Saturday morning I was hurrying around the house trying to get the laundry done and the bathrooms cleaned after having stayed in bed a couple of extra hours. I wasn’t feeling well, and I had had a very busy week. The extra hours of rest were needed. But the house needed cleaned, too. And I wanted to go to the gym to swim, and I had plans for the evening to go our for dinner and a movie with friends.

It had started out so peaceful, but now the day was barreling ahead.

With the washer and dryer going and the sheets on the bed changed, I found myself standing in front of the sink washing dishes. The same dishes I’ve washed hundreds of times standing there at the sink. I thought of my friend’s new dishwasher and imagined having one of my own. Then, I would never have to stand there wasting time.

365 day 39 - Dishes in the sink

But since that thought took about 15 seconds and there was a whole pile of dishes to wash, I thought about other things. I thought about how busy Advent had become, despite my best intentions. I thought about the pain in my abdomen I had had for a couple of days, hoping it was nothing like most of the other pains and weird sensations I’ve had over the past four years that turned out to be nothing.

With each scrub of the plate and dip into the water, my consciousness poked around in the recesses of my mind, places that don’t often see the light of day when I’m otherwise distracted with flashing screens and beeping devices. As I washed away caked on spaghetti sauce and rings of hot cocoa, I was tempted into a metaphor of sins being washed away. Instead, I just enjoyed the moment for what it was — a chance to slow down.

My thoughts did become prayers as I imagined not having these moments were I to buy a dishwasher. “I would never have stopped here this morning, Lord, if it weren’t for this mess in the sink.” And then I told him outright how scared I am about that pain in my abdomen, hope or none.

It didn’t exactly feel like waiting, standing there moving dishes from a dirty pile on the right, into the soapy water, scrubbed with the cloth, then into the left sink for rinsing and the drainer for drying. But it was more than just doing, standing there letting my mind play and wander.

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“Time for important things can only come from one source: time for less important things,” Pier Forni said today, in an interview with Diane Rehm in her syndicated NPR show. He was talking about his new book, The Thinking Life, making a case that time spent thinking was worth giving up less important things like web browsing and television watching. I agreed with him and began making a mental list of the unimportant things I do that I should give up.

But then I thought about standing there doing dishes, a relatively unimportant thing, and how beautifully it became the source of time to think. Forni was right on two levels. Maybe I should do more unimportant things.

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We are in the final days of Advent, and the cards still need sending and the gifts need wrapping, and the sink is full of dirty dishes again. The pain in my abdomen is nearly gone, and my mind is full of light and life.

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A few more links from the High Calling Advent Project. You really won’t want to miss these:

Photo by lisaclarke, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.