Ordinary Work: Sarah Bessey

I simply get to work on ordinary things.

This is all I know to do when I don’t know what to do.

We go for a walk in the morning’s cold. We pay attention to the snow dusting the tops of the mountains to the north and to the east of us: look at that, we say, isn’t it beautiful? We pass a bit of time with neighbours as we run into them. We can see our breath and our ears are cold so we turn for home sooner than we planned. We listen to music and we draw pictures.

I make a plan for the week’s meals and then a list for the grocery store, carefully grouping each item by section. I load up two of the tinies and we go to the store, pushing the cart up and down aisles, piling in an abundance of food for the weeks ahead. We negotiate in the aisles over bags of chips and lunch meat. We drive home and unload the groceries, organizing and prepping.

Then I put the baby on my back in the baby carrier, I get out the vacuum, and I drag it over the floor, sucking up every crumb and a few stray Lego pieces. The tinies go outside to putter in the yard with their dad, digging in the dirt and pulling up logs and filling old sand buckets with worms. I move around our house, picking things up and putting them back where they belong: socks, books, more Lego pieces, permission slips, empty cups, inside-out shirts, toys, shoes, soothers. One after another, everything is restored to its place and order slowly returns to this house. The sun is sinking earlier and earlier with each passing day: today, I turn the lamps on at 4 o’clock. I get supper started and then yell at everyone about tracking in all that yard dirt on my clean floors. The sky is pitch dark by the time we sit down to eat as a family, just a regular old meal of burgers and oven french fries.

After supper, I dance the baby around the kitchen while the girls dance in the living room. We’re spinning to Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift because I’m never above happy-pop music and yet I feel like crying. We measure them up against the wall, they’re growing by leaps and bounds now, I’ll never be able to keep them in jeans. There is a bin of broken crayons in the basement and there are clean sheets on the beds, everyone has been scrubbed and I’ve clipped forty fingernails plus forty toenails. The hockey game is on mute and now I’ve got the baby down for her first shift of sleep so the rest of them get out their books and they read by the lamplight.

I don’t know what to pray and I don’t really know what to do.

The world seems like it’s crashing around us, from all four corners of the world and right next door, too. We are afraid and we don’t know what to do so we are reading the news and watching the news and we are pontificating on Facebook and we are writing letters or emails and we are getting mad at each other for all the ways we’re all doing it wrong.

I don’t know what to do.

I’m lighting candles now. It seems a bit silly.

I show up here with intention and I try to notice my own life a bit more, I consecrate the ordinary work. I figure that if the world is being desecrated the least we can do is try to notice all of the sacredness that remains still around us and in us.

So I notice things like the old-man pine trees with their stooped and swayed boughs, I notice the pink streaks of the sunset, I laugh at the lame jokes my tinies tell me, and I put away the phone while I nurse the baby in order to look at her quiet face. I stop my husband to thank him for how hard he works and I hold on just a bit longer when he wraps his arms around me: stay with me, I say, just for another minute, I love to be here with you.

I am not that powerful and I’m certainly not important. I feel like there isn’t much I can do about the fact that the world seems to be ending every Saturday night. I write letters to politicians with my suggestions for improvement. I send money to people who seem like they know what they’re doing. I read a lot.

And I pray. I pray while I work.

That’s what my ordinary work has become for me, an embodied prayer, a way of holding space for all that is broken while my hands work towards creating a bit of cleanliness, a bit of order, a bit of beauty around me.

I feed people, I clean, I walk, I gather people, I sing, and the whole time a corner of my soul is crying out to God in braided grief and hope and longing: strengthen us, embolden us, light our hearts on fire, show us we belong to each other, break down the barriers between us, give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand.

I call down fire and love and justice and peace like falling stars and I pray for the courage to crack open my own life to receive their burning clarity.

What the Church Could Learn From the New Canadian Cabinet
Christmas Gift Guide to Empower Women
thank you for sharing...
  • Pin this page31
  • 2796
  • Jenivere

    And you write: beautiful, prophetic lyric. Which aids in the spread of beauty and peace and Light in this present darkness.

