Originally written in March 2009.
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
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 90:12-17
In the summer of 2008, I surveyed my household. I surveyed myself. I thought about where I wanted to be and how I would get there. And I crumbled. The repetitive, never-ending, never-finished nature of my work bore down upon me and made me want to give up on it all. I wanted to know, I needed to know, whether any of it was worth my time at all. Somehow, it became an either/or question. Either it is worthwhile or it is not. And I didn’t know which it was.
One afternoon, suddenly I heard in my head “a woman’s highest calling…” and my heart translated, “you were created to be a servant class.” I rebelled against that thought; I knew it was wrong. Yet I continued to feel that it could be true. The only options I could see were that 1) the feminists were right and I’m not a servant class and therefore I will not care about housework. or 2) the patriarchy types (that I had been researching and reading a lot about at that time) were saying I was a servant class and I had to submit to God and just accept it. Oh, no, nothing I read ever put it in those terms, but I was reading their stuff and trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. I saw where they were coming from and the errors they were trying to avoid, and I sympathized. I thought they overcompensated; I thought they emphasized masculinity to the minimization of femininity, and defined femininity too narrowly. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly finding myself under a crushing weight — which was all in my head and attitude — I saw crystal clear what feminists or egalitarians were angry about. And I sympathized; I wanted even to join them. I heard, “highest calling” not as “the home is a legitimate high calling” but “this is as high as you are allowed to go,” and I looked around, saw menial labor and drudgery, and wondered if it was true.
All this time I knew, deep down, neither was correct, but I couldn’t see the right path. God was merciful and this experience was very poignant, very oppressive, yet also very brief. It peaked one day, and immediately began subsiding, but not without leaving its mark.
For a year after that time, friends, conversations, books, audio all pointed to me the way I should go. However, it was actually fiction that finally resolved my plagued mind. Non-fiction treatments of the issue at point — whether or not how you keep your house matters — left me still doubtful or even annoyed and defiant. But, in the book group for high schoolers I was leading, we were reading Oliver Twist and Mansfield Park, and while painting the kitchen in the evenings, I was listening to Bleak House on audio CD.
Suddenly, the obvious crashed in on me. All three of these books describe people’s environs, people’s habits, people’s hygiene, as a part of communicating something meaningful about them. Austin and Dickens simply assume that these things are meaningful. Not only that, but I had inferred meaning by these accounts, I had accepted without question what the author was communicating through these details.
Suddenly, through fiction, I saw the inescapability of it; it was simply true. There was no more argument, no more fight. I needed to live and work and be in a way that was consistent with what was true about me and my family.
It is a goal, it is a process getting there, it does not happen instantly upon realizing what should happen. But in this I was convinced that keeping house was good.
Moreover, no one is going to finish and be done with housekeeping. It’s not that kind of task. Organizing, cleaning, exercising, showering, cooking, decorating, showing hospitality, teaching, training: all are ongoing, never-completed tasks. Different aspects will be different priorities during different points in our lives, and I just need to accept that, keep my eyes on the path, know where I’m going, and….do the next thing.
I’m still not planning on folding my kitchen laundry any time soon, though I acknowledge that folded kitchen laundry is a good thing. For me, as pointed out to me by my husband, it is more important to get it put away in its proper place than have it wait around in baskets — never being put away — because I don’t have time to fold it properly.
The children’s rooms and even our room to some extent are mostly storage rooms for beds and clothes. But we are making progress on keeping them more tidy. Decorated, lovely rooms are a good thing. I intend some day to pursue that. Right now, that’s not my priority.
Every one of us has many of the same roles and tasks placed before us, but we have different strengths and weaknesses, different seasons of life, and different priorities at different times. Let’s not compare ourselves with one another, but rejoice as God has gifted us all differently and matures us at different rates and in different ways. Let’s spur one another on to love and good works, encourage one another, and derive encouragement from one another, even if we’re at different points in our life.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. — Romans 14:4
My current “thing” is establishing household habits, working my systems instead of working on them, and enjoying my work instead of being crushed by it. And so, as I find quotes that spur me on in this, or as I develop and think more, this will be a recurring theme here at my blog because writing enables me to straighten out my jumbled thoughts.