Adam sloshes the rag around the sink, holding a corner with two fingers, dragging the cloth by the neck like some vile, unwanted thing. He tried to convince me we did not have to do this. “Already clean the bathroom,” he said, and on the floor, I could see an antibacterial wipe that missed the trash can, some evidence that he had quickly swiped and tossed and considered the task done. But some days call for a quick clean, and others—at least once a week, I’m trying to teach him–call for deeper cleaning. And the slower process is always the one my son would like to skip. In truth, it was ill luck of the draw that he pulled his least favorite chore from the jar this month. He hates cleaning bathrooms.
“You need to slow down,” I tell him, standing at his elbow. “It’s like this, Adam: When you go too quickly, you miss things—see, right there?” I point to a trail of wet dust, flecking the creamy countertop. “—and then you have to do it again.” I say this because again must be Adam’s least favorite word, the closest thing he understands to a curse. No one wants to experience repeated tortures, and yet how many of us learn difficult lessons the first time? Adam has this particular job the entire month, and so we will repeat the exercise a total of fifteen times, not including do-overs.
“But, if you slow down and work carefully,” I say, continuing, “you’ll do a good job the first time. And you must do a good job.” Adam thinks I’m teaching him how to clean the bathroom, but really, I’m teaching him how to be deliberate. The real lesson rests deeper, shoring up the foundation of things. Yes, I want him to know the routine, but even more, I want him to learn patience, and for Adam, as for all of us, that lesson is a painful one.
“Good job,” he says, grasping the cloth with a bit more commitment. Yes, let’s do that. Once. Adam begins to imitate slow, expressing the adjective with his entire body, not just the glide of rag into the dip of sink and rise of countertop, but with his shoulders, his head, his breathing, as though he oozes. Working carefully isn’t natural for him; it takes a complete investment. I chuckle, recalling the early morning, the way my muscles seared and screamed as I carefully arranged my body into yoga poses, adjusting and readjusting the angle of my feet and arms, the twist of my hips. Riley walked by and observed with a sigh, “I think Mom Jones isn’t very flexible,” which made me laugh out loud and lose my balance altogether. I’ve only just returned to the practice as part of my exercise regimen, and although I can tell every aching workout makes me stronger, I’m still relearning the easiest postures. So I’m the participant who “stays right there,” while the more advanced participants on the screen shift into something far more complicated, which is usually when Riley comments, “Looks like Mom Jones can’t do that one yet.” Indeed. For a while, I had a love/hate relationship with yoga. I hated it while my muscles were burning, but I loved it at the end, because instantly I felt better. I have found though that the longer I do it, the more I love even the painful middle, because I can see the difference the training makes in me over time. So considering it joy to face difficulty really does seem to be about recognizing that over time, our hardships actually do help us grow (James 1:2-4).
For Adam, I’m sure this bathroom cleaning thing feels much the same as yoga did for me at first—trying, adjusting, trying again, and never quite successfully mastering the poses. It takes time, and I’m okay with that, but I’m not sure he is. Yet. Growing is a process, and one that often feels very unpleasant in practice. As God says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who are trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).” One day, not only will Adam know how to clean a bathroom, he’ll know how to work deliberately and carefully when he should. What’s more, I hope that one day my son will have the ability and the maturity also to see that within the one seemingly unpleasant lesson rest several other more lasting and even more treasured ones. I have to admit, though, that sometimes it still takes me quite a while to recognize that same truth in the things God teaches me. I work through a disagreement with a friend and miss for days that while we’re hurting and learning to get along we’re also developing stronger friendship and more consistent love, sensitivity and mercifulness, faithfulness and endurance.
Adam squeezes the cloth in the sink and looks at me.
“Okay, what’s next?” I ask him.
“Clean the mirrors,” he says.
Adam lifts the Windex, carefully holding the bottle away from the surface, like I showed him. “1…2…3.” He counts as he sprays, something I added just because Adam likes numbers. Then he picks up a paper towel and wads it in a ball—not something I taught him, and drags it madly through the cleaner as though scribbling over a mistake, until the mirror looks cloudy–worse, really, than before the cleaning.
Slowly I pull another paper towel from the roll. “Remember what I said, Adam? You have to slow down. Carefully wipe the mirror until it’s dry.”
“Yes,” he says, lifting the Windex again. And then he looks back at me and smiles, counting out loud, “1…2…3.”