  • Love this. Have you read Kathleen Norris’ lecture, The Quotidian Mysteries? A slim, important volume. I feel like this is Norris again for all of us 21st century women. With a good dash of Andrew Peterson. Thank you, Sarah.

    • One of my favourite books of all time so this is a meaningful to hear! Thank you.

  • Christine Gough

    Oh, Sarah. Thank you. I feel like you described my work too. With a large dose of barking and yelling today. Sometimes the emotions and questions just spill over into the wrong response taken out on the wrong people. Thank you for your reminders to pray in the work. Use the daily work as prayer.

  • Gina

    “…ordinary things. This is all I know to do when I don’t know what to do.” As a single, those ordinary things look a little different, for sure, but the sentiment is the same. How can I possibly know what to do when I have grown up in my safe Canadian bubble? War like this was always part of my grandparents’ generation, what do I do now that it seems to be part of mine? …I don’t know what to do. So I tidy my house, I service the car, I run the errands that I wasn’t able to squeeze into my weekdays, I bake. I re-read a favourite book because I just need something familiar and predictable, and I bring the cat onto my lap because her purr calms my heart.

    I join your voice in your braided grief-hope-longing prayer. Amen.

  • Katie

    These are powerful words Sarah, thank-you for your honesty. I don’t know what to do either. I admire the way you live your life.

  • Pingback: Ordinary Work | Tristan Sherwin()

  • Est

    Thank you again for putting into words how so many of us are feeling. I hold on to simple prayers as big long prayers seem wrong and inadequate, I try not to think of the horror too much, but instead lean into the truth of love and family and hope.

  • It’s true – there’s so little most of us can do to affect the timeline of events, the way it seems to be this inevitable case of a-snowball-rolling-down-a-hill-triggers-an-avalanche. I combat Da’esh n the only way I know I can – by being a friend and a neighbor to Muslims in my community. What the attackers in Paris want most is to divide the world into Muslims vs. everyone else, to cause hatred and bigotry to sour us into turning on one another, turning refugees away, leaving them trapped between Da’esh’s rifles at their back and our suspicion and walls at their front.

    So I say, refugees welcome, because “refugees welcome” and “we are your neighbors” and “we will entertain strangers, they may be angels in disguise”… those are the words Da’esh hates the most.

  • Leanne Hunter

    I just love your writing and the images you create. I feel the same about ordinary work, I just spend too much time avoiding it some days or feeling sorry for myself. I love the idea of working on the ordinary and prayer being together.

  • Tori Grant

    Thank you for sharing your voice with us. I feel small and powerless in light of Beiruit, Paris, Syria, all of it. Thank you for saying that it is ok to restore order in the quiet places of our lives, while we grieve the calamities of our shared existence.

  • Pingback: When My Head is Scrambled, an Artist’s Date | MarilynYocum.com()

  • This is so good and so comforting. For some reason I often struggle to do ordinary work when I’m in distress. But, the way you describe it makes me think that the simple rhythm of ordinary life (and all the wonder it actually holds) can be such a balm and an anchor that connects us to our families, each other and God. Love this. xo

  • Thank you for this beautiful reminder. Amen.

  • Jory Micah

    Sarah, you write a lot about ordinary work and encourage so many to find the holiness in “everyday,” which I love, but may I just say that your soul is anything but ordinary. Your writing and just who you are is so refreshing to me!

    • ken

      The “Christian” feminists and their mutual admiration society.

  • Me too! I respond to grief and overwhelmedness and pretty much anything by trying to focus on the moment, on the beauty right in front of me. Also me too — I have that same Dalek figurine on my mantel. 🙂 Here is my post about showing up with intention and noticing the sacred places. http://tenthousandplaces.org/2015/10/30/how-to-write-a-blog-post/

  • Sandy Hay

    I don’t know what to pray either. Everything I say seems futile. So today my grandson and I are going out together in the rain of the PNW, to Fred Meyers . and we’ll plan dinner and we’ll kiss and hug, and be grateful forgive and life.

