Recently I’ve become more and more aware of how much my environment affects my ability to rest and feel at peace. I thrive when I have steady rhythms of life, sufficient quiet time each day, meaningful relationships, colorful surroundings, lots of sunlight. And a clean kitchen.
First thing in the morning, after I shower and get dressed, I start heating water for coffee and then clean the kitchen (Derek shakes his head and says that’s why we’re different; he needs about an hour to wake up before he does anything remotely productive and cleaning the kitchen is the last thing he’d think to do early in the morning). Depending on the state of the kitchen when I walk downstairs, my coffee may be cold before I finally sit down to drink it. But I know that if I don’t clean first, I’ll be distracted by the dirty dishes and crumbs on the table and won’t be able to rest and focus during my quiet time.
This poses a significant challenge for me living in community because I can’t control other people’s standards of cleanliness (don’t think I haven’t tried…) and rarely do I live with a group of people that cleans as often and as meticulously as I would like. I long to make our home a place of sanctuary and rest, a haven of peace and welcome – ideals that erode in the midst of clutter and chaos. Little things like dirty dishes in the sink and socks in the hall lodge in my daily routine like pebbles in a shoe, an irritation that escalates the longer I walk with it. Often I retreat up to my room because I know that at least it will be clean and orderly there (did I mention that I clean my room every day before I clean the kitchen? Well, I do).
So today I came home from church feeling particularly disgruntled and disoriented (we arrived home from our trip last week in the midst of four or five major transition, enough to make me feel like I am wallowing in a mire of change). I surveyed the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink, the mound of clean dishes balanced precariously in the drainer, the hardened food splattered across the stove top, and all sorts of crumbs and crud on the table, counters, and floor, and I tied on an apron and set to work. I cleaned the whole kitchen and then cooked dinner for tonight and tomorrow (pumpkin soup and homemade yeast bread for tonight, rice salad with eggplant and tomatoes for tomorrow).
And you know what? I feel more rested and peaceful than I have in days.
Now I’m sitting in the evening sunlight, writing and watching the soup simmer as the baking bread fills the kitchen with a warm, yeasty aroma. And, if I’m really honest, I’m also watching the kitchen so it stays clean, at least for a little while.