The Blessing of Everyday Tasks

“The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.”

-Agatha Christie

Lately I’ve been having conversations with a friend about the importance of the menial, everyday tasks in our lives, and how they provide wonderful opportunities to let our minds loose to roam, explore, and process.

We live in such a noisy world. Whenever we’re driving or folding laundry or jogging, it’s tempting to always have our iPods or cell phones in our ears, or the TV or radio on in the background. How desperately we avoid having few moments of silence!

But I am more and more aware of the importance of allowing our minds to be free once in awhile. We can create silence—when our hands are busy—so that we can hear our own thoughts, so that ideas can form, so that our subconscious can help us solve problems, so that we can hear the voice of God. I believe that when we constantly have “input” into our brains in the form of music or voices, we rob ourselves of the crucial processing time our minds need in order to be creative and access all of our intelligence.

I’m not talking about dedicated prayer or meditation time, which is important in its own right. I’m talking about doing the dishes, walking the dog. Cleaning out the car or driving to work. Times when our hands and bodies are busy doing something that doesn’t require our entire brain’s worth of concentration. These are times we can stop seeing as boring or wasted time, but as valuable “free time” for our minds. We can enter them with no agenda except to have no agenda. We can get used to the solitude and eventually come to appreciate the riches that can be found in the quiet.

One of my favorite books is The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. In it, she encourages us to treasure rare moments of solitude and silence and to avoid distracting ourselves with television and the like. The menial tasks of life, she says, can be “islands of holiness” in an otherwise chaotic and noisy life. This has been hard for me to get used to. I’m constantly downloading podcasts from iTunes and listening while I fold laundry or dust the furniture. I listen to music when I go running or workout at the gym. But I’m trying to open up some of these times to the silence.

If you are a writer, then these times are incredibly important for you. Your brain needs open space to create, to solve plot and character problems, to clarify your position on an issue you’re exploring in your writing, to come up with just the right word for that problematic sentence you’ve struggled with.

I challenge you today to start looking at your daily “quotidian” tasks in a new light. Not as something to dread or simply get through, not as a time to catch up on the TV news, but as a gift from God, a time to allow the silence and discover its treasures.

What will you find there?

BLOGGING SCHEDULE THIS WEEK: I’ll post Tues & Weds, then I’m taking the holiday weekend off so we can all enjoy our Thanksgiving break. Back to regular schedule next Monday, Dec. 1st.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Janet on November 24, 2008 at 8:13 PM

    >I’m so glad to hear that someone else recognizes the value of silence, for both creativity and spirituality. I sometimes feel like a voice calling in the wilderness on this one.

  4. Avily Jerome on November 24, 2008 at 7:40 PM

    >Silence? What’s that?

    Oh yeah- I remember that from about three kids ago.

    Thanks though, Rachelle, for the reminder that menial tasks aren’t menial. They have a specific purpose, and they are a GREAT time to let your mind wander where it will- which often ends up being a great plot for a book!

  5. Camille Cannon (Eide) on November 24, 2008 at 7:27 PM

    >I rarely pipe sound into my head because there’s enough going on in there already. If someone could somehow tape the noise in there, it would sound something like autistic chipmunks OD-ing on starbucks: Underwear. At K-Mart. Underwear at K-Mart. Fruit of the Loom at K-Mart. Gotta go to K-Mart.

    It’s hard to make quiet for the Lord with that much noise. I have to work at it, focus. I think I’ll take a look at the time I spend driving and make an effort to tune out the critters, still the little hamster wheel. Thanks.

  6. Gordon Carroll on November 24, 2008 at 4:22 PM

    >Oh so true. I find I get a lot of my ideas for books and stories when I’m mowing the lawn, taking a shower and on long drives.

  7. christa on November 24, 2008 at 4:05 PM

    >My high school students experience separation anxiety at the beginning of the year. Not from their parents [I mean, seriously, you weren’t thinking that anyway, right?!], but from all the gadgets they’re plugged in to and that are plugged in to them–iPods, cell phones, Wii and other gaming systems, text messaging,IM-ing. . .My teacher dream is to have a class set of Kindles. Could expand their choices. . .

    God gives me weeds in my garden to provide me quiet time.

  8. Anonymous on November 24, 2008 at 1:10 PM

    >I received the gift of a Walkman when I was in high school. My instinctive reaction was if I tuned in, what would I tune out? Have pretty much avoided headphones, earbuds, etc. ever since. The plot idea for my WIP came to me while puttying nailholes in the baseboard of the old house I’m remodeling. Hope everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving!

