Finding Meaning in the MundaneAug. 30, 2018 • Blog
My hands were goopy with dough. Somehow, the Jewish women I had watched on YouTube never seemed to get stuck with challah bread dough that refused to be kneaded. I tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to free the challah dough from my fingers, then poured in more flour.
As I scrubbed the gobs of dough from my fingers and went back to YouTube—for what felt like the hundredth time—to watch yet another Jewish homemaker easily coax her dough into submission and form a beautiful braid, I stopped paying attention to the woman’s hands. Instead, I looked at her face. She was radiant. It was a simple video shot in her small kitchen, but it was clear that she took her role as a mother very seriously and that she loved her home and those who lived in it. As she added each ingredient and began to knead the dough, she talked about what the different parts meant to her: the oil for the anointing of kings, the water of life, the salt for the reprimands that come too easily and should be used in small doses. And during the twenty minutes it took to develop her mixture into a pliable pile of dough, she smiled as she explained that kneading was her favorite part, an opportunity to pray for each of her children by name.
My frustration melted away, and I went back to my dough. I thought of how blessed I was to have the necessary ingredients and to have a home filled with people I loved, and I prayed for those that I would share my challah bread with.
The Monotony of Repetition
Over the next few days, it occurred to me that the mother on YouTube had clearly found joy and fulfillment in a task that I deemed to be repetitive, onerous, and frustrating. I thought of my annoyance at having to rewash the same dishes, face the same rush-hour traffic, and pick up the same books, papers, and clothes every single day.
But then I remembered that mother’s smile, the way that even her eyes seemed to light up at the prospect of kneading her tire-sized bowl of dough—made from six pounds of flour—by hand for twenty minutes. If she could find fulfillment and meaning even in her weekly repetitive jobs, couldn’t I? And not only did she enjoy it, but her relationships with her family and with God thrived because of it.
Perhaps the time spent with my hands immersed in soap suds or sitting in the driver’s seat could provide more than just a clean house or a commute; there was a facet of depth, connection, and even purification to these experiences that I wasn’t engaging in.
Finding Glory in the Mundane
BYU professor Jeffrey Thompson recalled a time when he learned a similar lesson. His mission president’s wife taught him about her role in the work:
When I do the laundry, I am building the kingdom of God. When I scrub the floors, I am serving the Lord. When I tidy the clutter, I’m an instrument in His hands. I do a lot of mundane jobs, but if my eye is single to God and I’m trying to serve my family, then I feel as much purpose in my work as a missionary can.
Thompson then reflected,
Those words remind me of what King Benjamin said about laboring in the fields to support himself—a decidedly unkingly occupation. He said, “I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God” (Mosiah 2:16).
So perhaps the state of our hearts is as important as the tasks we do in determining whether our work is truly—and eternally—meaningful. [Jeffrey A. Thompson, “What Is Your Calling in Life?” 1 June 2010]
I’m not saying that I have a meaningful experience every time I scrub the toilet or empty the dishwasher, but I now realize that boring, repetitive, and frustrating tasks can allow for deep, purifying, or even refining moments. Perhaps those are the very moments when I can connect with those I love and with my Father in Heaven as I seek to know the needs of those I am serving.
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