“Laundry Is My Overflowing Inbox”: Working within the Home

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 laundry is never done — even though we are down to a family of four these days.  How in the world did I survive eleven years of cloth diapers?  Apparently, somewhere along the way I have discovered that there is Glory in the Ordinary, that there is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  So when Courtney Reissig compared her laundry hamper to her husband’s overflowing inbox at work, I stopped and underlined, and nodded, “yes and amen.”

My soul resonated, too,  when she argued that in our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God.

“You and I were created to work because God Himself works.  It is a function of being image bearers.”

Organizing a cluttered closet, mucking out a nasty refrigerator mess, 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.

Go Back to the Purpose

Courtney’s personal illustrations and the vignettes shared from the lives of her friends encourage me to lift my eyes from the all-consuming “what” of my daily list and from the pervasive “how” (as in “how am I going to get all this done?”), and to fix my eyes on the one beautiful question:  “Why?”

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?  To love God and to love my neighbor.  And sometimes the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones that share my last name and my DNA.

While Martin Luther made it clear that the works of our hands are not meritorious for our salvation, he wrote decisively that “one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even one’s enemies.” (Kindle Location 871)  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 the dishes and the bedding they besmirch.

Mother’s Little Helpers

The whole family is invited to experience the “glory in the ordinary” that comes with the work of home — not only because of the “many hands make light work” principle, but because of the soul-shaping nature of chores and collaborative effort.  With sweet reasonableness, Courtney shares this gracious logic (Kindle Location 923):

“The home we all live in is for us all, and therefore, requires that we all contribute to it.”

She traces the history of housework through the the subtle transition in terminology from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mum,” and examines the impact of cultural context on the believer’s theology of work.  For instance, missionary and author Gloria Furman is a mum and keeper at home in a middle-eastern, community-oriented culture, while those of us in the West tend to have a go-it-alone mentality which can lead to the isolation, loneliness, and burn out that has given motherhood a bad reputation.

Toward a Sound Theology of Home

Since God is relational Himself, and since He ordained (Genesis 2:18) that his creatures would fare better in company with others, even the introverts of the world (I’m looking in the mirror here), need to consider what part community should be playing in our work at home.  Hannah Anderson says it well:

“God did not intend for families to be islands; they are part of the continent.  This is why multi-generational communities are so important to the work of home.”

I enjoy covering the nursery in church these days so that young mums can get a break from little children, but I am on the receiving end when a dear friend in her eighties washes all my dishes whenever she attends a big gathering in my home.

“Home here on earth is a microcosm of the heavenly reality that awaits us, [and] so is the church.”  (Kindle Location 1134-1143) Good theology and its practical application should lead to a connectivity and a “my life for yours” mentality as we serve one another.  This glorious truth gets lived out whenever Titus 2-truth sees daylight in a discipleship relationship between older and younger women or whenever men and women of “grandparent age” step into a situation where are there are no grandparents nearby to help and encourage.

“Community done among women commends the gospel to a world that breathes isolation and loneliness.” (Kindle Location 1151)

The God-Designed Gift of Rest

If God rested (and He did), if Adam and Eve in their perfect prelapsarian bodies needed rest, it stands to reason that my own post-Genesis 3 life will be better if I submit to a pattern of work followed by Sabbath.  J.I. Packer speaks wisdom into this subject (Kindle Location 1276):

We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this awareness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own.  Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ, our Savior and Lord, at every turn of the road . . .”

Our prideful rearing up against the rest we need and the fact that work exhausts, depletes, and frustrates us are both factors attributable to our fallen-ness.  So is the idolatry that makes work into a god and permits it to supersede in importance even the people we are called to love and to serve.

When my children were all small (in the pre-homeschooling days), I gave myself the weekend off from cooking by preparing meals ahead every Friday.  Courtney shares an idea from a friend who depends on leftovers and PB&J for the weekend.  Regardless of how we accomplish it, we ensure that the Sabbath is honored in our homes by “working hard at rest,” investing the effort up front and employing some carefully chosen “no’s.”

 Enter into the Joy

The job description driving the work of home is an unwieldy thing, shifting daily and expanding and changing as our families grow.  While this is unavoidable, we can lighten our own load with some purposeful choices and a Christ-shaped mindset such as steering clear of comparison; resisting the urge to audition for the role of Super Mum; and encouraging our husbands to fulfill their own God-ordained roles as workers at home — without feeling threatened or “less than” because we are unable to shoulder the work of two single-handed.

