I sat in the chair with a sleeping baby on my lap. I held her close, and I prayed. I prayed about the things I wanted to be doing—responding to e-mail, taking a shower, writing an essay. And I admitted my fears to God: Those things feel so much more important than this. Yet I saw the lie I was succumbing to, and I looked once more at my daughter's round face, and I prayed that I would have faith in the importance of holding my child.

It takes faith to be a parent. It takes faith for me to care for our three children day after day. It takes faith to believe that this 30-minute episode of crying, or this midnight, bleary-eyed feeding, or this time-out for hitting your sister, or this poopy diaper—that these will bear fruit. That they matter, and even eternally.

In the midst of dirty clothes and unmade beds and the daily scramble to get food on the table, I remembered a little book I read a few years ago. As I nursed our daughter, I re-read Kathleen Norris's The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women's Work. The book itself is relatively old—published in 1998 after Norris gave the Madaleva Lectures at St. Mary's College in Indiana—but the contents are timeless.

Its epigraph offers a definition: "Quotidian: occurring every day; belonging to every day; commonplace, ordinary." My life right now feels very ordinary and very repetitive. I am tethered to a child who needs to eat every three hours, who relies on me as her sole source of nourishment. And it is easy to believe that the quotidian stuff of life is the meaningless stuff, the stuff that gets done only to be taken up again, the stuff that gets in the way of "real" work or play.

Norris considers the everyday stuff of life essential to who we are as human beings and as children of God. She draws a connection between the daily, repetitive tasks of cleaning and our daily relationship with God. "Each day brings with it not only the necessity of eating but the renewal of our love of and in God," she writes. "This may sound like a simple thing, but it is not easy to maintain faith, hope or love in the everyday." Norris notes that liturgy, the habitual practice of prayer and Bible reading, sometimes feels as rote and unwelcome as another load of laundry. And yet just as doing the laundry keeps our household in order, daily conversation with God, no matter how routine it might feel, brings order to our spiritual house.

Moreover, Norris contends, living within the rhythms of daily life is not only necessary for keeping order, it's also necessary for our flourishing. She writes, "It is precisely these thankless, boring, repetitive tasks that are hardest for the workaholic or utilitarian mind to appreciate, and God knows that being rendered temporarily mindless as we toil is what allows us to approach the temple of holy leisure."

Quotidian tasks—be they of housekeeping or a more devotional nature—open up space in our lives for creativity, for the gentle whispers of the Spirit to reach our ears. They enable us to let go of anxiety, to enter into God's rest.

Norris also prescribes the quotidian as vessels of God's healing. Beginning with the purely physical, she explains, "Shampooing the hair, washing the body, brushing the teeth … as simple as they seem, are acts of self-respect. They enhance one's ability to take pleasure in oneself and in the world." Simple acts of self-care counter depression, which Norris terms acedia, a word that denotes a lack of care. Again, the same can be said on a spiritual level, that engaging in daily habits of communion with God and God's people enhances one's ability to know and take pleasure in who God is.

This book offers me hope that the ordinariness of my life—both my life as a mother and housekeeper as well as a Christian—matters, that I am growing as a human being in and through washing dishes and sweeping the floor and reading through Genesis and saying the Lord's Prayer one more time. But Norris insists that the quotidian mysteries—the mysterious ways that daily life can lead to transformation—extend beyond the self. She discusses the quotidian nature of marriage, and she asserts that God's sanctifying work often (almost always) happens in the context of the very mundane daily work of relating to one another: "Paradoxically, human love is sanctified not in the height of attraction and enthusiasm but in the everyday struggles of living with another person. It is not in romance but in routine that the possibilities for transformation are made manifest."

Jesus instructed us to pray for our daily bread. He reminded his disciples not to worry about tomorrow, for "each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). God provided only enough manna to the Israelites for the day at hand. The Quotidian Mysteries helps me remember that our God is a God of the everyday, a God who comes into ordinary life, into my ordinary household, into my ordinary soul. And who—through the commonplace activities of cleaning and caring for children and distracted prayer—does the extraordinary work of healing my soul.