Idealized Domesticity

For many years I helped take  care of my Dad when he had Dementia.  The day in, day out routine was nothing compared to the hard work and responsibility of Motherhood  and raising children.  My hat goes off to all the hard working stay at home Mom’s out there, you have the hardest job in the world and this little rant is in no way meant to diminish Godly Christian women who have devoted their lives to selflessly care for their family. In my own experience with my Dad,  working full time and being a caregiver was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. There was never a break, and it was hard, difficult and often depressing work.   I learned a lot about patience and servanthood but I cannot say that I ever waxed eloquently over changing diapers or trying to find someone’s dentures. I have read tons of blogs and a few books about how to make Motherhood and domestic life honoring to God. I think the sheer fact that we do everything we do as worship to God is scriptural and it does give us a sense of purpose, but I have never been one to sugar coat the truth.

Life is brutal, tough and I know God can handle all of it, even when I am falling apart. I think there is this sense that as women we have to always have some sort of control or never admit defeat. I wholeheartedly disagree.  When my emotions or circumstances are more than I can bear I know I can come to God with all of it, and often these are the times that He is more real and vivid to me, when I am broken and at the end of my rope.  I could be way off base here but I never considered any of these duties Holy or Sacramental in any way. I know I am in the minority obviously because throngs of women really love and enjoy reading these books, to me the real beauty in these situations is that God is there with us during all of these experiences and for that I am so thankful. Maybe I just don’t get it, but it was nice this morning to read that someone else “just don’t get it” either.

You can read the original here:  http://thechristianpundit.org/2011/11/02/idealized-domesticity/

The 02 Wednesday Nov 2011

Posted by RVD in Christian Living, Motherhood

If one of my kids came to me and said, “I am going to clean my room like you asked me to. I’m giving up time with my books and paint box to pick my clothes up off the floor. I would like to read or paint instead of doing something so mundane, but I do find that the ritual of hanging up clothes and making my bed gives me spiritual nourishment that compensates for the time and effort of obedience.” – I would not know whether to give them a cold shower or counselling.

But you can buy Christian books for women that talk about missional motherhood, sacramental aspects of homemaking, and the holy experience of homeschooling on a farm. Some of these were written in response to women who feel like staying at home with kids is drudgery, even though they believe it is right – women who gave up careers to raise their children, but haven’t found the fulfillment or the public laud of a husband that they thought it would bring. Women have stayed at home expecting to be content and happy washing loads of dishes just because they know they’re doing what’s best for their kids, and instead they are tired, discouraged, and hungry for an adult conversation. The new mommy literature often tries to address this by encouraging stay-at-home mothers to feel as though they are doing religious work as they go about household chores.

In trying to help women feel better about doing laundry instead of office work, though, these authors have set up an unbiblical alternate ideal. Their musings about sacramentalism, euphoric experiences during mundane chores, or the holiness of changing diapers sound more like descriptions of a Roman Catholic nun running an orphanage, than a Protestant wife biblically parenting.

We know from Scripture that all of life is to be worship: “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). But holiness comes not when we feel like we are sanctified or making religious progress as we scrub the toilet. It comes when these chores are set apart to God’s glory through prayer, even if nobody else but the Lord knows that we did them to the best of our ability out of love for Him, even if we did them with tears.

Holiness is Monica agonizing in prayer for her son Augustine, when he was living in what he later called “a seething cauldron of iniquity”. She agonized for him to her death, and never saw him become the great instrument in God’s hand that he became. Holiness is Maggie Paton working without complaint for decades on a remote island, not knowing that her service to her husband would bear eternal fruit. Holiness is a widow being faithful in prayer for the church, even when nobody visits her in the nursing home. Holiness is being faithful in what God has called you to do on this earth even if nobody—including your husband, children or the church—recognizes it. It is obeying even when we feel like obedience is fruitless. It means quietly and uncomplainingly dying to self and living in the Saviour’s service. Sowing in earthly tears and reaping with eternal joy (Ps. 126).

This new mommy literature ignores the fact that all of the toil and repetition and weariness and hurry that come with stay-at-home motherhood are normal. Getting out of bed early, changing a diaper, getting breakfast on the table and packing a lunch for your husband, day in and day out, is not sacramental. It’s not even ritual. It’s routine. It’s normal. If you look at the women in the Bible and church history who model godly womanhood, you will see that they did not see anything unusually holy or earth-changing in their humble service. In fact, hard work, multi-tasking, child-bearing in difficult circumstances, loneliness, giving while financially tight, slow spiritual growth, weariness, helping a busy husband, practicing inconvenient hospitality, while doing daily devotions and attending weekly prayer meetings and Lord’s Day worship (with the occasional date night) is all very normal for the Christian woman. There is nothing extraordinary in giving up a career to stay at home and educate your children; it should be normal. The Bible shows that ease and comfort are generally attributes of unbelievers’ lives. Self-sacrifice is normal for the believer. Our Saviour lived an earthly life of poverty and suffering—we mothers should expect a life of much difficult work for the Kingdom and pray for grace to do it cheerfully and quietly.

This is scripture’s domestic ideal. Be encouraged; our faithful hard work might never be noticed or seem to bear earthly fruit, if we do it out of love for Christ, in thankfulness for His atoning love, we will hear His approval, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23). That goal should enable us to tackle the pile of ironing with joy.

