Every day at roughly 5:00 p.m., I set the table for dinner.
Some days I slowly and thoughtfully place plates and forks and cups in front of each chair. Other days I scramble to see how quickly I can chuck glassware without breaking it because our children are “hangry.”
Setting the table leads to eating a meal served on our dishes, which eventually leads to clearing the table and washing the dishes, which eventually leads to putting the dishes back in the cupboard so that they are ready for tomorrow.
Taken out of context, this daily habit might look like just another spoke in a hamster wheel of meaningless chores instead of a way to live out my faith. And a decade ago, I probably would have agreed with that interpretation. I thought that if I wanted to act justly and love mercy, then my only option was to humbly walk onto an airplane and go to places like Uganda and Guatemala.
So, I did just that. I volunteered and I taught first grade. I got uncomfortable by hugging other people’s kids and by branching out from my steady diet of spaghetti and pancakes. My faith was stretched, and it was easy to feel like I was heeding Christ’s call to radically love those abandoned on the fringes.
There were times when my humble walk became full of pride, too. I thought smugly of the millions of Christians who stayed home doing the dishes: Can one even live out their faith if they are not in a foreign country embracing orphans?
But, pride always precedes falling flat on one’s face, which is what becoming a stay-at-home mom to my own kid was like at times. Life felt a lot less “missiony” compared to the work I did as a volunteer and a teacher. I was drowning in diapers and baby vomit and postpartum depression. People asked what I did during the day with “all of my time,” and I tried to think of something cooler to say than “I mastered the perfect swaddle.” By the time 5:00 p.m. rolled around, the very last thing I felt like doing was setting the table with plates and forks and cups.
For years, I asked myself variations of the same judgemental question as the years before, but this time with quivering lips and thick layers of anxiety: Can I even live out my faith if I’m not in a foreign country embracing orphans? How can I act justly and love mercy if I’m stuck at home setting the table and doing the dishes?!
I was completely blinded to the purpose behind raising tiny children, yes. My quest to live out my faith became misguided as I sought after a label more than I sought Christ, yes. But, motherhood did not change Christ’s invitation to deny my natural inclination toward comfort, nor did it change His heart for justice and mercy on behalf of those abandoned on the fringes. I needed help understanding how this radical calling could be lived out in our family’s ordinary, everyday life.
Although I grappled with this for a long time, I was blessed to discover a quote by Shane Claiborne taped above the kitchen sink at our church. It read, “Everyone wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes. Start a revolution and do the dishes.”
Claiborne’s words admonished me for getting so caught up in the ideals that I had neglected the daily baby steps required to walk toward these ideals. I was passionate about being part of God’s redemptive work while also exhausting myself as I ignored how this calling meshes with the realities of my day-to-day life.
Since then, I’ve been trying to focus more closely on the dishes.
Every night I set the table with at least four plates and cups and forks, because our family needs to eat. On Wednesdays, I set the table with up to eighteen plates and cups and forks for friends from church, Little Brother mentees, and a neighbor. And other nights I start with four and then add a couple sets of dishware, like the night I found the neighbor kids digging in the dumpster behind our house for bread.
After every dinner, everyone helps to clear and wash the dishes, and then we put them away in the cupboard for the next day.
This daily habit is much less glamorous than photos of justice one might find on the internet. Sometimes it feels unseen and immeasurable compared to the problems our world faces. But these dishes have also led us to sharing our spare bedroom for a couple weeks, which led us to being in close proximity with the working poor, which led us to better understand the housing crisis in our city.
The invitation for Christians to deny ourselves and humbly follow Christ is revolutionary. It should shake us awake when we’ve become too drowsy in our pews, and fire up whatever has become tasteless and lukewarm in our hearts. It should stretch us to love outside our own bloodlines in ways that don’t make sense in our self-centered, bloodthirsty world.
But, this invitation doesn’t mean neglecting the daily habits that God presents as opportunities to live out our faith. We can find deep contentment in our ordinary lives, and we can also seek opportunities to radically welcome others in.
I bet all of us can think of someone abandoned on the fringes of our neighborhoods—be it the physically, spiritually, or relationally poor. Maybe it’s time to set out a plate and cup and fork for them at our tables. We have so much to learn from each other as we soak up the richness of Christ’s grace and the gift of His hope.
And then after supper, we can all help clear the table and do the dishes. Who knows, maybe it will start a revolution.