Our family has a seasonal pattern in our church home. Roughly every quarter, we find ourselves in the fellowship hall, surrounded by baked goods and coffee mugs. Serving our family in Christ with the simple act of providing food and drinks following worship has been my go-to, maybe even my default, mode of service for at least a decade.
This fall, my newly minted tween daughter helped me set up pumpkin muffins, glazed doughnuts, and piping hot coffee while streaming the sermon audio in the fellowship hall. She occupied her energy arranging, and then re-arranging, baked goods around the large table. We briefly discussed the sermon, though she seemed far more interested in the geometric design of the muffin to cookie ratio. Always one to surprise me, she quickly changed course once her design was set.
“Why do you always do the work in the kitchen at church? Why not Dad?”
I paused to consider the depth of her question. Was she asking me about gender roles and labor division or was it simply curiosity about my preference to serve in small ways behind the scenes? I wondered if I was doing a disservice to my four daughters by focusing my contribution to our parish only in the roles that are traditionally considered feminine. Didn’t I want to model that they could contribute to our community in any way my children felt called?
“I guess I enjoy being in the kitchen. Especially at home and at church. It’s what I know to do.”
She seemed only minimally pleased with my answer, which is consistent with our baseline relationship. Grabbing a handful of cups, she set to arranging a new design. I was left with my thoughts as I sliced doughnuts.
A few weeks following this typical Sunday, tragedy struck our alma mater and my professional home. The memory of that early morning, as we searched for answers and accounted for students before the sun rose, is permanently etched in my brain. Our town shut down as we searched for safety; my four daughters took up refuge in our living room while I scurried to offer support across three separate screens in my home office.
When I finally determined there was nothing more I could do in that moment, I closed my computer screens. Walking down to our kitchen, I met each daughter’s gaze. Confusion plagued the smaller ones, while the older two harbored anger and fear. I promised that they were safe in this moment, along with our neighbors and friends who are University of Virginia students and employees.
I had hit a level of overwhelm that threatened to paralyze me in fear. True to my personality, I looked around for something to do. Anything that could ease my heart and help me avoid asking God the toughest question: Why does this keep happening, and why did it happen to us today?
After a few laps around my house, I settled uncomfortably into the kitchen. My mind jumped back to memories in a smaller kitchen, decades before, when I was a student at our beloved university. Our community faced another moment of fear, in the wake of senseless violence, that paralyzed our ability to move forward. There was nothing else to be done in that moment, so my friends and I gathered to cook dinner.
So that’s what I did in my own kitchen, twenty years later. I made dinner for my family from scratch, offering the labor as a prayer that tomorrow, we would have the strength and knowledge to enact change. I prayed that God would give us the power and grace to work together for solutions that keep us all safe and held. I prayed that I would have the wisdom to know how to speak to my children about the importance of working for justice and peace on our Earth.
Bringing me out of my laborious trance was my tween, who was either admiring or judging my work in the kitchen.
“Mom, why are you doing so much work on a day like this? Is it going to make it better?”
Probably not, sweet one. But in moments of grief, all we can do is think one step ahead as God equips us in the journey towards justice and mercy.
With no words of wisdom forthcoming, all I could do was answer: “It’s what I know to do.”
In this season of expectant hope, let us offer space to grieve the past and move with mercy into the future. As we wait and long for the presence of Christ in our midst, may we continue to seek moments where we simply do what we know to do.