Yesterday, I ironed. A lot.
This is a pretty big accomplishment. I only iron when necessary. I actually somewhat enjoy ironing. It’s nice to see how lovely and crisp the clean clothing looks afterwards, and usually I’m caring for some of my favorite items. But wielding a burning hot and heavy item for 20+ minutes and then finding a good place for it to cool safely doesn’t seem to mesh well with small, busy children. Either they leave me alone to iron, and I’m in fear for their lives out of my sight. Or they are underfoot, and I’m in fear for their lives if one were to suddenly fall and grab the iron cord as the most likely thing to save them and then end up with a nasty burn. [Yes, I have an over-active imagination.] Also, we travel for all our fancy holidays, so to re-iron the travel mashed clothing would require asking favors, finding a spot of time away from family, and probably rushing an already rushed morning and leaving my husband to fend for himself with all the kids. See? Ironing is complicated, even for holidays.
So I had to laugh at myself when I was finally ironing all these nice Sunday and dress up shirts from Little Man’s life … just in time for them to go to the consignment sale. Because of course I want someone else to skip home with one of these lovely shirts in a bag, dreaming of Christmas or Easter with a neatly pressed little boy in tow. And ironing makes them look worth at least the $3 price tag I put on them.
But how often do we do this? We “neatly press” our lives, our homes, our attitudes, and our manners, for strangers, but not for ourselves and our family.
My relationship with Christ and common decency tells me that my family is certainly worth my best efforts.
But I think that, like the Church, our domestic Churches must make room for our imperfections as well. It’s simply not sustainable for people on the path to sanctity to be perfect always. They will find a place where they may be weak. And if they cannot be weak within a loving home, they will be weak in places where that weakness may be taken advantage of to their detriment.
I want my children to be kind to each other. I want to be kind to them, especially as I direct their formation. I think it would be splendid if our home was spotless. But I don’t demand that they are perfect, just that they are trying to be good and learning to do better. And I’m slowly learning not to expect perfection of myself as well.
I ask that they forgive and ask for forgiveness, that they repair what’s broken and clean what’s spilled. I want the exuberance that comes with making scientific discoveries in the back yard, and I love the artistic masterpieces they create (even if I’m less than thrilled about the glitter and glue armageddon on the table that frames their newly finished portrait.)
I sometimes need to say, “Maybe later” or, “No thanks” to someone else’s idea of perfection in order to say, “Yes” to a deeper good–to charity, to enthusiasm, to creativity, to learning, to patience, to finding beauty in the midst of chaotic laughter and too-frequent tears. My home should not be a disordered bio hazard, but it need not look brand new or ready to sell at a moment’s notice. People live here!
As I think about Mother Teresa (now a Saint! as of this week), her simple words come to mind, “Do small things with great love.”
Today, that small thing might be properly preparing clothing for others who need them. This afternoon, that small thing might be soothing the baby, making dinner, and directing the clean up for the colored pencils that made it onto the floor yet again. But if I can do it with love, than I’m pursuing the type of perfection that I think Christ was talking about when He directed, “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
The Catechism explains it this way:
“All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness” (CCC #2013).
When I think of the world’s idea of being perfect, the phrases “fullness of life” and “perfection of charity” and “holiness” are not part of the picture. But those are words I’d love to describe the process of growth going on in my home. Christ is talking about a journey to a proper end, a telos. We’ll only experience full rest and perfection in heaven; everything here is cooperation in God’s creative work in our hearts and homes to bring us to that completion.
When you look at the complicated balance of order and beauty and growth and even brokenness in your own home, I hope that you will have the grace to see the end you’re aiming for and the great value of the journey to get there.