pancakes. Up for whisking the batter?”
Just as an athlete expects drills day after day, so I expect that my today and tomorrow will be filled with preparation and clean-up “drills”. But I don’t have to stay stuck in the illusion that repetition translates into meaninglessness. Instead, I trust that these rhythms are my daily drills meant to restore me to the loving wife, mother, and woman I long to be.