From the first time I visited Arches National Park, I have loved it. I love the starkness of the desert sandstone with its beautiful warm colors. I love the soaring arches and the maze of stone fins that make up the Fiery Furnace. There are so many things to marvel at when you visit that I don’t think many visitors give much thought to the soil, but the soil is just as much a wonder as anything else.
During my visits to the park I’ve been reminded by signs and rangers not to stray from the paths. This isn’t for my safety, but for the safety of the soil. You see the soil in the park is actually covered by a community of organisms called cryptobiotic soil crust. This crust is vital to that desert region. Much of the crust is made up of something called cyanobacteria. This bacterium, when wet, moves through the soil and binds rock and soil particles until it forms a web of fibers. Thus, it becomes a soil stabilizer that makes an otherwise unstable surface resistant to both wind and water erosion. It absorbs the limited available water and adds nitrogen to the soil. It is also very fragile and one footprint can destroy years or even decades of growth. However, compared to the grandeur of the arches, this living soil crust seems like nothing. Compared to the visual beauty that surrounds it, it is invisible.
The first time I visited Arches National Park as a teenager, I thought the fuss over the soil was silly and limited my opportunities for exploration. But time has taught me the value of things that seem like nothing, the importance of caring for the invisible.
The work of mothering is something that seems invisible. Compared to the more visible things that can be done in this world, it seems like nothing. I suppose that is why as mothers we sometimes struggle with our place in the whole scheme of things. However, we know in our hearts the truth that what we are doing in our homes is essential.
In the book The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery teaches, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The nurturing work of mothering is heart work, and it is essential to the happiness of our families. Just like the soil crust that builds a web of stability for the desert soil, the heart work that we do every day in our homes is the process of making hundreds of little connections that strengthen our families.
This isn’t always easy though. Too often the visible work takes precedence over the heart work. Just the other day I plopped into a chair at the end of the day to rock Emma. I was exhausted and frustrated. It seemed like I hadn’t accomplished anything that day. I had started the day with a full list of things to do, but it seemed like I hadn’t made any progress at all.
As I sat rocking I began reviewing the day in my mind. Soon I realized that the work I’d wanted to get to had been displaced time and again by the work of making connections. I read to my little ones, cuddling them close and sharing one story after another. I’d stopped what I was doing again and again to look at Peter’s latest creation with LEGO’s. I’d danced with Emma when she came to me with outstretched arms. I’d spent a little extra time cuddling Peter at quiet time because he wanted a nap. When my children came home from school I spent more time than I felt I had filling them with hot chocolate and toast and listening and laughing about their day. I’d picked up Camilla from her first basketball practice and heard all about it and rejoiced in her excitement. I sat down with Sarah who was confused about her math homework and tried to help her figure it out. I stopped to kiss my husband and welcome him home when he came in the door. We spent dinnertime together as a family laughing and visiting about the day and what was going on in the world. We’d taken time to read the scriptures together and pray as a family at the end of the day. I’d bathed children and put them to bed with kisses and questions about their happiest time. As I reviewed the day I was astonished at the sweetness that was woven throughout the day.
I had forgotten about all the little connections and hadn’t valued them because they didn’t produce anything I could see. There was no stack of clean folded clothes, no tidy and organized cupboard. There was no beautifully decorated room or delicious meal to show for what I’d done. There were no clothes mended and no words written. There was nothing visible for so many of the things I’d worked on. How easy it had been to feel like a failure because I hadn’t produced visible results that day.
Of course the visible things are necessary in our lives too. I need to clean, wash and cook. I need to write, organize and beautify, but I also need to keep those things in proper perspective. I do them because they create an environment for making connections. They must never be the primary goal of my life just because I can see them and mark them off my list. They are necessary, but they aren’t essential.
One Needful Thing
In my kitchen hangs Walter Rane’s painting of Mary and Martha. I hung it there in hopes that it would remind me to not be “careful and troubled about many things.” I understand Martha and I understand how she must have felt that night as she was “cumbered about much serving.” When I read her story I want to justify what she is doing and how she feels. I feel that way all the time.
I have often pondered the Saviors counsel to her. He tells her “one thing is needful,” that Mary has chosen “that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” I
“By inattention to household duties, the little touches that make or mar the family peace, many a woman has reduced her home to a comfortless house; and many another has eliminated the essential elements of home by her self-assumed and persistent drudgery, in which she denies to her dear ones the cheer of her loving companionship. One-sided service, however devoted, may become neglect. There is time for labor inside the home as in the open; in every family time should be found for cultivating that better part, that one thing needful – true spiritual development (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 403).”
Stay on the Path
This “true spiritual development,” these connections we make with our loved ones are fragile. Like the soil crust of the high desert where one footprint can destroy years of growth, neglect of the essential but invisible work of the heart will weaken the home and family.