Last year on the fall women’s retreat, one of our icebreakers included something called a “doer item.” The dubious name was given to an object representative of something you like to do. One woman brought a sketchbook, stunning us all with her drawing abilities. None of us knew she could do that! Another brought a beautiful months-of-the-year quilt she’d made. A third woman, my friend Betsy, brought a microplane, which is a zester/greater that looks like the one to the right.
Betsy talked about how her mom had made food a central part of their family life, and how she, in turn, had enjoyed cooking with and for her own children. Betsy’s children are all out of the house now, but when they come home, they cook together and they always have certain things they want her to make.
I greeted Betsy’s description with a mixture of happiness and despair. I had recently entered the beginning stages of that phase of mothering that everyone talks about: the “I can’t keep them full” phase. I used to cook large amounts of food for the sheer joy of it. Now I have to cook large amounts of food out of necessity. All the time. And the demand keeps growing…and we don’t even have one teenaged boy yet, let alone four at once. Every meal seems to be a feeding frenzy, and the food is consumed so quickly that it seems like no one notices my effort. What good is it baking homemade bread when it’s gone in five minutes? When the locusts descend on the dinner table, they don’t pay attention to the effort that went into cooking the pasta to the perfect al dente texture, or the time you spent chopping all the vegetables for the salad. So why try? I might as well chuck some prepackaged junk on the table every night and let ’em at it.
I approached Betsy afterwards and related all of this to her. Then I begged her, “Please tell me it’s worth it! I feel like it doesn’t even make a difference.” She assured me that yes, it’s worth it. She talked about how fun it is to have everyone come home and want to be in the kitchen together. And she reminded me of the concept of how no effort is lost if it’s done as unto the Lord.
Oh, how I needed to hear that at that moment. The encouragement came back to me when I heard the passage in Unbroken
when Louis realized he was starting to lose it mentally. After weeks on the ocean with little food and water under the blinding sun, the men needed something to keep their minds sharp. The task they decided on was retelling their favorite meals. It seems counter intuitive for starving men, but as Louis grasped at something he knew well, it was his mother Louise’s cooking that came back to him. He described in minuscule detail the ins and outs of her home cooked lasagna and other meals, day after day, week upon week. In one sense, it kept him alive.
It seems trivial, as I know there are plenty of mothers around the world who battle to have enough to feed their children at each meal, sometimes just one a day.
“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees….”
— Brother Lawrence