Let’s be honest, no body likes doing chores. In fact I disliked them so much that when I got into college I didn’t really do them. I didn’t change my sheets, waited to the last possible moment to do laundry or dishes, and almost never tidied up. In fact, I recall on the last day of my sophomore year of college I cleaned out my fridge and found a full pitcher of Kool-aid that I had mixed during the first week of college. It was pretty gross. Eventually, of course, the principles instilled in me at a young age returned and I’ve gotten back into the habit of daily chores. Everyone should develop that habit, especially children. Chores are valuable tools for spiritual growth because they remind us to think of others above ourselves.
It is in the very nature of chores to encourage us to de-center ourselves from existence. They remind us that we live among other people, their needs and desires matter, and serving them is part of our responsibility. Daily chores encourage us to think about others and build into our routines the habit of service. I have often said to parents in counseling situations: if you don’t make your kids do chores, don’t be surprised if they grow up selfish. Let’s consider just some of the ways that chores encourage this sort of orientation towards loving others.
Chores encourage us to think about the interests of others. When we are young most of our chores, dare we say all of them, are about the interests and desires of others, not ourselves. For example, our son has to make his bed every morning before school. In all honesty he doesn’t care whether the bed is made or not. It makes little difference in his life. He could go days without caring, months even, perhaps even years, and never be bothered by a messy mattress. But his mother cares. It is difficult to find clothes, toys, and other things when he blankets and sheets are in a balled up mess on the floor or piled on his bed. The room looks more cluttered, more in disarray when the bed is unkempt. So, he makes his bed not because it matters to him, but because it matters to his mother. He is learning, through this daily chore, that his desires are not the most important. He is learning to think about what others want, about what helps others with their daily tasks and responsibilities. He is learning to think beyond himself. Chores do that for all of us. The encourage us to “consider the interests of others as more significant than our own” (Phil. 2:4). Of course he is still hates making his bed every day, often groaning about having to do it, but the disciplined practice and the requirement is shaping him in subtle ways – especially when combined with Biblical reminders. The same principle is at play when we require kids to clear the table after dinner, put your dishes in the dishwasher, and put your laundry in the hamper. These chores don’t directly benefit them, but they do make other people’s responsibilities less.
Other chores very clearly remind us that we live in community. Some chores focus on our things, our duties, our responsibilities. Other chores focus on the community as a whole and engage us in active participation in that community. So, when my kids have to set the table they could conceivably grab their own silverware and sit down, but we require that they get silverware for everyone who is eating. The chore reminds them that they are part of a family and that everyone eats together, that they are not isolated eaters but participants in a group. Their chores often serve to engage them as part of the community. Raking leaves, washing the car, or other group chores serve as a way to engage them in the family dynamic. These chores remind them that they live in community and as such they have to serve the community at large.
Chores of course can be given to our children for punishment as well, but the larger goal needs to be positive and constructive. Not all chores are about punishment; rather, they can be about the development of character. They serve as reminders that we are not the center of the universe. They serve as reminders that we exist, live, work, and play within community and that we are part of a group. They remind us that others depend on us, need us, benefit from our help. They remind us that we have a Savior who left us an example. Jesus says:
even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28)
And this same Savior tells us:
and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave (Matt. 20:27)
We are called to service. Chores are a tangible reminder of this reality, and the disciplined practice of daily chores helps ingrain that truth into not just our hands, but hopefully our hearts. Use chores for spiritual gain, especially with your kids.