By Joan Bay Klope
I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before.
But it’s true — hard work pays off.
If you want to be good, you have to
practice, practice, practice.
I was well into my teen years when my mother revealed a great truth, although it took a number of years before I was willing to admit her wisdom. While the exact circumstances escape me, I distinctly recall my mom informing me that “Much of life is predictable, somewhat boring and very routine. Accept this truth and manage your life appropriately, and you’ll be a better person.”
My seventh-grade home economics teacher said much the same thing, almost daily as I recall. Only she phrased it like this: “That’s life. Just do what you’ve gotta do.” She repeated this monotonous phrase toward the end of every class period when it was time to clean up our cooking or sewing projects. I vowed never to use this snippy phrase and I have kept that promise. However Mom, my teacher, and best-selling writer Ray Bradbury are exactly right: Working hard, however routine, pays off. You’ll be good at something and be a better person.
I imagine my mother’s pronouncement was made sometime during a Saturday morning as I stood in my bathroom with a sponge in hand. You see, we cleaned every Saturday morning and I was tasked to scrub the bathrooms. When one cleans on a regular basis jobs are rarely big, but I imagine that bit of wisdom was lost on me as I had a social life to attend to. I was a young teen and mourned the fact that there was nobody to come up behind me and take care of my messes. I am equally sure that I viewed my weekly job as insurmountable, terribly unfair, and downright tortuous. After all, I was certain that none of the other kids had moms who expected such cleanliness. And it was the most boring task on the planet.
Mom’s practical acceptance of what I now view as a simple, yet wonderful truth annoyed me. I am certain that I made some kind of heartfelt pledge that my life would be a thrill a minute and I would find a way to never do anything as acceptably routine.
I thought about this long ago moment of bathroom angst this week as I looked at my household files and realized it was about time to clean them out. Organizing for a new year and gathering information for tax preparation is essential but horrifically boring for me. I set a date on my calendar for the task and thought of ways to make the job less tedious. I’d play music and reward myself when the task was done.
You’d think I would not give such power to thoughts like these, but preparing to do something I do not enjoy can be extremely difficult, even if I repeat the task year in and year out. Some tasks may never be fun and it may be difficult to begin them, each and every time. I’ll have to fight the temptation to procrastinate.
Miss Doty would have something to say about that: “That’s life. Do what you’ve gotta do!”
Ah, some wisdom is creeping into our thinking, is it not? The sweet truth that lies under the stark reality of life’s routines is this: Routines can either undo us or help us to develop character, courage and commitment. They can help us to become good.
May I be the first to admit that rarely can I face monotonous tasks alone. I must invariably ask for God’s blessing, for facing a boring task is the first hurdle. Doing it well, over and over again, is the second.
If you think I am overstating my case, consider the amount of time we all waste — procrastinating at best, avoiding at worst, those things in our lives that routinely demand our attention and care. Consider the huge numbers of people around us who refuse to live responsibly because they can’t push themselves to take on the tedium. Consider those among us who self-medicate, accept avoidable addictions, or abandon obligations altogether because daily activities are no longer perceived as fun. Or enticing. Or stimulating.
In days we face a new year. New hopes. New challenges, as well as old ones. Let’s let go of complicated resolutions and simply ask God to place in our hearts the desire to push through the monotonous. May the practice of facing the routine matters in our lives create worthy character in us and allow time and energy to anticipate a new dream and adventure for 2008.