Being Purposeful in the Little Things

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Written by Jamila Evans

My 8-year-old son sat on a blackberry at dinner last night. The next morning, he tried to wear the same stained khaki uniform pants to school. It wasn’t totally his fault. I told him to go to the laundry room and find some pants, and the those were the only ones he could find.

Clean uniform pants are often scarce on weekday mornings at our house. It isn’t as though we fail to do laundry–with four kids, the laundry room is the busiest room in the house. But clean pants are a rarity and finding them in the morning always brings the joy of a surprise, like finding a five-dollar bill in your pocket.  

When my son tried to leave the house with a huge purple stain on the back of his khaki pants, I realized we need to be more purposeful about our laundry. Of course, we need to be purposeful about many other things we do, but the laundry situation is such an obvious place where intentionality would make life so much better.

To an outsider, it would be obvious that the highest daily priority when it comes to laundry is to make sure we have enough clean clothes for school. But usually what goes in the washer next is whatever is on top of the laundry pile. School clothes don’t get shed until just before bath and bedtime, and by that point the laundry experience is winding down. If clean pants aren’t already hung up in the closet, they won’t likely be there the next morning.

In other areas of life, we are great about intentionality. When I go to the bank to deposit a check, I have never once failed or forgotten a step. I see the goal and I know how to achieve it. We have been going through a home makeover, and I always know the end goal I want to achieve, and I know how to get my husband to stay on track to accomplish it. Purposefulness is natural when we understand the goals and care about achieving them.

With any character strength, knowing the end goal is the real key to building good habits.  What is the goal of doing the laundry? The immediate goal is to turn dirty clothes back to clean clothes. But the further goal–the more important goal–is to have my family ready for the day or the occasion. And being ready for the day or occasion is about the even more important goal of being happy people who live flourishing lives.

All our immediate goals only make sense because of our ultimate end goals. Keeping these ascending goals in mind is crucial to understanding and accomplishing the immediate task. It’s kind of like putting on makeup. When I grab the eyeshadow, all my attention is focused on applying it perfectly. But I don’t just choose any random eyeshadow. Instead, I pick it, so it coordinates with my clothes, which are chosen to fit with the activity of the day or evening. Putting eyeshadow on is not just about accentuating my eyes; it is as much or even more about looking beautiful so that I can feel confident and ready for the day. The immediate goal is always ordered toward the bigger, more important end goal.

Both the vices (opposites) to being purposeful include a failure to do things with the bigger goal in mind. When we are aimless, we don’t have any purpose. We might do some laundry, but only out of a sense of duty or guilt, not because we recognize why it is important to keep up on the laundry. On the other hand, when we are rigid, we are so focused on the immediate goal that we might end up pursuing that goal to the point it conflicts with the bigger end goal. For instance, insisting that we MUST get the laundry done, even though that might mean canceling date night or giving up time with the kids.  Keeping up on the laundry is important, but only because it allows us to be a happy family. If keeping up on the laundry gets in the way of family happiness–perhaps because we are too “Type A” about it–then we aren’t really doing laundry for the right reason anyway. Instead, it might mean we are on the verge of cultivating vice!

Whatever we do, we should understand the purpose of the activity. Laundry is about a happy, confident, prepared family, not just about making something dirty, clean.  Date night is about a good relationship, not just about having a fun few hours. Going to church is about being faithful to God and our community, not just about checking a box.  If we can be purposeful about all our activities, we will do them better and with more joy.

How can your family unit operate with purpose?

PurposefulnessSteven Markel