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8 responses to “Idealized Domesticity

  1. As a stay at home mother for the past 12 years who left the work outside the home world to care for my children I don’t get it either. If a SAHM resents, feels bitter, unfulfilled and has to read books to make her feel better about her lot in life then she needs to hang the apron up and go back to work because she isn’t doing her children or her husband any favors.
    I have parented both ways, when I had my son I worked 6 days a week and rarely saw him. So when I got pregnant with my daughter I was planning to work until she was born then stay home with her and her brother, I was laid off when I was 6 months along. After leaving my son with my dad and stepmom (big huge mistake) for 7 years I was so thankful to be blessed enough to stay home with my kids. I have never regretted making the decision to stay home with them. Do I enjoy the daily tasks of laundry, dishes, cleaning etc.? Not really, but when I do them I thank God that I don’t have to come home and do them after working an 8 hour day someplace else, I am thankful that I have a house to clean, food to eat on those dirty dishes, a washing machine and dryer instead of a tub and washboard, a car to get my kids where they need to go and a husband by my side instead of doing it as a single mom which I was for 2 1/2 years. I don’t think these mundane tasks are necessarily some glorious service to God, however we can do them in an attitude of thankfulness to God instead of an attitude of resentfulness. Do I gripe and complain about these things some days? Yes I do, I won’t lie, but usually God reminds me of where I came from without time to spend with my son, no help, no washer or dryer and 2 1/2 years in a rat infested shoebox that often had no heat or water. Most days I enjoy most of my tasks as a SAHM, I am truly blessed beyond measure and I don’t deserve any of it but I am so thankful that I have spent 12 years with my kids.
    Teresa caring for an elderly, sick parent is one of the most heartbreaking things a person can go through, especially when they don’t know who you are. It is a depressing sad thing to go through and changing diapers for an adult is much harder than changing diapers for a little one. I can understand someone being depressed even bitter and resentful at times having to care for an elderly, sick parent that has no mind, it’s just hard and it stinks. And not only is it hard because of the daily tasks, it’s hard because you have the ever present reality that they are dying in the near future. Hats off to those who care for sick parents!! But I don’t understand the whole SAHM glorified service to God so they can bear raising their kids and taking care of their homes, God help them if they ever have a teenager that makes their lives hell. Now that’s a whole different story, LOL! Good article, sorry I wrote a short story.

    • Teresa

      D thank you for your reply, and I get what you are saying about the teenager! :-) A thankful heart, changed by Christ really helps when we have challenges to face. Love to you and so happy to see you blogging again!

  2. Teresa,
    This is a very thought-provoking post. I understand what many of these women speak of, but what I teach my children is to do EVERYTHING as unto the Lord. I’m reminded of the beautiful poem by George Herbert that we just memorized, “The Elixir.” “Teach me, my God and King, in all things Thee to see, And what I do in anything, To do it as for Thee….”

    But what really stood out to me is YOUR gracious spirit. I’m kind of stuck in the middle….I love motherhood and I love delighting in the everyday tasks, and I also love theology and reading Puritan writers. (Why can’t we love both? And I’m sure many women do….) That said, many Reformed women ignore me as soon as they read I have eight children, mention something domestic, or express my thanks to God with tears and exclamation marks or (that’s a bit too sappy, you know), while some homemakers often aren’t interested in doctrine and studying God’s word deeply. Thankfully, Becky and Persis and Christina and Hollie and Petra have shown me grace even if they think I’m a bit wacky, don’t do facebook, and my vocabulary isn’t as large as theirs. :)

    Thanks again for the blessing of your gracious spirit this morning.

    • Teresa

      Hi Trisha, thank you so much for stopping by and your kind comments.
      I think the point I am trying to make is that these duties are wonderful, you are blessed to have children and to be able to take care of them. I think that making these tasks out to be holy or uber spiritual is sort of strange. Like in order to serve God we have to elevate daily tasks to some sort of sacrament is just well, unnecessary. You show obedience, love and Christian virtue by doing these things to maintain the life that God has given you, and it’s not about you, it’s about Him! I think the books and blogs with flowery, even sometimes erotic (yikes!) language makes me feel or think that the life of a humble, forgiven sinner obeying her God is not enough, I have to wax poetic about it. I think our God is big enough to teach us the bigger picture here. Even if life is tough or challenging sometimes He’s molding and shaping us for HIS Glory, whether we ever see fruit in that or not. Does that make sense?

      You are so right about what you are teaching your children, yes we do EVERYTHING unto the Lord! It’s the old Puritan work ethic put into place, and I love that. Thank you again for stopping by, I am sorry that some of the reformed folks (I am not what I consider reformed, I am an Independent Baptist but believe in Calvinism and the Doctrine’s of Grace) have failed to recognize the merits of your domestic life, or that many homemakers are not interested in really deep Biblical study. I feel the same way as a single woman! :-) I think we all have a hard time “fitting in” where our Sisters in Christ are concerned. I praise God that He’s not a respector of persons. Love and blessings to you!

  3. I agree, Teresa. Let’s glorify God in what we do, but we don’t necessarily have to glorify what we are doing. Does that make sense? It seems ridiculous and mystical nonsense to imagine that plunging a toilet is some sublime connection with the divine.

    Maybe part of it is our self-esteem culture which needs to make everyone feel that whatever they are doing is some monumental contribution to the mankind.

    • Teresa

      You know Persis I get what you are saying. To me if what I am doing is somehow holy or spiritual, does that not Glorify me not God? I think it might be the self esteem culture. That makes a lot of sense.

  4. “Life is brutal, tough and I know God can handle all of it, even when I am falling apart. I think there is this sense that as women we have to always have some sort of control or never admit defeat. I wholeheartedly disagree. When my emotions or circumstances are more than I can bear I know I can come to God with all of it, and often these are the times that He is more real and vivid to me, when I am broken and at the end of my rope.”

    You took the words right out of my mouth ♥

    • Teresa

      Somehow I knew you would understand where I am coming from and what my jumble of words mean Diana. Love you loads my friend. ♥

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