When you do my dishes…

(or “A Lesson in Leadership”)

In our house, the kitchen is my domain. I love to cook and hospitality is one of my spiritual gifts. It isn’t uncommon for us to have guests over for an evening and within that, it’s not uncommon for me to go a little overboard with things…

Part of making the mess is cleaning it up and that is not one of my spiritual gifts. It’s a chore. It’s a reminder that the fun is over and that there are leftovers. I don’t mind leftovers, but they’re kind of like food re-runs to me. It isn’t that they aren’t good, it’s that they were much better when I didn’t know what was going to happen.

There are times when our guests ask to help. I’ve been known to politely decline. We invited you into our home to relax and have a carefree evening (we have many friends with far too few of those opportunities.) Besides, it’s just easier for me to do it because I know where everything goes and I know how I like it all done…

Recently, a good friend would not take ‘no’ for an answer. She gathered the dishes, brought them into the kitchen and began the post-meal rituals of stowing leftovers, scraping the plates and (GASP!) doing the dishes. Here are three possible ways this story ends…

  1. Since I’m a little particular with certain things, I went into the kitchen with an empty glass on the premise that I was getting a refill on water. Amidst small talk that I wasn’t really interested in, I managed to slip in a few instructions and suggestions to make sure things got down the way they needed to… it is our house, after all. There’s a way that things ought to be done. There’s a way that it all works for us and she should follow that. As I stood there, with a cup full of water from which I had not taken a single sip, clearly more invested in how the plates should be rinsed than in her life she sensed what was really happening. Moments later, she excused herself to go to the bathroom. I stepped in, washed the dishes again and fixed the things that weren’t done right and barely noticed that she never came back. Later that evening, I commented to my wife how much I appreciated her efforts.
  2. Knowing that the dishwasher was full and trying to be useful myself I went in to “help.” (Really, though, I was masking the guilt/shame that someone else was cleaning my messes in my) She offered to unload it, but honestly, it’s easier for me because I know where everything belongs. While putting away the clean dishes to make room for the dirty ones, I politely but repeatedly had to ask her to slide this way or lean that way so I could reach a certain drawer or a specific cabinet. There was a twenty-minute dance between her with the dirty dishes and I with clean ones that should have taken less than ten. As she began to load the now-empty dishwasher, I taught her how we load the dishwasher in our house, keeping in mind the most strategic places to put certain dishes and the best way to get as many in as possible. She politely learned and we moved dishes here and there and took some out to put more in… Eventually, she left the kitchen, knowing that I would be happier if it was done my way, aka, “the right way” and she would be happier sitting on the couch.
  3. Exhausted from hours preparing and cooking our food for the evening, I looked her in the eye and said, “Yes. I could really use your help. Thanks.” She handed me a cup of coffee and shooed me out of the kitchen with a wooden spoon that still had a bit of dried spaghetti sauce on it. She unloaded the dishwasher and made best guesses as to where things went. She loaded it again and hand-washed the pots and pans. An hour later when I walked in, they were spread out on the counter air-drying on towels and in the dish rack. She came and sat with us then for more conversation as the evening wound down. She was full, she was tired, she had received and she had given. Everything wasn’t done the way I would do it and that’s ok. Things weren’t put away in the right places and that’s ok. The dishwasher wasn’t loaded right and I had to re-wash one of the pots the next day because something was missed and that’s ok. All of it was ok.


We bear too much upon ourselves for all the wrong reasons. While rules and systems help us function, we ought to honestly look at the dependence we’ve developed. We rely on them too often and too inflexibly and hold them in too high esteem. We hurt relationships to check off boxes so we can say we “did it right.” When we hurt those relationships, we hurt others and we hurt ourselves, but we don’t see it. When we hold procedures and practice to be more sacred than people, we will be left with what we have chosen. We will be left with an intact rule book and a broken community, or perhaps just the rule book.

It’s even worse when our motivations are deceptive. At least in the first story, there’s a sense of sincerity to it. In the second ending, and in how we deal with many situations in life, we operate on a “need to know” basis with motivations and with truth. We craft situations and circumstances, and therefore manipulate them and the people in them, to accomplish our own agenda according to our own terms. It’s shallow but still obvious. It’s a glass mask that we believe hides things, but is ultimately transparent. We pretend it isn’t there and we feign offence, or worse, feel it genuinely when it’s called out. Yet at the end of the day, we’re still alone in the task. We’ve still failed community.

Only when we let go of it all can we embrace it all. Only when we will first be honest with ourselves and our own inadequacies can we truly receive from others, including God. Only when giving others a chance to give in their way can we all truly become community. It’s only when we release the (completely unrealistic and unachievable) death grip on perfection through procedure and can live with the words “it’s good enough” that community will be it’s best and it’s most blessed.

It may mean a little more work later, but that’s what I want… every moment and every day. I would rather live in “it’s good enough” with friends than “it’s perfect” alone.


After all, I’d rather make two pots of coffee than a single cup.



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