God as One of the Family

by Jane Knuth

One day, when I was young, I walked through the kitchen and noticed my dad standing in the middle of the room, looking perplexed. Typically, the only time he ever was in that room was when he was plunging the sink drain or refinishing the cabinets. When he saw me, he looked relieved.

“Jane,” he said. “Where does your mother keep the drinking glasses?”

I reached behind him to the cabinet nearest the sink, first shelf, and handed him a glass. As long as I had been alive, the glasses had always been in the same place. He turned on the faucet and took the first water out of the tap, so I quietly opened the freezer and plucked out a couple of ice cubes to cool it down. He thanked me.

In any other family, one might be worried about Alzheimer’s disease, but not in mine. My mother’s realm was the kitchen, and if my dad wanted something as simple as a glass of water, she would get it for him. My dad’s realm was the basement, garage, car, and family cottage, and if Mom wanted something as simple as a screwdriver, he would provide not only the tool but the muscle power. I never saw my mother with a hammer in her hand.

Not many families separated duties as thoroughly as mine did, but most of us have some division of labor: he does the laundry, and she does the shopping, or the kids do the dishes while the parents do the cooking. Often it seems to be based on who is home at the time that the task needs to get done.

I wonder how God fits into our everyday family life. Do we designate particular realms for God and other places for us? Do we think of God as good for the prayers and the holidays but not someone we want to join us when we are doing the mopping? Or do we take God everywhere the family goes? Vacation? Garbage duty? Putting the kids to sleep? Visiting Grandma?

When I was in fifth grade, and my twin brothers were 14, we three went on a canoe trip down a little creek called the Whiskey Run. We planned on paddling five miles as the crow flies from one highway bridge to another, but that clogged, twisty stream captured us for five hours instead. Everyone in the extended family was looking for us. After three hours, they called the county sheriff, the volunteer fire department, and an acquaintance with a crop-dusting plane.

Our grandmother was at home with our younger siblings while all the relatives were scouring the woods. She called the younger kids together to pray the Rosary with her. That was the most shocking part of the day for them. Rosaries were for funerals, or maybe an evening during Lent, but never on a bright summer day! God was not part of bright summer days. Not in our family.

While our siblings prayed, we eventually crawled up the banks of Whiskey Run mosquito-bitten, mud-covered, starving, and baffled that all the adults were so frantic. After we were cleaned up and fed, and everyone got to tell part of the adventure, our littlest sister scowled at us in disgust. “We had to sit inside and pray because of you! The whole day was ruined!”

All the adults roared with laughter at the disgruntled five-year-old and cheered her up by taking us all for a swim in the lake.

As I remember, it was about that time in our family history that we began saying grace at the picnic table during the summer. Before, it had been a dining room sort of tradition. God began poking his business into our fun days, not just our holy days. We learned not only to hand him a plunger when things were stopped up and overflowing, but we showed God where the drinking glasses and the screwdriver were kept so he could be part of the smaller things as well. God is part of each of our families, but mostly he hangs back and watches the fun. It doesn’t have to be that way. Invite God to the picnic, take God on the canoe ride, and don’t save the prayers for funerals.

Jane Knuth

Jane Knuth

Jane Knuth is a longtime volunteer in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 2011, Jane's first book, Thrift Store Saints, was awarded first place from the Catholic Press Association for Popular Presentation of the Catholic Faith.

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