Doing the dishes has deep personal significance for me. Growing up, my parents had a dishwasher but never used it. Instead, the 20 minutes after dinner was their time to catch up as they washed the dishes by hand. As a kid, this was a great arrangement for me: no chores! As an adult, this has become a beautiful picture of what it looks like to partner with others to tackle messes in life.
Yet in my own kitchen, so often my instinct is not to partner but to hide from others. With my housemates, rather than humbly apologizing or asking for help when I’ve let my dishes pile up, I regularly spend time washing whatever they have left in the sink. I do this not because I know that this is what they want or expect of me; rather, I do this as a sort of insurance policy against their irritation on the days when I am not so tidy. I end up choosing to clean the dishes alone, without their help—a far cry from the dance my parents modelled for me.
Often, I treat Jesus more like one of my housemates, rather than as a life partner. Whenever “dirty dishes” start to pile up in my life, I begin to feel on edge about what he’s thinking and feeling towards me, as I imagine him observing me with irritation and judgment.
But Jesus isn’t a housemate. He doesn’t have his own room, own meals, and own dirty dishes that are constantly compared to mine. He doesn’t live with me but in me. Jesus is my partner. It seems that even though God knows all about my messes, he is willing to live in me anyways. Perhaps the point of the Christian life isn’t to keep the dirty dishes hidden, but to commit to cleaning them, with Jesus himself helping to wash and dry.
He does this day after day, knowing that these dishes will get dirty again.
In fact I need Jesus’ partnership if I want to truly purify my metaphorical dishes. I can attempt to clean up my life with what I have, but I am convinced that the soap and water I really need comes straight from Jesus himself. And God is not interested in hoarding these cleaning supplies. Otherwise, he would have never come from heaven to earth in the first place, with all its greasy dishes. Generously, he is already at work in me; so often I just need to give him more room in the kitchen and stop trying to wash what I can’t clean.
So even doing the dishes, whether literally or figuratively, can become an activity that deepens partnering relationships rather than something that drives them apart. For example, when I do my housemate’s dishes out of fear, I’m actually doing them for me. But when I am able to see this time as a way to interact with them in love (whether or not they are in the room), I begin to work not for me, but for them.
Several months ago I was at an all-night worship session. But I couldn’t stay: there were dirty dishes in my sink, and other chores I needed to attend to before the next day. Torn between staying and going, I eventually gave up soaking in the beauty of the evening to soak my hands in bubbly water. But to my surprise, washing those dishes—mine and my housemates’—became a worshipful experience, a moment where I knew I was partnering with God in a meaningful way. I wasn’t singing in a church, but I was doing the dishes while aware of Christ in me. It’s incredible really: God is so worshipable that our mundane acts of service can be honourable to him. Let’s wash.