Celebrating the Labor and the Love in the Spiritual Discipline of Housekeeping

Celebrating the Labor and the Love

Most days on this country hill are a blur.  With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning.  In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention. Stuffing a ratty t-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same t-shirt on the clothesline.

The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and one of the most startling discoveries of my life has been that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?
Why do you do what you do?

Hopefully, we are both coming to the conclusion that our labor of love is a fulfillment of God’s great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.
And sometimes, for me, the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones who share my last name and my DNA. Loving others in our homes is more than a feeling, and it is likely to include the inconvenience of vacuuming the mud from their shoes, replacing the groceries they consume, and washing loads and loads of dishes and bedding.

To Love Is to Labor

To love is to labor, and for the believer, there is an inseparable connection between the routines of domesticity and the quotidian mysteries of spiritual practice.  Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation.  In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God. 

In Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel, asserts that “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures: avodah.  It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple.  ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)

The Spiritual Discipline of Housekeeping

It is, therefore, possible to draw parallels between the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:

1.  Housekeeping is an act of generosity.

God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping.  In Scripture, He finds lost things; He prepares tables of abundance and blessing in hard places; He kills the fatted calf and invites the neighborhood to a party.  Therefore, engineering the comforts of home, taking on the mess in the bottom of the refrigerator, and performing the domestic routines that preserve order and hold chaos at bay create a feeling of home wherever they are performed with love, and they pre-figure God in His role as Homemaker.

Mired in the here and now, we forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world.  By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste.  Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us and forward to an eternity in which the connection between worship and work will be forever eliminated.

2.  Housekeeping is a work of welcoming and provision.

Just as the incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and space, God’s compassionate homemaking sets the standard for the work of His women and men who long to create safe and welcoming spaces for His glory.

There is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  In our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God. Organizing a cluttered closet, sanitizing a nasty high chair tray, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house — these are all as quietly mundane as the work God does in our time to water His trees with rain or, in history, to arrange for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Israelites.

God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love.  Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:16,17)

Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God!

Joining you in the holy work of sandwich-making and laundry-folding,

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

80 thoughts on “Celebrating the Labor and the Love”

  1. Michele, only you could make housekeeping seem heroic! I have often found that when I am doing something mundane and repetitive, such as folding laundry, it gives my mind time and space to wander, and I find myself face to face with some flash of insight. Thank you for helping me to find the joy in housework. And I love the term “avodah”.

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    1. I went scrounging around on my bookcase to retrieve Jen’s thoughts on “avodah” because I wanted to get it right. And it’s good for us to leave space in our brains for those flashes of insight. I have a tendency to listen to podcasts, etc., but sometimes we just need silence.

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      1. Hi Michelle! This post is so encouraging to me as I have to work daily in the chaos of a home being dismantled/packed up and then have to take it all over to our new house to pile up before putting it in new places! Each day I pray that whatever my hands find to do they will “do it with all my might!” Any thoughts on what I am going through?

        As I’ve worked, I’ve listened to Christian radio… I would love to know what podcasts you enjoy listening to?

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      2. Well, I am about to join you in the business of chaos, because our kitchen is going to be torn apart and re-assembled soon. Today, one of my jobs is going to be packing up some things into boxes, so maybe I should be asking YOU for advice! I’m going to join you in that prayer, for sure.
        Podcasts are terrific. Here’s a list of some of my favorites: Quick to Listen, The World and Everything in It, Break Point, The Next Right Thing, What Should I Read Next, The Open Door Sisterhood, Q Podcast, The Daily Poem.
        I don’t let them be the boss of me. If there is an episode that doesn’t grab me, I just delete it.

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      3. Haha! We’ll pray for each other…
        It is difficult seeing the stuff we’ve crammed into corners and now no longer even care about! But I’ve been philosophising it all a bit and relating this letting-go as compared to the autumnal round of releasing and shedding off the things that once brought us some happiness but now can have the purpose of giving nutrients to another’s garden of desires. I know how happy I am to find just the thing I needed/wanted at the thrift store ministry up the road! And the money from the sales benefit the children’s home so the “compost” of my release is further beneficial to ongoing needs of others.
        But did I mention how difficult letting go can be??
        You’ll love your new kitchen!!

