This is a continuation of an article that is from 2000 in the BYU Magazine by Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless. In this section the authors show how us how all the work we do for our families binds us and blesses our relationships.
“For Our Sakes”
“The story of Adam and Eve raises an important question. How does ordinary, family-centered work like feeding, clothing, and nurturing a family–work that often seems endless and mundane–actually bless our lives? The answer is so obvious in common experience that it has become obscure: Family work links people. On a daily basis, the tasks we do to stay alive provide us with endless opportunities to recognize and fill the needs of others. Family work is a call to enact love, and it is a call that is universal. Throughout history, in every culture, whether in poverty or prosperity, there has been the ever-present need to shelter, clothe, feed, and care for each other.
“Ironically, it is the very things commonly disliked about family work that offer the greatest possibilities for nurturing close relationships and forging family ties. Some people dislike family work because, they say, it is mindless. Yet chores that can be done with a minimum of concentration leave our minds free to focus on one another as we work together. We can talk, sing, or tell stories as we work. Working side by side tends to dissolve feelings of hierarchy, making it easier for children to discuss topics of concern with their parents. Unlike play, which usually requires mental concentration as well as physical involvement, family work invites intimate conversation between parent and child.
“We also tend to think of household work as menial, and much of it is. Yet, because it is menial, even the smallest child can make a meaningful contribution. Children can learn to fold laundry, wash windows, or sort silverware with sufficient skill to feel valued as part of the family. Since daily tasks range from the simple to the complex, participants at every level can feel competent yet challenged, including the parents with their overall responsibility for coordinating tasks, people, and projects into a cooperative, working whole.
“Another characteristic of ordinary family work that gives it such power is repetition. Almost as quickly as it is done, it must be redone. Dust gathers on furniture, dirt accumulates on floors, beds get messed up, children get hungry and dirty, meals are eaten, clothes become soiled. As any homemaker can tell you, the work is never done. When compared with the qualities of work that are prized in the public sphere, this aspect of family work seems to be just another reason to devalue it. However, each rendering of a task is a new invitation for all to enter the family circle. The most ordinary chores can become daily rituals of family love and belonging. Family identity is built moment by moment amidst the talking and teasing, the singing and storytelling, and even the quarreling and anguish that may attend such work sessions.
“Some people also insist that family work is demeaning because it involves cleaning up after others in the most personal manner. Yet, in so doing, we observe their vulnerability and weaknesses in a way that forces us to admit that life is only possible day-to-day by the grace of God. We are also reminded of our own dependence on others who have done, and will do, such work for us. We are reminded that when we are fed, we could be hungry; when we are clean, we could be dirty; and when we are healthy and strong, we could be feeble and dependent. Family work is thus humbling work, helping us to acknowledge our unavoidable interdependence; encouraging (even requiring) us to sacrifice “self” for the good of the whole.
God gave us family work as a link to one another, as a link to Him, as a stepping stone toward salvation that is always available and that has the power to transform us spiritually as we transform others physically. This daily work of feeding and clothing and sheltering each other is perhaps the only opportunity all humanity has in common. Whatever the world takes from us, it cannot take away the daily maintenance needed for survival. Whether we find ourselves in wealth, poverty, or struggling as most of us do in day-to-day mediocrity, we need to be fed, to be clothed, to be sheltered, to be clean. And so does our neighbor.
“When Christ instituted one of the most sacred of ordinances, one still performed today among the apostles, what symbolism did He choose? Of all the things He could have done as He prepared His apostles for His imminent death and instructed them on how to become one, He chose the washing of feet–a task ordinarily done in His time by the most humble of servants. When Peter objected, thinking that this was not the kind of work someone of Christ’s earthly, much less eternal stature would be expected to do, Christ made clear the importance of participating: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8).
“So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. (John 13:12–15)
And so for our sakes this work seems mindless, menial, repetitive, and demeaning. This daily toiling is in honor of life itself. After all, isn’t this temporal work of tending to the necessary and routine currents of daily life, whether for our families or for our neighbors, the work we really came to Earth to do? By this humble service–this washing of one another’s feet–we sacrifice our pride and invite God to wash our own souls from sin. Indeed, such work embodies within it the condescension of the Savior himself. It is nothing less than doing unto Christ, by serving the least of our brethren, what He has already done for us.”
Next Post: “Family work in Modern Times”–A continuation of an article that is from the BYU Magazine, Spring 2000, by Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless.