(Written when the kids were small and I had a babe-in-arms.)

Sometimes in the morning after having prepared six breakfasts, packed one lunch, seen a daughter off to school and a husband off to work, I stop and take a look around the house. I see the dirty breakfast dishes on the table, the spilled breakfast cereal under the table, and a box of crayons dumped on the floor. There is a pile of dirty clothes to be washed, the kitchen floor to sweep, the beds are unmade, and the rug needs vacuuming. Also very much in evidence are two small girls running about half-dressed, hair uncombed, and one small girl running about stark naked. All in all, the place looks a complete mess and there isn’t a thing I can do about it at the moment because the baby is crying to be fed.

I must admit it–I like order. Were I childless, everything would be in apple-pie order. A place for everything and everything in its place, so the saying goes. But I am far from childless and though we try to have a place for everything, everything is seldom (if ever) in it.

What (I shudder at the thought) would the neighbors think if they should drop in now? (“I was over at Mrs. Vining’s, my dear, and I’ve never seen such clutter in all my life!”) What would my mother-in-law, or, for that matter, my own mother think? What is my daughter’s reaction? (“Mommy, I wish our house was pretty like Mrs. Jones’ house.”) Suppose the parish priest should come knocking. Would he, could he, understand? Then it is that I realize that there is One Whose opinion is far more important than any of these. I look at my troubles in the light of eternity and think to myself:

“Be still and take your baby in your arms and sit down with him and put him to your breast. Look at him. See that he is strong and healthy and hungry and thank God that you are strong and healthy and have milk for his hunger. Look now at your two-year-old, over there marking up the woodwork with a red crayon. Think how she has grown in understanding and ability in the past few months. Speak to her, softly. Ask her for the crayon. She is big enough now to do what you ask and soon she will be so big it will not even occur to her to write on the woodwork. You can wash it off later and if you do not get to it today, or this week, or ever, does it really matter?

“See the other girls sitting at the table busily cutting, coloring, pasting. They will get paste on the floor but look how intent they are about their creating and how they work together, sharing ideas. Their faces light up when you tell them how pretty ‘the thing’ is. ‘It’s a bracelet for you, Mommy, and we’re going to make you a necklace and some rings, too.’ They will clean up later, if you insist–and it is wise that you insist–but do not scold them now in their labor of love or you will see the hurt in their eyes and the light will be gone.

“Think, now, of your eldest, just turned seven, away at school. How proud you are of the way she has learned to read and spell and the nice little sense of humor she is developing. Remember the joy in your heart at her First Communion? And though she may wish her home were always quiet and always neat and expensively furnished like Mrs. Jones’, how can you think of envying, or of judging, Mrs. Jones when for all we know she may be on her knees each night pleading, ‘Please, dear God, a baby….’

And so it is that sometimes in the morning I sit in the rocking chair and my son’s hair is wet with my tears and I know that His yoke is sweet and His burden light. And if you should come and find me sitting there with my home all a-clutter, I shall smile and say, “Come in, I’m glad to see you,” and I shall not frantically try to set things right. Perhaps you will realize that a day is only so long, childhood so short, and a mother has only two hands. Perhaps you will understand that sometimes it is more important to hold a baby, to help make a puzzle, or to take a walk in the sunshine than it is to scrub the woodwork.

But if you should go away thinking things really should be neater, I shall not fret about it. For though I would like you to think well of me, your opinion does not hold a candle to His. And though order is indeed a lovely thing, far more beautiful than the order we may impose on material things is the order that results when our wills are in accord with God’s. Then, and only then, can we say that our lives are truly in order.

Order is a lovely thing;
On disarray it lays its wing,
Teaching simplicity to sing.
It has a meek and lowly grace,
Quiet as a nun’s face.
Lo—I will have thee in this place!
Tranquil well of deep delight,
All things that shine through thee appear
As stones through water, sweetly clear.
Thou clarity,
That with angelic charity
Revealest beauty where thou art,
Spread thyself like a clean pool.
Then all the things that in thee are,
Shall seem more spiritual and fair,
Reflection from serener air—
Sunken shapes of many a star
In the high heavens set afar.
– – – – – – -Anna Hempstead Branch