It’s not the cold, snow, and wind that get to me.
Not our house’s perpetually crunchy, dirty floors.
Not even the smell of the litter box and the cat food scattered near and far.
No, in winter, it’s the laundry that gets to me most, causing my spirit to despair.
It’s the pile in the twins’ room and the way the bathroom's carpeted with cast-off clothes and towels.
It’s the three baskets of unfolded clean laundry and two more of dirty all waiting for my attention while the washer and dryer sit, still full.
It’s piles folded for six people spread across the dining room table - stacks of p.j.s, pants, and shirts that refuse to stay on their hangers.
And, of course, it’s the endless pile of left-over, never-matching socks, the odds and ends, that even if I tackle the whole mountain, squirreling it all away in open drawers and closets, still remain.
Looking at the laundry piles first thing in the morning can cause my heart to sink. Drowning in the unwashed, I feel lost, like a swimmer caught an the under-tow watching the rapidly shrinking shore-line disappear.
The laundry seems to whisper to me – you have no help, you will never catch up, you are alone.
And, in this way, I suffer. I feel alone, overwhelmed, sinking.
In this way, my life is hard.
Listening to the radio while driving, I heard an interview with a woman in Yemen where the government has recently collapsed. She and her neighbors carry their wash, daily, to a water-source in the center of the country’s capital city. There they stand washing, while others fill buckets with drinking water to haul to their houses. There is no electricity.
Explaining her situation, the woman concludes, “Life is very hard now.”
She and her neighbors suffer in a way that makes her description “very hard” entirely accurate. Hearing her words I wonder whether her laundry, her desperate situation, whispers to her in the early morning hours.
Continuing my drive, I think of my own laundry piles waiting at home, the bright white washer and dryer, the sun-filled room in which they sit, and the electricity which keeps them humming at the touch of a button.
In the past, such an interview would bring with it the temptation to write off my own small sufferings as insignificant at best and signs of my own selfish entitlement at worst. On facebook we acknowledge the difference between suffering and Suffering with the hashtag #firstworldproblems.
Sometimes this comparison, this acknowledgement of privilege, provides a much needed perspective – yes, I'm drowning in laundry, but isn’t that in part because I’ve been gifted with four lovely children? And isn’t the fact that I have more than one set of clothes for each of these children, a fact which precipitates a great increase in laundry, something also to be thankful for?
Yes, sometimes this comparison is helpful for the way it reminds me that while I do suffer, there is still much cause for thanksgiving.
More often, though, I’ve used such comparisons as a way to push off my own needs, to in fact, separate myself from suffering. Even, at times, to punish myself for suffering.
“You think this is hard? What’s wrong with you? People all over the world have it much worse. You don’t hear that poor woman in Yemen complaining,” goes the inner dialogue.
The problem with this, I now see, is that it hardens my heart and introduces the idea that one’s situation has to be “bad enough” to truly warrant compassion. When I deny my own suffering, I take dangerous steps toward a heart that is primed to deny the suffering of others. And, worse yet, this denial is fed by a necessary distancing – to deny my own suffering is indeed to find myself alone and separated from those with whom I may have more than I think in common.
What does this have to do with Lent?
Lent and laundry. Lent and suffering and Suffering.
Lent offers us the opportunity to embrace our humanity, to walk with Jesus for awhile in the wilderness as we draw closer to the cross. In Lent, we embrace some small measure of suffering for the way that it awakens us to need, to desire, to the questions our own suffering raises.
We give up or take on some small thing in order that our lives would be opened further – to the suffering of Christ and others, to compassion and reconciliation, to a deeper acceptance of Christ’s suffering on our behalf.
My friend came and did nine loads of laundry for me three days ago. Today I’ve done three or four more and so the story goes, on and on, socks and shirts and pants for a family of six.
Standing in the laundry room, pulling cold, wet clothes from the washer and cleaning out the lint trap, I think of her – the woman in Yemen. I think of us together, as sisters in the battle against laundry, in the battle to keep something clean and in order. I think of our despair at the disorder of our lives, the way it can be both “hard” and “very hard.”
In remembering her, I remember myself and remembering myself, I remember her and I am no longer alone.
Maybe this also is true of Lent.
In our small sufferings and surrenders, may we find ourselves reminded of Christ.
In the “hard” that is our daily lot, may we be reminded of the “very hard.”
In remembering Christ, may we remember ourselves and remembering ourselves, may we remember Christ and find that we are never truly alone.
This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog reflecting on suffering during the Lent season of 2015. To read more articles in this series, go to http://mennonerds.com/tag/mennonerds-lent-2015/. To find out more about MennoNerds in general, go to http://mennonerds.com/about.