Sisyphus was a character in Greek mythology. He was punished after death to continually roll a boulder up a hill and as it neared the top it would roll back to the bottom of the hill and Sisyphus would need to try again. Life has been feeling a lot like that for me lately. It feels that as one completes a task it is not long before the boulder rolls back down to the bottom of the hill and I must begin again.
There are dishes to be washed even though you just had them all cleaned just a few hours ago. Toys have been strewn all over the floor even though you just picked them up or finally persuaded the kids to pick up after themselves. It’s often hard not to feel stuck in this routine forever with little escape. It’s too easy to feel that you have become Sisyphus and this routine you find yourself in is a punishment that never ends.
There are no shortage of people out there to confirm this feeling either. To be honest many who make us feel this way do not do it intentionally, but sometimes you get the feeling that the goal is to make you feel like our routines and our stability is a bad thing. Maybe not that it’s a punishment, but just you’re not living life in the fullest.
This can take different forms, as all things usually can. It can take the appearance of self-fulfillment. We aren’t living our lives to their fullest because we’re stuck in our boring lives. It’s the idea that the way to be happy and to be fulfilled is to be busy, well traveled, and always experiencing new things. In my experience people don’t necessarily come out and say this. It is more something that you feel as you see the accomplishments of friends or acquaintances, hear the tales of vacations and adventures of others.
This idea whispers that you are inferior. You’re stuck in your stability; washing your dishes, picking your kids up from pre-school, doing laundry, going to appointments. You may as well be pushing a rock up a hill and having it fall back down, because the routine never seems to end. Progress never seems to be made.
There are also more active ways to make you feel this way. The example that comes to mind is particular to certain Christian circles, but I imagine you can see this outside of those cases as well. That example is found in books like Radical by David Platt. This book presents the idea that you’re not living your life enough for Jesus, or whatever your cause may be. You need to take radical steps to get out of your “normal” life. No matter whether you think this book has the right approach or not, the exhortation to live a “radical” life seems to leave little place for the mundane or ordinary aspects of life.
You can also see this in a local church setting that seems to hold the idea that you need to be volunteering for or participating in some program of the church every night of the week. That is how you display your meaningful commitment to God. To be honest this approach just sounds like pushing a different type of rock up a hill and being expected to repeat.
Now in all this you might be saying that these types of things aren’t necessarily bad. You’re right, they aren’t. We can sometimes fall into a rut and not be very engaged in our life. We go into auto-pilot and just coast through our familiar routine. Sometimes we do need a jolt out of that complacency, whether that jolt comes from hearing about or seeing the experiences of others or in a more direct manner. Yet, at the same time I feel that the routine and the mundane are often looked down on a bit too much.
The mundane and the routine are typically things that need to be done. The bad thing is that they’re often only noticed when you don’t do them. When you are faithful to them, they are not often noticed. People don’t take too much notice of you for remembering to do the dishes or the laundry regularly. It will not grant you fame or fortune, but you will have clean dishes and clean clothes, which are quite nice to have.
When thinking of the mundane, my thoughts often drift to Brother Lawrence. He was a lay brother of a Carmelite Monastery in France during the 1600s who is best known by the compilation of his writings in the book Practicing the Presence of God. Why he typically comes to mind is because he had thoughts about the mundane and how it related to serving God. Lawrence was assigned to kitchen duty in the monastery and while to some that would have been a punishment fit for Sisyphus, he devoted himself to making even the mundane elements of life in that kitchen worshipful.
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time feeling that the mundane elements of life are worshipful or are too meaningful. It seems more meaningful to travel the world, start a business, plant a church, publish a book, or any of the these things. Despite that often being my initial feeling, I just can’t shake the idea that the mundane has meaning and value.
If this is true then the boring routines and schedules we sometimes find ourselves in aren’t necessarily a torture in the vein of Sisyphus, but may actually do more good than we realize. That’s not to say that we don’t sometimes fall into ruts, but simply that we often undervalue the everyday and perhaps overvalue the more exciting aspects of our life. The thing I’m trying to say is that both are important in their own ways.
Now saying all this doesn’t mean you’ll start to enjoy doing dishes or laundry (I can’t say I really enjoy either of these, but it’s not like I hate them either). It just means that it has worth.
Even when it feels like it is never ending, it has value.
Even when it feels so insignificant next to things other people seem to be doing or trying to get you to do, it serves a purpose.
Even when it seems like the only time it is noticed is when it doesn’t get done, it is still important.
I don’t want to make this seem like this is all just an easy thing or over-glorify the mundane. The everyday grind feels like a struggle sometimes. It feels like you’re trapped in a never ending cycle. However, my thoughts here are just to say, mostly to myself honestly, that it still does have worth. It’s not really comparable to continually rolling a rock up a hill. Life is progressing as you do these things, even if it may not seem like it. The trick is finding the value in the mundane alongside of the aspects of life that seem more exciting and remarkable.