The Parable of the Unmade Bed

Parable: An everyday story that draws attention to a deeper reality we might have overlooked

I gazed at the pile of twisted sheets and blankets lumped atop my mattress. This was a moment. I stood there pondering the mess of it all and realized that there was nobody to insist I make it up. I glanced around my apartment as if to double check. Yes, the world was still spinning. The sun was still shining. Jesus had not, so far as I was aware, made his second appearance on this earth. I exhaled and walked away. 

My morning ritual has always been a sacred, efficient fifteen minute affair spent in dower silence. Upon receiving the independence of an alarm clock, then a driver’s license, I crafted my mornings to maximize my sweetest commodity: sleep. If my mom awakened me even five minutes before my alarm with a light knock on my door and a, “MaryB., it’s 7:15,” hell had no fury like the vitriol I grumbled before barking, “I KNOW,” and slamming a pillow over my ears. 

One such morning, when I was sixteen and filled with repressed rebellious teenager rage, I was awakened prematurely by a terse rap on my door. “MaryB., it’s 7:20. You need to get up.” I glanced blearily at my alarm clock, which read 7:18. The audacity. The everliving nerve. The injustice. 

I rolled out of bed, staggering to my closet where I picked out some jeans and a polo, then lumbered into my bathroom and shut the door. After completing my morning ablutions, I walked out of my bathroom to find my mom standing in my room next to my unmade bed. “MaryB., you need to make your bed before you leave.” 

“Why?” I shot back.

“Because it’s important for you to make your bed.”

“Why would I make my bed when I’m just going to have to unmake it tonight to get into it? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Come on, it’ll take thirty seconds, you could have already done it by now.” 

“No. I don’t have time, and making my bed is a waste of time anyways. Nobody is going to see that it’s not made except you and me, and why does that matter?”

“You are not leaving this house until you make this bed,” she declared as she exited my room. 

I fumed as thoughts scrambled around my head, struggling to make themselves coherent. This isn’t fair. It is the most inefficient waste of time and it is throwing off my entire carefully honed morning routine. I literally never do anything I’m not supposed to, and this is the one thing I’m pushing back on. Why can’t she just let me have this one thing? I glowered at the thirty-seven decorative pillows and stuffed animals that littered the floor, thinking that was a perfectly adequate place for them to live. Though everything in me wanted to defiantly walk out the door leaving my covers in a glorious heap representing the hill I was prepared to die on, I felt the nag of guilt, and the anxiety of intentionally doing something “not good.” 

I compromised by yanking the duvet up over the disheveled top sheet and blanket, then strategically tossing the pillows to cover the lumps that threatened to betray my negligence. 

I raced down the stairs, now truly on the cusp of tardiness. I’d have to park at the far end of the unpaved, constantly muddy junior parking lot and all but jog. I considered, Will I have time to go to my locker or should I go straight to Chemistry without my book? My mom interrupted my mental arithmetic. “Did you make your bed?” 

I glowered beneath furrowed brows. “Yes.” 

“Did you do it right?”

“I did it well enough.” 

She let out an exasperated sigh, “MaryB…”

“WHAT? You said to make my bed, and I did it even though I didn’t have time, and now I’m running late, so I need to go.” With that, I grabbed my lunch and walked out into the garage before she had the chance to go into a tirade. My gut squirmed as I anticipated a lecture upon arriving home, praying she wouldn’t get my dad involved in the kerfuffle. 

As I sped down the driveway, the words “inconsiderate” and “disrespectful” chased me. I thought to myself, Why is my unmade bed some sort of personal insult? It’s just a bed. 

A decade and change later, I make my bed when I’m having a party or just after I have changed my sheets. But otherwise it remains unmade. Even when I have friends over. If they think I’m sloppy and inconsiderate they haven’t said so, and it certainly hasn’t kept them from accepting my hospitality. Visiting my parents, there is a moment of hesitation when I get out of bed. What was once a principled act of dissent is now commonplace. It no longer holds the same thrill, but the quandary remains. 

I visit my parents twice a year. It is still my home, but I am also a guest. Most days you could toss a coin on whether I will make the bed or not. But at the very least I make it on the last day. On the final day, I leave it as I found it. I offer to strip the sheets, but my mom says it’s ok. There are inevitably things I leave undone, a shirt flung to the side and forgotten, an errant pair of old flip flops I didn’t think I would need in December and dug from my childhood closet. But not the bed. Each pillow is precisely back in its place. 

Perhaps there will come a day when I understand the merits of making one’s bed. But it wasn’t that day, standing in my room looking at my bed. On that day, I left my apartment and didn’t think about my bed until the moment I crawled into it that night. Yanking the covers from their crumpled bundle, I cozied up with The Fellowship of the Ring until my eyelids drooped, then turned off my lamp and fell asleep. 


*Note: This story from high school is a patchwork of several memories and moments that did not necessarily occur on the same day. My mom and I have had so many versions of this fight over the course of my life, they are difficult to unravel. It does, however, represent a fairly average morning from that period of my life, though some of the details varied. 

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Guess the time your dad threw your bedding over your balcony and into the yard will be another blog. Your middle school reply was something like, “Mom is going to be really mad. The bedspread has to be dry cleaned.”

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