Because St. Francis de Sales Can Help Me Do Laundry

This is not our laundry room. Our most unlovely laundry room is in our cellar.

Of all the aspects of being a mother that I cherish, laundry isn’t one of them. My patient, loving husband washes and dries nearly all the family laundry. The laundry I then fold makes it into baskets that I carry to the first-floor family room, or, if I am feeling particularly ambitious, to the second-floor hallway. We generally pull clean clothes from the piles in the baskets. Obviously, I am a lazy laundress. But over this Mother’s Day weekend,  reading St. Francis de Sales gave me a burst of inspiration.

Something about laundry slays me. It never ends, does it? My family keeps wearing clothes and needing clean clothes. Even though our family is small, the laundry never ever really ends. Five years ago, in anticipation of a visit by the Dalai Lama to Rutgers University, a group of Tibetan monks spent four days at the Zimmerli Art Museum, constructing a beautiful mandala. Then, shortly after completing the mandala they destroyed it in a public ceremony designed to be “a metaphor of life’s fleeting quality.” My friend Jane, who is raising four daughters, shook her head when I told her about the ceremony. She told me anyone who wants to understand the transience of life should do laundry. Here is a video of another such mandala-destruction ceremony. This is how I feel when I consider how quickly clean clothes become dirty laundry. 

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I am embarrassed by my lazy laundering. God has blessed me with a husband and sons, and, in addition to loving them, which I do with all my heart, my job is to take care of them. As tedious as laundry is, I know I should do it. Nothing says love like freshly washed and folded clothes in a dresser drawer. Many devout Catholic Christian women cite Titus 2 for their model of motherhood. So I checked it out. No surprise: I came up short.

Here’s what Titus says: Older women (Are they talking about me? I am 47.) should be reverent in their behavior (yes), not slanderers (working on that), not addicted to drink (check),  teaching what is good (check), so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children (I am not sure what kind of trainer I would be, but I do love my husband and children), to be self-controlled (my figure suggests otherwise), chaste, (always), good homemakers (ouch), under the control of their husbands (ummm), so that the word of God may not be discredited.”

Boy, oh boy. I need an intervention. And who better to turn to than St. Francis de Sales, the son of French aristocrats who taught that everyone, regardless of job or position, can lead a devout life? This 16th-century Doctor of the Church detailed this view in his work Introduction to the Devout Life, which I pulled off the YIM Catholic bookshelf and devoured this weekend.

St. Francis de Sales compares each of our vocations to a precious stone. When cast in the honey of devotion, each stone becomes more brilliant “each one according to its colour.” And “all persons become more acceptable in their vocation when they join devotion to it.” It occurred to me that one of the things I loathe about laundry is that, unlike cooking or even cleaning, I don’t feel I can put my stamp of individuality on it. In other words, I am so vain that I struggle to offer this gift to my family because it doesn’t please me enough to do it. What is the answer?

“In all your affairs rely wholly on the providence of God, through which alone any of your undertakings can succeed; labor, nevertheless, quietly on your part to cooperate with it….Do as the little children do; little children who with one hand hold fast by their father and with the other gather strawberries or blackberries along the hedges; do you while gathering and managing the goods of this world with one hand with the other always hold fast the hand of your heavenly Father, turning to Him from time to time to see if your actions or occupations are pleasing to Him; but take heed, above all things, that you never let go of his Hand.”

This led me to consider that I should see this otherwise tedious time amid the laundry as an opportunity for prayer. Once again, St. Francis de Sales provides instruction. First, he says, we have to pray in the presence of God. How do we do this? St. Francis de Sales offers four suggestions.

1. Realize that God is in your heart. He is not “out there;” He called us into being. He is in our very being.

2. Imagine how God beholds us from above. Because He does. He particularly beholds us when we are praying. How comforting to consider that God’s loving gaze is on us throughout the day.

3. Understand that Jesus Christ is at hand, right by our side, just as a friend would be.

And this suggestion of St. Francis de Sales I place last because I want to write it on my heart—

4. Cultivate “a lively and attentive apprehension of the Omnipresence of God, that is, that God is in all things and in every place and that there is neither place nor thing in the world in which He is not by a most true presence; so it is that the birds, where ever they fly, always meet with the air, so we, where ever we go or where ever we are, find God present.” Even in the laundry room. 

  • Julie Cragon

    Oddly enough I have been working in the laundry room half the morning making space for 2 more piles of clothes for my returning college girls. I too struggle with the chore and truly needed to read this post. Great timing.


    I just returned from a half-day mother's retreat where the young priest quoted from St. Francis De Sales "Interior Life" about the ever-present God being like that bird who instinctively knows that when he flies, the air will surround him and support him. The challenge was for us to deepen our prayer life so that we as mothers could live out our vocation with a deep sense of God's presence. Regarding MY laundry situation: I have seven baskets in various stages of clean, dirty, folded, colors, white — well you get the picture. We aim to begin our week with all the baskets in the master bedroom containing clean, folded clothing. As I lie my head down at night I am always sure to whisper a prayer of gratitude to God for Catholic Schools. Were I to have written this post I believe it would have been entitled "Because of Catholic School Uniforms…" :)

  • Sandy C.

    Elisabeth Elliot (Thomas Howard's well known Protestant sister) often tells the story of Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India who founded an orphanage. This part always sticks with me:"But think of this. From going around as an itinerant evangelist and seeing people who had never heard the Gospel believe the Gospel and become Christians, she went from that rewarding kind of work and the sort of work about which you can write prayer letters back home–she went to cutting, as she said, thousands of tiny toenails and fingernails, and fixing baby bottles by the hundreds, and walking the floor with sick or dying babies. And washing diapers."Here's a link to an entire radio broadcast transcript of EE's about Carmichael: of tiny toenails…laundry…cleaning (my most dreaded household chore). Now I will remember your illustration from St. Francis de Sales of holding fast to God's hand while doing these things.Thanks!

  • lily

    What a great post! This reminds me of when I had my first daughter, in a tiny apartment, with no dishwasher. Morning, noon and night (basically after every meal) I hand washed dishes, pots, pans, even bottles and nipples. It became one of my most hated jobs, until…I read Thomas Merton and took to heart his example of the monastic way of praying through our work. Every sinkful of dishes became a prayer offered up to God, and I found myself actually beginning to enjoy it. Laundry, dishes, diapers–all those motherly chores–done with commitment and without complaint can be another way of bringing about the Kingdom of God.

  • cathyf

    If this gets out, it will ruin my reputation, but I actually enjoy laundry. I have 12 sorting bins in the basement next to the washer, and we have too many clothes, so I do laundry about every 3 weeks marathon-mom style. I do a lot of my best praying doing laundry. Somehow it occupies the "monkey brain" part of my head, and leaves me more recollected.

  • Shannon

    You might add "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence to your reading and meditation pile.