Finding rest in everyday chores (and a watermelon salad recipe)

This past Sunday, I gave a short reflection at our church about the ways I find spiritual rest in everyday chores…and I made a watermelon salad at the same time. It was fun and I succeeded in not slicing my finger while talking to my church family. Since I pretty much write my talks verbatim, I thought it might be useful to put my notes up here. There’s no video of me making the watermelon salad — you’ll just have to imagine that part. But I’ll add the recipe at the end so you can make it yourself!

Making watermelon salad while speaking at church.

Finding Rest in Everyday Chores

Originally presented at Grace Evangelical Covenant Church, July 27, 2014.

Hi. My name is Ann Boyd, and today we’re going to talk about finding Sabbath in everyday chores. And…I thought it might be fun to make a watermelon salad along the way. This is my favorite watermelon salad — very simple, just with lime juice and a little mint. But before we get too much into the salad, let me first give you a little personal background.

I’m married to Jon and we have two wonderful daughters, Lucy and Rosie (ages 8 & 6). We’re a homeschooling family, which is fun for us right now. Professionally, I am on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, serving graduate students and faculty, specifically as the managing editor for The Well, a website for women in graduate school and beyond. And let me take this opportunity as a missionary sent out by Grace to say: thank you so much for your support! It is a joy to be part of a church that cares about ministry to the university.

But back to my life. Practically, there are two dynamics that happen at home:

  1. Because we homeschool and I work from home, I have the wonderful gift of being able to structure how to use my time to best accomplish my goals, and
  2. I can get easily overwhelmed with all the tasks on my list and the permeable boundaries of work, school, and life at our house.

So, I think often about the passage in Luke 10:38-42 about Mary & Martha passage. [This text was read Lectio-Divina -style during our worship service. You can read it here.] I think about Martha when I need to decide between publishing an article for work, helping the girls with their piano practice, or getting started on dinner. I think about Jesus saying, “You are worried about many things, but there is only one thing that is needed.” I think about her when I make my to-do lists in the mornings and when I plan our weekly goals. I think about how full and fun life is, but how I need to restrain myself from scheduling every moment so that we can enjoy spontaneity — so we can sit at Jesus’s feet when he stops by for dinner. (Which, really, is every night.)

We’ve been experimenting with new ways to keep the Sabbath on Sundays, and I’ve been learning a lot about the benefits of having a slow pace. I love Dallas Willard’s advice to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” but it is not easy to do. The work needs to be done: there is dinner to cook, math to study, colleagues to talk with, and once you’re in the middle of those things, you notice the dust bunny hiding in a corner. This brings me back to Martha and Mary. Is it possible to do work and sit at Jesus’s feet at the same time? Can I focus on one thing, and through that, experience the peace of Christ? (And while we’re asking questions…Can I make a watermelon salad and talk to my church family simultaneously?)

I’ve been practicing this, but I’ll be honest — I’m not very good at this. I feel like I can find this peace-with-God-and-laundry about a third of the time. But I keep trying, and I have found a few tricks (there are seven of them) to help me find Sabbath particularly while preparing food — although I’ll try to help us think about them a bit more broadly as well.

And let me say — I don’t do all of this all the time. I’m the first one to break all of these rules. I should probably post them in our kitchen. But when I do them, I almost always enjoy the experience more.

Tricks for Finding Rest in Everyday Chores, Especially Cooking

  • Dress consciously for the task. I like to wear an apron. When I do this, I am ready to focus on cooking. I am dressed for the task, and so I am less likely to get distracted by the ping of an email. Similarly, it might help to put on some gardening gloves if you’re going to go out weeding.
  • Pour something to drink. Sometimes it’s a glass of wine, but usually it’s a tall glass of water. It’s just a little thing, but it is a way to take care of yourself. If your chore is paying the bills on a Saturday morning, maybe you’d like a cup of coffee.
  • Listen to something enjoyable. Sometimes, I need to think about my day and do some processing. When I’m in that kind of mood, music is best. But more often, I’m ready for some nourishing input. I find great pleasure in listening to stories while I chop onions and garlic, I think Jesus likes it too. It certainly helps me to relax. My favorite way is to talk with someone — like Jon Boyd! My second favorite way is to listen to a podcast or an audiobook. Sometimes the story gets interrupted. That’s okay.
  • Set the table. If the cooking is not immediately related to the next mealtime, I skip this part. But if I’m hoping to serve dinner to hungry family members within the next half hour, I find it really helpful to set the table (or ask them to set it) before I start cooking. It sets the scene and helps me to believe that dinner really will happen, even if I haven’t begun yet at all. It’s really establishing a vision of the goal. Also, I like to pour glasses of water for everyone, as it is so depressing to sit down to eat and realize that no one has anything to drink.
  • Make space for the work and prepare the tools. Sometimes I need to do a few dishes before I begin, but this is a good investment. I don’t like to chop vegetables in a cramped space — that is not restful. In the same way, before mowing the lawn, you might want to pick up any stray sticks. I also try to remember to sharpen my knife. It is much easier to work with sharpened tools.
  • Prep the ingredients. There is a French term for this — mise en place. It basically means to get all of the food chopped and ready in little bowls before you need it, like you’re in a cooking show. I don’t always have time to do this for every food, but I like to do it with at least a few ingredients. Getting the onions and garlic chopped before heating the pan definitely reduces the chance that I’ll burn them — plus, it reduces the sense of hurry. I once heard someone advise a cook to “treat each food individually.” If I need to slice, say, half a watermelon, it is going to take some time, so I might as well enjoy it. Take a deep breath. Slice each watermelon slice individually, and delight in the growing mountain of beautiful red watermelon cubes. I try not to despair when I look at the pile of work to be done, just relax and listen to the story or music. A person could also think about this when weeding the garden — just concentrate on one weed at a time.
  • Use your senses. Smell the lime as you’re zesting it. When making a salad, notice if it needs a little extra color or a little extra richness. Taste the food as you cook. It might need a little salt, or a squeeze of lemon for acidity, or maybe a pinch of sugar if it is too acidic. And when it is time to eat, eat intentionally, with delight. I try to remember to give thanks to God and pay attention to what I’m consuming. I pay attention to those with me, whether it is the spirit of Jesus or him plus my family members.

We are made in the image of God, and part of the way we reflect that is by creating. I believe that preparing meals is a creative process, whether you’re roasting a chicken or baking a frozen pizza. Either way, you are orchestrating an event, and it is up to you how elaborate or casual you want it to be. Other household chores are a reflection of the way God brings order out of chaos — taking out the trash, dusting, folding laundry. And if I can do these tasks slowly while savoring the process, I almost always find this to be an experience of closeness with God when I reflect at the end of the day.

The Tips

I did, in fact, go home and post my tips on the inside of a cabinet door. We’ll see if they help me remember them! Here is my handy-dandy list, if you would like to print one as well.

  • Wear an apron.
  • Pour something to drink.
  • Listen to something enjoyable.
  • Set the table. Pour water glasses.
  • Clear the space.
  • Sharpen the knife
  • Prep the ingredients. Chop onions and garlic early.
  • Treat each food individually.
  • Use your senses. Taste the food for seasoning.

Watermelon Salad with Lime and Mint

This is so simple it is really a non-recipe. But it is delicious and perfect for summer!

Take one whole seedless watermelon. Slice it into small cubes or scoop into balls with a melon baller. Place the watermelon in a large bowl. Zest two or three limes over the melon and toss. Squeeze the juice of one or two limes on it and toss; taste and add more lime juice if desired. Chop a handful of fresh mint and toss with the limey melon mixture. Spoon into bowls and enjoy.

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