The thing that happened while I was scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush

by Elizabeth


It was many years ago now. My boys were preschoolers, and my girls weren’t even conceived. I was literally on my hands and knees scrubbing my kitchen floor with an old toothbrush when I got the call: the call from a university professor offering me an interview for a chemistry lab instructor position.

For a bit of background here, let me just say that I’ve loved chemistry ever since I walked into Mr. Smith’s 10th grade chemistry class nearly twenty years ago. I love the ingenious organization of the periodic table, I love the way chemical reactions balance just so, and I love learning about how the smallest structures in creation affect large-scale life.

I always want more chemistry in my life, but with two young boys to take care of, such chemical thoughts were few and far between. So I cannot explain to you just how much I wanted this job. I would run the lab, prepare the chemicals and equipment, instruct the students, and grade their lab reports. It was an ideal part-time job for someone like me — someone with a love for chemistry but lacking both substantial experience and a graduate degree in my field.

Now, I had worked (very) part-time at the college chemistry level before, tutoring chemistry about five hours per week at a community college. And even that I had given up so I could stay home and nurse my newborn second son without interruption. Then suddenly I was handed this new opportunity — and from a prestigious private university no less.

The hours required for the job were somewhere between 10 to 20 hours per week. I had gone in for the interview hoping it would be fewer hours than that, but it wasn’t. Both financially and family-wise, it was too many hours for me to take on. I simply couldn’t afford that time outside the home, and I knew God was saying NO to this particular opportunity.

The interview had occurred, painfully enough, when my husband was out-of-town on a work/ministry trip. I was alone with two little boys when I heartbrokenly realized I wouldn’t be able to take this job. I was alone with no one to comfort me in my obedience. I was alone as I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I was alone when it seemed to me that my world was ending. (I thought it might be my last chance to grab a chemistry job before too many years elapsed and I was unemployable.)

But I knew God’s message to me was clear. For my family, and in that time, I needed to focus my full-time energies at home. And the funny thing about that experience? I never once longed for outside work again. I was really content at home and went on to have more babies (those aforementioned darling little girls).  Obeying in the moment was hard, but the fruit in my daily life was lasting.

So what does obedience mean for me today? Because in the nine years that have ensued since my kitchen floor story, my passions haven’t waned a bit. I still want to do ALL THE THINGS. And I want to do all the things NOW.

I want to doula, and I want to write, and I want to edit, and I want to teach calculus, and I want to teach chemistry, and I want to do youth ministry, and I want to do women’s ministry, and I want to spend more time reading to my kids, and I want to spend more time with my husband, and I want to spend more time taking care of myself.

But I can’t do all those things at once. I can’t even do many of those things at once. And I’m currently coming out of a season of discerning which things I need to be doing and which things I need to be saying “no” to. It’s been a hard season. Not break-my-heart-hard like it was several years ago, just plain hard.

For me today, obedience means looking at the people who are already in my life, and saying yes to THEM. It means saying no to certain other things. I’m finding that as I practice my yeses and nos, I’m more content in each moment. I’m more joyful in each moment. I’m more present in each moment.

But make no mistake: saying both the nos and the yeses has been hard. Contenting myself in my current stage of life has been a slippery path to plod. Obedience isn’t as clear this time, and there’s not just one monumental decision to make. In its place are a multitude of tricky choices and subtle attitude adjustments. I hope practice makes these choices, if not perfect, at least a little easier.

Because in my mind’s eye, I can still see myself on my hands and knees scrubbing the dirt out of an old linoleum floor with a toothbrush, listening to the ring of a landline telephone, and continuing to scrub as I answered it. I can still see the hope in my young heart when given the opportunity to do something I loved. And I can still see that nervous young mom walk into the chemistry building — then under construction — and wait, and pray.

I can still see me walking out of the building when the interview concluded and knowing, knowing that I couldn’t say yes.  I can still see me crawling into my boiling hot, broken-down 1988 Honda Civic and trying to catch my breath from the disappointment. I can still see me calling my out-of-town husband, unable to stop the flow of tears, and hearing him tell me with love, “I’m so proud of you.”

But best of all, I can still see myself enjoying full-time young motherhood in a crackly, crinkly 60-year old parsonage, day in and day out, for the next five years.

Those images are, for me, a symbol of choosing the best thing now, of choosing life for my family, of obeying even when it’s hard. I hope and pray I take those images of wisdom and love with me through the rest of my mothering years, because that kind of joy is something I don’t want to miss out on.