The left over, sticky food residue was smelly and repulsive to the touch, especially after procrastinating. It seemed like a waste of time, a boring chore that had to be done every day. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves with conversation, entertainment, or creating more work for me by eating dessert or drinking coffee while I was still cleaning up. It wasn’t torture, but it sure wasn’t fun.
I hated washing the dishes.
Then I got married to a woman who hates washing dishes more than I do. We entered into our marriage with a loose agreement: she would cook, I would clean.
Turns out she was (and still is) an amazing cook, but I wasn’t so great at consistently washing the dishes. I still disliked doing them, and still procrastinated. But I disliked it a little less, because I knew that what I was doing was contributing to the home and to the relationship we were building together.
Over time, I came to appreciate the feeling of satisfaction that comes from doing a simple task well. The rhythm of washing, rinsing, drying, and putting away became a place to think and learn and even pray. I started to appreciate how much less disgusting it was to wash the dishes immediately after meals. I found I was especially thankful for warm water (especially in the winter) and–when we moved to place that had one–electricity for the dishwasher to take most of the hard work.
My wife always says thank you when I do the dishes, sometimes with a hug or a peck on the cheek, and that becomes for me a sacred–dare I say sacramental– moment. The wonderful meal cooked out of love for me and the children, the washing and cleaning of pots and pans and plates, a thank you kiss. It’s all part of the liturgy of the family, and after all, a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace.
Now, I know washing the dishes cannot be a sacrament in same sense as Holy Communion, Baptism, or even Marriage. Yet in some small way, washing the dishes has transformed from a necessary task, to a discipline, to even (on rare occasions) a treasured ritual.
A once dreaded chore has become a precious, outward sign of the inward grace of being spiritually bound to my family. Somehow, washing the dishes became a sacramental action.
Once upon a time, I hated washing the dishes. I still don’t always like washing the dishes.
But now, I love washing the dishes.