Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. She writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life – friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God. She’ll be sharing her time with us at MOMcon 2014.
Shauna writes and works where she loves and laughs – at home. She shares her nightly ritual of unplugging from work to prepare for an evening with her family:
The first step, always: set out the knife and the cutting board. I can feel my stress level sinking already, my shoulders climbing down from my neck little by little. I pull the ingredients from the refrigerator, the pantry. Onions from the bowl on the counter, olive oil and vinegar from the basket near the stove.
A swirl of oil into a pan, and while it begins to shimmer and thin, a quick rough chop of an onion, the first step of almost everything. Before I know what’s for dinner, almost every night, I begin by softening an onion and then shaking together a vinaigrette. Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper shaken together in a pickle jar. I unscrew the lid and run my finger through the liquid on the lid and lick it—more salt? More vinegar? A few glugs of oil and another shake.
By the time the onion is on its way and the vinaigrette is made, I can feel the tension of the day unwinding, slipping off my shoulders. The kitchen is my space, the place where there are no deadlines or reviews, no demands, no hustle.
Whatever comes next — peeling sweet potatoes or slicing chicken sausages, tossing greens or roasting broccoli — these moments are some of the sweetest of my day, moments that are about texture and heat, knife and aroma.
I call the boys in — it’s their job to clear off the table. Inevitably, the table is completely covered with pictures they’ve been drawing, Batman guys, markers and headphones and laptops. Cups of cold coffee, half-drunk water glasses, unopened mail. But just before dinner, for a few minutes, the table is cleared. And it is beautiful.
I deal out plates, wipe down the high chair tray, make stacks of forks and napkins, fill water glasses. The boys are 18 months and six, so let’s be clear that we’re not dining together for hours. There is no long and luxurious conversation. We pray together, we talk about our days. It takes about fifteen minutes, and usually someone spills and sometimes someone cries.
And let’s be clear that we’re not having filet mignon or vegetables I grew in our garden, although that would be nice. Let’s also be clear that I don’t have a garden. We’re having salad or soup, tacos or rice bowls.
When the meal is over, the bedtime dance begins — pajamas and books, rocking and reading. And then the house is quiet. A few hours later we begin again another day. And all day long, I look forward to that one beautiful moment, when I close the laptop, and set out my cutting board and knife. The best moment of my day.
We’ve been told that productivity is all, that rushing is an imperative, that going and doing and pushing define us. But those things aren’t true. God made a world of extraordinary beauty, and sometimes the most productive, most important thing we can do is slow ourselves down enough to see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, enter into it. When I stand before the cutting board, knife in hand, it’s just another way, really, of praying.