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      4. I’m hoping to do some of that “letting go” as well as we clean out cupboards and rearrange things. Good to be reminded that the stuff that is a burden to us can be a blessing to someone else.
        And have I told you that I finished Becoming Mrs. Lewis? What a lovely read. I’m trying now to figure out how to work it into the blogging schedule. It’s going to be fun to write about it. Thanks for sending it along. It was so kind of you!

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  2. This is just beautiful, Michele. You’re speaking straight to this mama’s heart! I’m hopping over to make this my FB share of the day today!

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  3. What a great message! Housekeeping activities help my mind relax and focus on other things. I can pray while dusting, give thanks while washing dishes, and praise Him for being able to work on daily tasks. My husband thanks me everyday, for all I do to keep our home nice. 🙂

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  4. Hey Michele, as soon as I saw your blog post title over at Lori’s link up, I knew I had to read your post. I do believe that out work as mom’s is mundane, yet holy, but I could never explain the way you have here. I really need to study this post. I’d love to be able to communicate these truths to my audience at Welcome Home Ministry. Thank you for your beautiful, Christ filled perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can recommend a couple of books, One I mentioned in the post: Keeping Place by Jen Pollock Michel. The other would be Long Days of Small Things by Catherine McNiel. I think if you search “mothering” on my site, you’ll get a bunch of reviews of related resources.

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  5. My favorite moment in this heartwarming post was this: “Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:”

    Love it!

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  6. Love these points. How we are doing God’s work of loving others when we rinse off dried food from dishes and replace toilet paper on holders. It can get hard to do the same things over and over again, but when we see the higher purpose of our calling and our love spreading out from these tasks, it is easier. And just think. God is doing housekeeping tasks day after day. We are in good company.

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  7. These are such inspiring thoughts Michele, and remind me of Elisabeth Elliot’s quoting of the poem “Do the Next Thing.” We so often pine for more exciting or “large” activities, but it seems to be in the daily round of “next things” that the Lord often shows up and guides us in our loving and caring. Thank you for sharing from your heart and home!

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    1. Yes! Elisabeth Elliot had a lot to say about this, and it still surprises me that she said she preferred housework to writing because it was predictable and she knew how it would turn out (which is certainly NOT true of writing!).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Amen to the nth degree!

    I can’t pick which line of yours I love the best!

    I’ve always believed homekeeping is holy work. God is a God of order – why wouldn’t He want His children to live in peace, order and calmness? I can’t accomplish anything if I’m living in chaos!

    I also want to add you can worship while keeping the home running. Some of my most peaceful times is chopping vegetables in silence. I’ve time to pray and praise; and sometimes the silence feeds my soul more than the vegetables do my belly. (I’ve also had inspiration hit during those times!)

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    1. I agree 100%. The blessing of busy hands and an empty head is a fertile place for creativity! I was just reading a few minutes ago in today’s My Utmost that silence is one of the ways in which God speaks to us–not speaking INTO it, but rather the quiet itself is His answer sometimes.

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  9. This is something I have learned, yet I keep having to remind myself repeatedly. It can seem like the everyday, repetitive, seemingly meaningless stuff keeps us from the “important” stuff. Yet those are the very places we’re called to do all as unto Him and in fellowship with Him.

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    1. That’s exactly why I write on this topic every so often. We’re in the beginning stages of having our kitchen turned upside down, and there are so many discrete tasks involved in this project . . . I want to be thankful. And, as you have said, I want to remember that I am called to this–“as unto Him and in fellowship with Him.”

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  10. Amen, Amen, Michele! Of all the things I do or have done in my life, beyond my devotion to the Lord, what I do in, for, and around our home matters most to me. It is how I steward the provisions the Lord has blessed us with, how I honor and love my sweet husband, and how I make our home a welcoming, comfortable place for others who come into it. It’s condition represents more than a list of tasks done or left undone.

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  11. I Love these words–It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life. It’s why you’re doing it.
    What a reminder! It’s so hard somedays to think I am doing something significant.