  9. Marla Taviano on November 24, 2008 at 12:08 PM

    >Good stuff, Rachelle. I love music and podcasts, but I don’t listen to them all that often for that very reason.

  10. Kristi Holl on November 24, 2008 at 11:39 AM

    >I think in a world where we’ve made multi-tasking into a god that we even feel GUILTY for having it quiet while we do menial tasks. (We think) shouldn’t we be listening to the Bible on tape, or a podcast of our favorite Christian radio speaker, if we have a quiet moment? We worry that silence isn’t making the best use of our time. And yet…He says to be still. You’d like the book IN PRAISE OF SLOWNESS. I imagine Jesus had a marked absence of the noise and hurry we take for granted these days. Thanks for a great post for Thanksgiving week.
    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog

  11. Deborah Vogts on November 24, 2008 at 10:35 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle. Loved your comments regarding silence, and what a perfect reminder for me now that I have an MP3 player, not to let it spoil my quiet moments.

  12. Vicki J on November 24, 2008 at 9:41 AM

    >Thanks for defining that place where my mind retreats. In those moments of silence; significance of events becomes clear, my fears do battle with God’s Word, and I sense leading through repetition of what is apparently, ‘worth repeating.’ I appreciated the perspective that these moments are a gift from God.

    I heard a devotion from an author at a writer’s conference. She said her pastor was recalling the story of the little boy with the fishes and loaves. A lady in the back of their small church stood up and said, “what about the mother who packed the little boy’s lunch that day?” Her point was that we never know how God will use or speak to us during our menial tasks.

  13. Daniel F. Case on November 24, 2008 at 9:36 AM

    >Good words, Rachelle.

    One of my mentors–and I wish I could remember who–once challenged me to spend time in silence, to avoid using the TV, radio, or music player as masking noise (“white noise”) and listen to what my heart has to say in that stillness. I was amazed at what I’d been missing.

    I was also amazed at how difficult achieving that stillness can be.


  14. lynnrush on November 24, 2008 at 9:31 AM

    >So true. How can we expect to hear God’s direction if we’re constantly putting other words in our ears?

    Don’t get me wrong, God has rocked my world with a perfectly timed song. But, having said that, He’s also rocked my world while sitting quietly, just thinking about Him.

    Great post, Rachelle.

  15. kfeldotto on November 24, 2008 at 9:28 AM

    >This is so true. I am far more creative mountain biking, running, driving or working on the car than when I sit down at the computer. I love my iPod, but it can be a thief of that creativity.

  16. Kathleen on November 24, 2008 at 9:09 AM

    >Thank you, Rachelle. I needed that!

  17. l.s. in Hawaii nei on November 24, 2008 at 8:49 AM

    >Once again you’ve not only jumped into my mind, but into my very life. How do you know, for instance, that I hate housework, that I see it as a necessary evil to endure until I get to what I really want to do?

    And much more than that ugly confession, many times I even dread homeschooling my children, treating it as if a thief were robbing me of valuable creative energy. I realize homeschooling is NOT silence…but it is what God has put in front of me. And I love my kids more than my own selfish desires which is why I die daily (most of the time).

    I was blessed to hear Elisabeth Elliot at a conference one year. Her teaching has never left me. The title of it was, “Do The Next Thing”. Just like what you pointed out, Rachelle, she talked about our busy lives robbing us of these meaningful, menial tasks. She said when you don’t know what to do, find solitude and rest in doing the next thing that is required of you. That way, you will be centered on God’s priorities in your life. The example she gave from her own life was when her mother died, how healing it was to change the sheets on her mother’s bed, to sweep the room, to dust the furniture. She said a true communion took place there.

    Please don’t take this as flattery, Rachelle, but God has blessed you with a deep, intelligent mind. I am always fed here at your blog. Thank you.

    l.s. in Hawaii nei
    (Sorry—a little long-winded today, making up for “lurking” time)

  18. Richard Mabry on November 24, 2008 at 8:02 AM

    Thanks for the reminder that silence isn’t boring, it can be renewing.

  19. Anne L.B. on November 24, 2008 at 2:10 AM

    >Oh Rachelle, what a breath of fresh air to my soul your words are!

    My brain knew this already, but the knowledge just came alive anew in my heart! Thank you for the gift of this message. How timely it is as we rush into the harried holiday season.