Personal Stories, Shattered Faith — March 4, 2011 at 10:44 am

Dirty Dishes and the Beloved


Any time you live in community with someone, you’re forced to deal with the full spectrum of the human condition. Whether intentional or circumstantial, community plays an important part in many of our stories.

When times are good, everyone pays their part of the rent on time. In general, you get along with your housemates and jam loud when they jam loud.  Everyone pitches in for dinner night and you finally beat your roommate’s girlfriend at Settlers of Catan.

Then comes the bad. The ugly head of communal living squirms out of the woodworks and onto the bathroom floor or through the heavy thud of speakers blaring M.I.A.’s “Kala” album at two in the morning. “Dude…seriously? It’s a Tuesday!”

For the most part there’s not much drama, just dishes. 
That’s right! Dish after dish thrown into the sink awaiting a new life in the cabinet safe and sound. Unfortunately, the journey from sink to cabinet can be as painful as Frodo climbing Mt. Doom. (One dish to rule them all.)

I didn’t have many chores growing up, but the dishes were my thing. Mom gave me specifics the night before and if they weren’t done before she got home from work the next day – well, I shutter to even think of the consequences! Just kidding, Mom.

Sometimes kids don’t do what they’re supposed to. Shocking, I know. When I didn’t do them, I saw how it affected my mom’s afternoon. So, after a few years, I finally got the picture that dishes were important. As I think back to the moments involving hostility between my mom, wife or past roommates, the dishes gave witness to many of my “less-than-wholesome” words.

If you really want to get on somebody’s good side, do their dishes. A good percentage of my day job is washing dishes. Cleaning my baker’s muffin tins and bread pans seriously changes the mood of the day. The burden of a full sink can bring down the biggest of giants.

I resonate with the words of 17th century Carmelite monk and fellow dishwasher, Brother Lawrence, as he writes in The Practice of the Presence of God:

We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.

I’ve grown to find peace in these small works. I think dishes show the balance of a healthy relationship. When one person is tired, another takes over. The conversations on what things do and do not work are important. (Even when my wife and I stand for 20 minutes in Target discussing which drying rack to get.) It helps us to learn the other person and in the end, makes us better people…

…even though we always walk away with pruney fingers.


  • Thanks Josh, Beautiful reflection. I literally just went and our community’s sink full of dishes. No one who has ever lived with me would say that I’m usually the first to volunteer to cleanup after a meal. That being said, I’ve recently been learning to appreciate the act. After a long day of sitting in front of the computer, there’s just something that feels good about putting my hands to work on a fairly mindless job, allowing my mind to go places it doesn’t go in front of a flickering screen. And you’re right, it blesses people. It’s tough to stay mad at someone who just did your dishes, not because you deserved it, but because they want to serve you.

  • Josh,

    This post resonated. I lead an extremely busy life and also live in community…two things that sometimes feel at cross-purposes. This simple truth is often forgotten (or ignored) for me in the day to day. Thanks for bringing to our attention the small, deceivingly significant ways we can serve one another.


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