Quantifying the mundane
Last night my husband and I crawled into bed at 1:30, anticipating a few things for the morning: sore muscles, a smashed television, and a sense of pride. We laughed at how our life has changed since becoming homeowners and parents—we are never up that late anymore, and when we are, it’s not like it used to be when we had no cares in the world and didn’t mind an early morning because after work, we could just crash on the couch in each other’s arms. Now my work starts at 8a when my babies are ready to get up, and it doesn’t stop until 7:30p when they’re ready to go back to bed.
Two of our three expectations were met this morning: sore muscles and a sense of pride. Thankfully, we haven’t experienced the horror of the sound of a tv falling off the wall; as we were hanging it last night, I jokingly asked my husband if he were high. Here in Colorado, we have commercials that remind us all that while it’s now legal to smoke marijuana, it’s not legal to drive after we’ve done so. One ad shows a man whose television has come crashing to the floor—it’s legal to smoke pot and then hang your tv, but it’s not legal to drive high to get a new one.
No, my husband was not high. And we were too exhausted to experience much excitement after the 2-hour process of hanging that Vizio on a lath-and-plaster wall in our home that is 87 years old. And actually, hanging that television was one of the most stressful things my husband and I have ever done together in our 8 years of marriage. Holy cow.
But hanging the tv was the icing on the cake—we have spent hours repainting that room. It used to serve as our church’s praise team’s rehearsal/storage space, but with the addition of a studio in Westside’s new office, we have this little room back. It’s an inglenook, and I love it. So we borrowed a ladder, bought some paint, and I spent stolen hours here and there painting the beams on the ceiling. Then this weekend, we painted the ceiling and the walls. And mounted the tv.
Juggling a 3-year old and a 1-year old while trying to do this project was almost impossible. At least it felt that way. And when it was done, I took a quick picture and uploaded it to Instagram. LOOK! I wanted to shout. LOOK WHAT WE DID!! DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT WAS TO DO THIS?! And then I wanted to list all the challenges: babies, sick babies, 12-foot ceilings, vertigo, limited time, having to move the stinkin ladder every three feet, etc. As I was posting (thought not screaming my frustrations for my followers), I recalled an article in the Winter 2015 edition of Mockingbird that addressed exactly what I was doing. In “Optimization Nation”, David Zahl says, “Even the most mundane task can, when quantified, become a venue for comparison. That’s the allure of all this previously unknown information, after all—to chart ourselves (and others) to find out how we’re doing, whether we are improving or getting worse” (10).
So true. Here I am shouting my accomplishment to the world, and while the world may not care, I have at least graphed my work for my own sense of satisfaction. But to what end and at what cost? What standard am I setting for myself when even my most mundane tasks are under the threat of being measured and then, if not compared to my neighbor’s tasks, at least compared to my last mundane chore to see if it measures up.
But measures up to what? What am I telling myself when I quantify mundane tasks, when I tweet or IG or FB my every chore, meal, mood, or milestone? What pressure does this create for myself? What performance-based standard does quantifying the mundane create?
If only this were a Voscampian method of being grateful and counting my blessings…but I know it’s not. I see that sometimes, I am just so excited about finally finishing painting our inglenook. And that’s okay. But sometimes, I am looking for validation in the keeping track of the little things I do because sometimes I feel overlooked and unnoticed. I live a quiet life in our quiet bungalow and I wonder if anyone sees me or wants to know me. And oh, my heart yearns to be known! I want to be recognized and delighted in. So I try really hard. I try really hard to convince everyone around me that I am worthy of their love and pursuit. That I would be a really neato friend.
I try to convince God of that, too. I miss the old days when I believed—trusted—his love for me. When I didn’t have doubts creeping in all the corners and cracks. Maybe if he could just see how hard I work or how much I endure or how clever I am…Maybe if he followed me on IG and saw my sweet house and beautiful children…
Typing it out weakens my resolve. I don’t really believe that God’s noticing my inglenook will catch his attention. I know that there is nothing I can do to catch his attention. Because I already have it—unwavering, uninterrupted love. Furious love. Love that can’t be quantified even knowing the sacrifice he made.
I am comforted and encouraged by Zahl’s conclusion:
What we learn is what we never quite learn, the message that is as bottomless as our need for it: God does not relate to us on the basis of how well we stack up…but on the largeness of his generosity, the gift of his Son, who ‘by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.’ (19)