I've made a habit of telling my 15-month-old, "life is maintenance," whenever I do the dishes after a meal. At first, it was just a way of making myself smile, but I think I'll continue for two reasons. First, it's a helpful corrective to our innovation-obsessed culture. Second, it's the clearest picture of faithfulness I've inherited, and I want to pass it on.
I wouldn't say I love washing dishes, but I do value it, even though I did very few dishes growing up. In our house, doing the dishes was one of my dad's many ministries. He also led the ministries of driving us around, making good sandwiches, praying for us at night, and reminding us that, one day, he would die. And make no mistake, each of these was a real and valuable ministry that cared for us. In each, he ministered to his family in body and soul.
And I left him to it.
I ran off to play with my toys and my video games. Then, I borrowed his car to drive a girl I liked around. I went to parties he preferred me to skip. I even huffed once (or twice), "there are no clean dishes!" But the dishes always got clean. He waited up late for years. He still offers to drive me places.
I didn't always notice, but Love was there, at the kitchen sink of all places. I ran off; I looked everywhere it wasn't and, still, Love was there. Present and faithful, and a little soapy.
The word pious sound a little, well, pious, and we don't really like pious people. Piety, at its most basic, seems to mean religious practice. The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines it as "the moral virtue by which a person is disposed to render to God the worship and service he deserves." This may sound suspiciously like drudgery, and that's because it isn't an exceptional event. God deserves worship and service day after day, moment by moment. You might say that the most fitting form of piety for normal people is the ordinary, unremarkable maintenance of daily life done in joyful service.
One day, when my father is buried, I will recall him at the kitchen sink, plunging his worn and cracked hands into hot water. I will remember the tears I cried as a teenager when I broke a well-loved teacup he'd washed hundreds of times. Was it just a cup? Yes. Did we eat ice cream out of it? Yes again. It was nothing special on the surface, but my dad had washed it before I was born. He cared for it as he cared for his family, with loving care and attention, again and again.
In taking care day after day—of the cups and his family—he was revealing the divine love of God. I didn't know it at the time, but I was watching a saint at work.
So now, as he gave himself and his hands up for me, I will lay my own down at the kitchen sink.