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  12. “To love is to labor, and for the believer, there is an inseparable connection between the routines of domesticity and the quotidian mysteries of spiritual practice.” Michele, I’ve always been impressed that Jesus held up the faithful servant who was feeding and tending his household as the example of what we are to be about when He returns. Too often I minimize the importance of the daily, repetitive tasks of managing a household. Thanks for this.

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  13. In college I read Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking and it helped me to start out our marriage with a vision for the atmosphere I wanted to create in our home. I’ve definitely had my share of the mumbly, grumblies picking up after certain family members who don’t share my perfectionist “place for everything and everything in its place” tendencies, though!

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    1. Ha! Me, too! When there’s a pair of size 14 boots in the middle of the living room floor, it’s hard for even oblivious-me to ignore them!
      I also appreciated Edith Schaeffer’s ministry, but haven’t thought about her for ages, so thanks for the sweet reminder.

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  14. I love this, Michele. I have always enjoyed being a “home maker” and part of that (at least for me) is maintaining a good degree of order. Not obsessively so (I have been there and done that), but in a way that creates a good atmosphere where my loved ones can function without stress. I don’t always succeed, but I try. Good luck with the kitchen renovation … thank goodness for slow cookers and microwaves! 🙂

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  15. What a reminder we all need from time to time! In the middle of the 5th load of laundry for the day and the stinky socks and gym clothes that make me nearly fall over, I can forget that it is an act of worship to our Father to love these dirty ones well!♥ Thank you, Michele. I love this post!

    Blessings,
    Lori

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  16. I’m actually one of those strange women that love housework! I love the routine of it which became so comforting after my late husband’s death. Not that I don’t get tired & weary from it!
    Great post Michele,
    Blessings,
    Jennifer

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  17. Oh, this rings so true in my life! I loved this line: “And sometimes, for me, the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones who share my last name and my DNA.” YES!

    Thanks for sharing something so real and relateable.

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  18. As a retired mom of grown children that are now raising their own families, I do have less housework, but I remember the years of hurried days of work, laundry, meals. I actually do miss them, but still have some when all return home for a visit. So true the rewards of a clean house (cleanliness close to Godliness or something like that), and all chores done. Maybe God felt that way after he created us and the universe. He’s probably way busy even now listening to all our prayers. 🙂 We have turned cold just this past week-end and this week. 30’s and frost tonight. I’m not ready.

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    1. Aren’t those family gatherings just wonderful?
      And yes, they are also a TON of work. I’m very blessed that the three sons who have left the nest are all either working or studying here in Maine, so we get together whenever we can.

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  19. Hi Michele, I’ve often said the same thing, that those in our own families seem to be the hardest to serve, yet that is how we show Christ to others, especially in our marriages.

    This looks like an extremely edifying read.

    Thanks for sharing this review.

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  20. Michele, I love this window into your world. This is the line that hit me today, “And sometimes, for me, the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones who share my last name and my DNA”. That’s all I’m gonna say 🙂
    ~Sherry
    xoxo

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    1. I was probably in a similar “that’s all I’m gonna say” place when I wrote those words. The storms blow over quickly and we remember why we love them . . . eventually.
      Always so good to hear from you, Sherry!

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  21. What great perspective! Housework is holy work. I need to remember this.
    ” It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life. It’s why you’re doing it.” Love this quote! The why makes a whole lot of difference, doesn’t it?
    Sharing this one today! 🙂

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  22. I like learning the Hebrew, and I like a clean house, but I do think though it is primarily the woman doing the work it is important for the family to pitch in as well. I always had chores when I was little, now I see a lot of entitled children who won’t even budge to do the least little thing.

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  23. Sounds like another good read. I love the thoughts about housekeeping being an act of generosity and welcoming. That speaks to me especially in this season of life. I didn’t always feel that way when the hustle and bustle of kids, school, homework, laundry and making dinner consumed me. Blessings!

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  24. So often the value of hospitality and homemaking is looked down on – it’s lovely to see it celebrated in your post and in this review! Thank you for sharing, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party. Hope to see you again this week. Have a great week ahead!

    Like

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