If there is one thing I hate doing, it’s cleaning my dog’s feet after it snows or rains. Our Lyla is a gorgeous mix of lab and golden retriever, and by her nature, she tends to do laps in our yard any chance she gets outside. Of course, in sloppy weather, this means we have to put in the extra effort to clean up the mud that’s accumulated between her four paws.
For me, it’s always an ordeal.
When I let her in, she never fails to shake about and run quickly into the house. I have to be swift about getting her to lie down, especially since we have a cream-colored rug right by our backyard door. Not only that, but when it’s really bad, I have to be ready with a towel and a warm cup of water–it’s the only way I can get her clean enough to not soil our carpet with dirt.
Needless to say, cleaning her paws is a task I have always bargained to get out of. (My husband, at my whining, usually takes on the dirty task much more graciously than I do.)
But look at her. Isn’t she gorgeous???
I was grumbling to myself today as I was cleaning her paws, and out of nowhere a prayer came straight to my mind: “Lord, When I am assigned the meanest tasks…I want to rejoice.” The words are part of a longer prayer I picked up from a book I read recently called, The Power of Silence. After being called back to this prayer, I realized that it is from the Litany of Humility. (The full prayer from the book which includes the part about the “meanest tasks” can be found here.) It’s not a prayer I’ve worked hard at praying, but it seems the Lord was reminding me of the importance of it.
When it comes to doing dirty jobs, I’m not exactly humble. I’d trade almost anything to get out of mud duties with our dog; I downright refuse to take out the trash until it’s literally overflowing on to the floor (another assignment I hope and pray my husband will tend to before I have to); and I absolutely hate cleaning up the residue on dirty pots and pans. I rarely get through tasks I find despicable without grumbling obscenities under my breath.
Wouldn’t most of us rather pass the buck to someone else when it comes to doing the things we find deplorable? (If it’s just me, judge ye not and read along anyways…)
The Litany of Humility is a great reminder of our calling to recognize the beauty and grace that can come when we accept the messiness of life with humility. When we say “yes ” to the things we we don’t want to do, we are slowly transformed into Christ-like beings.
Grumbling and mumbling is a natural reaction to tackling rank jobs, so it is definitely a high calling to rejoice in these sort of situations. A saintly calling, you might say.
I think of Saint Teresa of Lisieux, who actively chose to take on the harder tasks in life (such as draining the heavy steamed potatoes) out of love for her sisters and as an act of prayer. Saint John Paul the Great exemplified this as he traveled long, harrowing distances in snowy weather to make visits to families in his parish who were in desperate need of his presence. Saint Maximillian Kolbe most perfectly embodied this as he willingly handing over his life to starvation and death in place of another man’s life.
What these and other great saints had was a spirit of confidence in their faith: a faith that could not be shaken by the ugliest and meanest tasks of life. Instead, they understood that from the littlest to the most extreme examples, these “meanest tasks” could in fact be opportunities for transformation and love.
One of the biggest sins that humanity struggles with is pride. It is a vice that makes demands based in selfish wants and needs, and its a vice that shuts the door to God’s help, his opportunities for grace, and his calling to obedience. Pride is the vice that shouts, “It’s my right to complain when things don’t align with my wants!”
Trouble is, in pride, we close ourselves off to God’s grace, which transforms how we see things in life. Taking on tasks we hate with an attitude of love creates in us a humble disposition–one in which God can move and act through. When we take on these tasks with humility, we allow ourselves to be conformed to Christ, our humble Savior who did all things with love.
I’m not going to lie, I hesitated posting this one because not even one day after I started writing, I began noticing all the times I fail to do this in my own life. What’s more, I began noticing how much I fight against humbling myself in these small ways. I found myself right away scolding my dog again for being a muddy inconvenience; I yelled at my kids (for being kids) more times than I can count; and yet again, I continued stuffing the trash until it overflowed because I refused to take it out in the cold.
In all these ways I felt like I a big hypocrite. What authority do I have to speak on such matters?
I guess the only authority I have is my own experience, which in itself takes some humility to admit. When I do the things I hate with a sour attitude, I’m worse for the wear. When I willingly choose to do them out of love for God and for others, my heart truly rejoices because I know those little yeses have led me closer to Jesus.
Putting aside pride and getting down and dirty is never fun, and often times requires a whole lot of humility to accomplish that-which-I-don’t-want-to-do without complaint. But I think in that resolve to quit the griping and “just do it”–in the moments when we say yes to the meanest tasks, especially for the sake of a prayerful intention–God can transform those moments in to opportunities for great grace.
Though I don’t have to love the act of cleaning my dogs feet–or whatever else I find distasteful–I can utilize these moments that I hate for moments of love. I can offer up my sufferings, be they big or small, out of love for God and love for neighbor.