“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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A Theology of Home

Rootedness was always the thing that both repelled and intrigued me.  I left my parents’ home at the age of seventeen and pictured a life unleashed — no commitments.  I copied all my record albums onto small and portable cassette tapes (dinosaur alert!) and prepared for the unencumbered life.  With that resolve in my rear view mirror, no one is more surprised than I am to have lived (happily) at the same address for 23 years, making a home and being re-made by the challenges and joys of home.

In Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel examines her own history of home and the continual need to cherish change which her life circumstances have fostered.  She ponders the beauty of place, emphasizing that Scripture is “a home story” and that the truth of the gospel is best understood in terms of our yearning to belong, our struggle with homesickness, and the ache of all our longings.

History and literature attest to humanity’s desire for rootedness, and even the biblical narrative opens in a garden paradise and ends with the permanence, rest, and refuge of The New Jerusalem.  The journey from Genesis to Revelation is a story of wandering, of nostalgia for a settled place . . . until God enters history at a particular time in a particular place so that He could “seek and save the lost.”

“According to Scripture, home is shared human work.”

Church leaders, then, become the managers of God’s household.  Both male and female parents are given a role in the hard work of child rearing.  Routine chores become an offering and a valued means to the greater end of fostering a sense of security and belonging.

God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping.  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, 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.

Homemaking 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.

“Stability” is a term that occurs early and often in Keeping Place.  Presenting as a spiritual discipline and as an opposite to rootlessness, it signifies a commitment to make a difference in a specific place and time.  The paradox of the Christian life is this need for full investment, wherever we are, whatever our calling — in stark contrast to the need to also hold it all loosely.

“There is no controlling what we keep or for how long, and an earthly home is no measure of stability and safety, not really — not when lurking in the background of every day is the possibility that the phone will ring and life will lurch toward death.”

To be human is to long for home.
To be mortal is to be plagued by the impermanence of all that we hold dear.

The truth of resurrection, expressed in the language of Home,  is that all the perished things will one day be restored, our need for belonging will be fulfilled at long last, and, in the meantime, the Word of God speaks truth into all of our longings and our losses, into all of our dreams of Home.

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This book was provided by InterVarsity Press 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.”

Jen goes on to explore in more depth the shared labor of housekeeping and the truth that God’s welcome inspires our work.  Next Tuesday, I will be reviewing Part II of Keeping Place — The Work of Home.  I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that I’m going to linger in this place for another week.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

Photo credit:  Gina Butz

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.