Next to Godliness: Prayers over the washing machine

‘Slow me down, Lord. Slow me down.” These words stopped me in my tracks. They were exactly the prayer I needed as a busy mother of four young children. As I read the prayer, which our archbishop had included in his weekly diocesan newspaper column, I knew I needed to make it my own.

The prayer spoke to the reality of my life: “Oh, God, I know that I am going to be very busy today.” It also had a calming effect: “Help me not to be so busy that I miss the most important things.” The prayer also asked God to grant me time to see the beauty in the world, to listen to those in need, to chat with a friend, to read a few lines from a good book, to be patient and kind.

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I sat and stared at the words. I knew that if I could find time in my busy life to read this prayer every day, it would make a difference. Yet the prayer itself was not a short piece that I could stick on my mirror or the refrigerator and read quickly; it wrapped around two columns. I cut it out and taped it to a sheet of pretty green paper. Then I carried it around the house, trying to find the perfect spot to hang it, a place where I would remember to pray these words on a regular basis.

Then I realized that I had only 30 minutes before I needed to wake my two little ones from their naps to go pick up my two older ones from school. I needed to use this quiet time to finish the laundry. I carried the prayer downstairs and laid it on top of my washing machine. As I folded towels, I re-read the words that had touched me so deeply. And in doing so, I found my answer! I quickly found some tacks and hung the prayer over my washing machine. And thus began a ritual, which I would follow for years, of praying this prayer every time I did the laundry.

Eventually a collage of prayers spread out over my washer as I added other prayers I felt I needed to say: prayers for my family: the Peace Prayer, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi; a blessing for my home and all who entered; prayers for Christmas peace and joy; the famous Serenity Prayer, sometimes attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr.

Years later, when I took a job to help pay for high school tuitions, my husband offered to take over the laundry chores. But I refused his offer, protecting my private prayer time. I told him he could clean the bathrooms. I could hardly tape my prayers to the side of the bathtub!

After many years, the needs of our growing family demanded that we expand into a larger home. I carefully removed all my prayers from above the washing machine and packed them in a file folder. They were faded, marked with water spots and splashes of blue laundry detergent. The tape was yellowed. Holes in the corners marked where they had been tacked to the wall. Yet to me they were sacred. I was taking them to our new home. Unfortunately, my new laundry area had no convenient place to tack the prayers that had sustained me for so many years. With regret I decided a better place for the prayers would be in a binder beside the rocking chair in my bedroom. I vowed I would read them every night. But life just got busier, and more nights than not I forgot about the prayers. The little binder got picked up, dusted and placed upon a closet shelf.

Many years later, while cleaning out closets, I found the prayers. As I read through them, it dawned on me that throughout my life I had kept the prayers much closer to me than I had thought. And God had answered them, too. More often than not, I had lived my life slowly, thoughtfully and joyfully. The prayers had guided me in my transition from being a stay-at-home mom to a career woman. They had reminded me of what was important. I did my best to be present for special events in my children’s lives. I was also there to meet the ambulance when Mom was rushed to the hospital and to sit in the waiting room during the long hours of Dad’s bypass surgery.

I found time to cultivate friendships, read great books and to sit and watch many beautiful sunsets. I watched my children grow up and become blessedly happy and content in their adult lives. Without my even being aware of it, God had given me—at exactly the times I had needed it most in my life—the patience, the courage, the wisdom and the other virtues and blessings I had once prayed for while standing over my washing machine. I had stopped reading the prayers, but, by the grace of God, I never stopped trying to live them.

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