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.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Regular readers will recognize that the theme resonating throughout Glory in the Ordinary has shown up in these parts quite a bit in recent days.  I recently reviewed Jen Pollock Michel’s excellent book (Keeping Place) that also touches on the work of home.  Click here for part one of my review which deals with a theology of home.  Part two parallels Courtney’s thoughts and gives additional perspective on the work of home.

Melissa Kruger blogs for The Gospel Coalition and has interviewed Courtney at their website.  Click here for further insights behind the scenes of Glory in the Ordinary.

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And . . .

. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

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Rising in Grace and Glory

Because I am married to an unreasonably patient man, we hardly ever argue – except for when it comes to the Ascension.  His (perhaps quite reasonable) conclusion from Acts chapter one is this:

Jesus went up.
The disciples looked up.
Therefore, heaven is up.
My (perhaps quite unreasonable) argument is that on that day when His feet lifted off the Mount of Olives, Jesus was dealing in metaphor.  As a Teacher (THE Teacher), Jesus knew that His disciples would need to see Him leave – to watch Him actually go somewhere else with their own eyes — in order to get on with things.

And so he rose, but isn’t the power of God such that heaven could be anywhere?  Just as Narnia-Through-The-Wardrobe was a place completely “other-than” World War II era England with a different cadence of hours and a population of talking beasts, I tend to think of heaven as a place without a possible zip code — and yet still close at hand.

The immanence of God, the idea that He is right at my elbow and at the same time filling the entire universe, stops me in my tracks:
“’Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”

When I read and respond to powerful words that I read in Scripture, I am careful to filter my motives.  Am I rejoicing in this passage because of the unvarnished veracity of those words?  Or is my heart soaring because of a particularly effective combination of nouns and adjectives, because of a plangent metaphor that I wish I had thought of myself?

Given this tendency toward nerdy swooning, I had to read and then re-read Romans 5:2 back in January when I discovered it in The Message Bible:

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for open access and my feet standing on the place of grace, planted in the fields of His glory!

I’ve never before chosen One Word for my year, and truly had no intention of breaking with that tradition in 2017, but standing  reached out from those verses and chose me for its own.  That word —  “standing” —  and God’s miraculous gift of hope are calling me to rise from my chair of unbelief, to ascend visibly, not merely for the benefit of others as Jesus might have, but for the broadening of my own view of the world.

With my feet planted firmly in those wide open spaces, how can I continue in my small prayer life with its locus around safety and good health?  I was rebuked in this tendency recently when my oldest son announced that he was starting a prayer group in his work place – a shop environment populated with hard-handed welders, most of whom make no bones about their disregard for the numinous.

Did I launch into immediate prayer for their lost souls?
Did I plead for the efficacy of my son’s efforts to irrigate that parched wasteland?

No, and I can hardly bear to reveal the words of my narrow soul:

“Oh, Lord, they just bought a house, and he needs that job.  Please don’t let this hurt him.”

Stooped, round-shouldered prayers shrivel my courage, but even worse . . .
What if they are contagious?

Since my children are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and healthfulness.
But time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?

This new awareness that I’m standing “where I always hoped I might stand,” means that I can do away with my prescriptive prayers:
(“Lord, do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”)
Standing tall, I want to see over the top of my fears.  In hope, I want to catch a glimpse (however slight) of what’s on the other side of the walls that divide, and, in that ascending, transcend a few of the artificial boundaries that plague the white, the middle-aged, the orthodox, the comfortable.

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds me that at the very heart of my belief system there lived “a man who died for His enemies, praying for their forgiveness,” (p. 21).    This was no sparkling success story for Mary to share at Galilean Tupperware parties.

Or was it?

Jesus’ death calls me to a rising that may take me lower into a humble, peace-loving place of repentance.  His rising invites me to ascend with Him to the people who are outside the gate, unlovely and unlettered, to be carried by the eternally transcendent questions and the answers that I affirm – not merely by the falsehoods that I fight.

Rising, we step through God’s open door and find that He is far bigger than we ever imagined.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.