College is a time to discover and chase your passions, cheer until you’re hoarse at exhilarating football games, have profound late-night conversations, and meet strangers who become your best friends.
College is also a time to do your own laundry.
And I’ve discovered over the past two years that I really hate doing my own laundry.
At first, doing my laundry was something new and adult-ish, another welcome into the exciting college world of independence. It’s not very difficult, and the effect of such an everyday task is rather miraculous—just look at all these clean clothes that I can now wear again! But unlike last-second touchdowns in the 4th quarter (a Notre Dame specialty) and discussing the meaning of life at 2 a.m., pouring Tide into the washing machine doesn’t exactly give me a thrilling rush of adrenaline. The initial novelty and sense of responsibility I felt while doing laundry quickly wore off and faded dimly into annoyance, which then deepened into intense dread and dislike.
I first chalked my dislike up to the fact that laundry is time-consuming. Let’s run through the process, shall we? Gathering the scattering of clothes around my dorm room; descending four flights of stairs mercifully using the elevator; sorting the lights from the darks and the warms from the colds; forking over the funds; walking up four flights of stairs; after thirty minutes, walking down four flights of stairs; switching the laundry from the washers to the dryers (being sure to remove anything that cannot be machine dried); forking over more funds; walking up four flights of stairs; after nearly an hour; walking down four flights of stairs, removing the dry laundry and folding (meanwhile, contemplating, how do you fold a fitted sheet?); ascending four flights of stairs mercifully using the elevator; and the final task, putting the laundry away. Exhausting, right? . . .
Laundry is one of the most ordinary, mundane, and dull everyday tasks. Sure, I dreaded it because it is time-consuming, but also because a narrative like this ran in my mind: I am too busy to do laundry. Laundry is just so unimportant, so boring. I have to read Aristotle. I have to write three papers this week! I have meetings to attend, places to be, people to see. I have Important Things to do. . . .
In my mind, my dread for laundry seemed to confirm that I was an Important Person who does Important Things. Laundry was not just a descent down four flights of steps but a descent from doing Important Things to doing a dull task that I just couldn’t be bothered with.
And I couldn’t be bothered with laundry because I thought that meaning was to be found elsewhere, in doing those exciting Important Things, rather than in taking care of my everyday responsibilities and routines.
But doing laundry made me face the harsh realization that maybe my life isn’t that exciting. It is more often filled with routine things, like going to class, eating meals, studying, and sleeping, rather than Important and Exciting and Life-Changing Things.
And I felt a creeping anxiety that maybe my faith life wasn’t that exciting either. I go to Mass, I pray, I try to learn about the faith, I try to live it. I practice my faith through ordinary, daily routines. Ups and downs happen, of course, but usually, nothing too extreme. This worried me. Shouldn’t this be more dramatic and exciting? Is there something wrong?
Sometimes I really desire a great dramatic moment in which I can prove my love to God, some sort of electrifying, life-changing experience. I saw routine tasks like laundry as separate from finding meaning in life and separate from my spiritual growth. Something as simple as laundry couldn’t possibly be a way to draw closer to God—could it? I wanted to reject doing laundry as insignificant, as just a burden to bear while I chased goodness, truth, and beauty elsewhere.
But I couldn’t exactly long for a great dramatic moment in which I could prove my love to God if I couldn’t even do the smallest of tasks first. I couldn’t pray to be aligned to God’s will, yet grumble about a boring responsibility that I didn’t want to take care of. I couldn’t pray about my desire to sacrifice dramatically if I couldn’t perform this tiny sacrifice.
The pesky, annoying, routine necessity of doing laundry reminded me that I’m a creature, a child of God who has bodily needs. At first I resented this reminder. But the very mundane task of laundry was a grace that claimed me from my self-absorption, longing for drama, and pride. It was a reminder that being ordinary and doing ordinary things doesn’t have to be something I always complain about, but can be an opportunity to love God through small sacrifices. Instead of rejecting the duty of doing laundry because I dislike it, I can embrace it because I dislike it.
In fact, I still dread doing laundry, but I can be grateful for it as an opportunity from God to grow in humility and holiness. God helped me face the pride entrenched in my stubborn heart and how doing my laundry can be a small sacrifice to try to overcome my own sense of self-importance.
Laundry is a routine, like much of my life, and often like the practice of faith. My faith is born in the ordinary, in routines, in finding God and glorifying God in those routines—the routines of going to Mass, of going to class, of doing homework, of sharing meals with friends, of praying. And this is okay. In fact, everyday routines and mundane tasks are just what I need to grow in humility and holiness. So thank you, God, for laundry.
Editorial Note: "Stories of Grace” is a podcast from the McGrath Institute for Church Life featuring storytellers from the University of Notre Dame campus community who recount moments of encountering God and recognizing his presence in daily life. By listening to these stories, we witness the transformative love of the Lord and are drawn toward a more attentive receptivity of God's ever-present grace.