  • JoMae Spoelhof

    The Blessing of the Ordinary – a beautiful, healing reminder. Thanks Sarah. You spoke for many of us this weekend. Dealing with shock and fear, feeling lost, we find our way by moving through the ordinary. One hand in God’s. “…and the whole time a corner of my soul is crying out to God in braided grief and hope and longing….” Thanks for wrapping it in words for us in this meaningful reflection.

  • Thank you Sarah for this beautiful meditation on everyday life that shines with grace amidst the suffering and terror. Isn’t this the way it’s always been, God shining through evil, discord, trouble, His redeeming grace makes us feel so ordinary, sometimes even insignificant. Your words bring me back to the wonder of these moments as I nurse an 18 year old with a flu, and sit in bed with a fever brewing. So happy I visited, your words are lovely and nurturing.

  • Mphangela Nkonge

    This morning I read/prayed from Psalm 94. It was one of those days where I just open the Bible and hope God will surprise me. This caught my attention and has stayed with me throughout the day “Unless the Lord had been my help, I would soon have dwelt in [the land where there is] silence. When I said, my foot is slipping, Your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, held me up. In the multitude of my [anxious] thoughts within me, Your comforts cheer and delight my soul”.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    Yes. Yes. The ordinary work. Thank you for this, Sarah. Holding onto these words today.

  • “And I pray. I pray while I work.” Yes. Exactly my response too.

  • Rachel

    Thank you. I don’t know what to do either. These words were a balm to my aching heart.

  • “the world seems to be ending every Saturday night.” YES!

    “I feed people, I clean, I walk, I gather people, I sing, and the
    whole time a corner of my soul is crying out to God in braided grief and
    hope and longing: strengthen us, embolden us, light our hearts on
    fire, show us we belong to each other, break down the barriers between
    us, give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand.

    I call down fire and love and justice and peace like falling stars
    and I pray for the courage to crack open my own life to receive their
    burning clarity.” YES. OH, YES. AND AMEN.

  • “and I put away the phone while I nurse the baby in order to look at her quiet face.” Ha! I read this post while I was nursing my baby just now;-) A friend posted your blog on Facebook. I really love the way you express what so many of us are feeling because really, what can we do other than pray and be grateful for the glimmers of peace and joy we are given right now? Beautiful words. Thank you for sharing them with so many.

    • 🙂 I do the phone-nursing thing 90% of the time myself, girl.

      • I think we all have! There is only so much lovingly-staring-at-baby’s-face any of us can do at 4:30 in the morning, in my opinion. 🙂

        I also did a lot of watching-bad-TV-nursing, too. You never realize what a terrible show That’s 70’s Show was until you watch it start to finish.

  • Juanita

    Thank you, Sarah, for these words. I had no words…Bless you.
    “crying out to God in braided grief and hope and longing: strengthen us, embolden us, light our hearts on fire, show us we belong to each other, break down the barriers between us, give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand”…

  • Pingback: Remember that Time When Your Little Brother……. | Thoughts from an Ordinary Guy()

  • Pingback: The One with France |()

  • Pingback: Picking Flowers | Mihee Kim-Kort()

  • Dana Myers

    What awe-inspiring words made all the more powerful by the image of the Dalek in the bottom left of your window. This is the first time I’ve read your blog but we can be friends now. First because this is an amazing post, but mostly because of the Dalek. (haha)

  • Pingback: When you stop trying to unravel it all - Fiona LynneFiona Lynne()

  • Pingback: Shawn Smucker - “This Time Last Week, Things Were Still Normal”()

  • Pingback: For Your Weekend - emily p. freeman -()

  • Pingback: Worthwhile Weekend Words | Choosing This Moment()

  • Danielle

    Thank you for these words. I have fought fear for weeks now. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who is holding on to my own ordinary while all around me the world feels as if it’s caving in. Thank you.

  • lucy

    Thank you for this. God Bless you and your family.

  • wow this is so beautiful and powerful. thank you, for these words.

  • Pingback: What I am into – November 2015 | Life of a Christian Woman College Graduate()

  • Pingback: A few thoughts from December | Jacqueline Poehlman()

  • Pingback: Saturday Shares – Ordinary Epiphanies()