Keeping House — It Matters


See also the table of contents for the Keeping House series.

Housekeeping Matters

“So what really matters? Well, housework, among other things. It is not the only thing that matters, but it does matter. It matters that people have somewhere to come home to and that there be beds and meals and space and order available there. […] housework forms part of the basic patterning of our lives, a pattern that we might identify as a kind of ‘litany of everyday life.'”

“But housekeeping is part of a tradition that takes seriously the basic, homely needs of people for food and clothing and shelter. These are needs that God takes seriously and that Jesus encourages Christians to take seriously. They are not the only important things in the world. But they are important; they have an intrinsic significance and worth that is too often lost amid the busyness and the technological background noise of the modern world.”

As one who has spent a considerable amount of time believing that housekeeping, especially housework, does not really matter, and having already taken a somewhat long and painful route to realize that it does, I really appreciated how she could just lay it all out, briefly and clearly, that of course it is important. Laid out as she has it, it seems rather silly that I could have ever thought cleaning house was a necessary evil — getting to the point of thinking that if it’s evil, how could it be necessary? Then, after a year of twists and turns and tears and this being the issue that wouldn’t leave me alone, that was relentlessly brought to bear in almost every conversation I had with random and unrelated people, I had to admit that it was necessary and therefore couldn’t be evil. So here we are about three or four years from that time, and I’ve made purposeful steps forward, but really am only now coming to see how these necessities could possibly be good.

Hospitality was my foot in the door this year to see the good, and hospitality is hypocritical if it does not begin with one’s own family.

“But in the paradoxical realm that is real life, it is not possible to love God without loving neighbor, and a primary and essential way of loving one’s neighbors is to feed and clothe and house them.”

Housekeeping as Litany

“Precisely because human beings are both physical and spiritual beings, even so profoundly physical a discipline as housekeeping has a spiritual dimension.”

“Litanies tend to be both repetitive and comprehensive, and in both of these characteristics there is a certain analogy to housework. […] [A] litany draws together the disparate threads of our needs and our concerns and tempers their potentially overwhelming nature. […] Housework, too, is about a lot of different things. There are errands to be run, meals to be planned, clothes to be laundered, messes to be dealt with. it doesn’t take very much disorganization before you feel that you have been trying to juggle a dozen different balls and they are all coming crashing down around you. […] Housework is repetitive, as well. You cannot pick up a room once and be done with it forever. […] Housework is akin to these natural and human rhythms of the day, the week, the year. […] As we engage with the litany of everyday life, we engage with life itself, with our fellow human beings, with the world in which God has set us all, and thus with God himself.

I still have a hard time seeing and knowing personally that repetition is not weariness and a Sisyphean frustration, but I do believe that I am missing something — most likely practice! — and I trust that it will come to me if I continue on the path.

“We all need the patterns of our lives to echo and emulate the patterns of the larger story that we, as Christians, believe is the true story of the world. Daily involvement in the work of housekeeping, the litany of everyday life, is one way of participating in and living out that story.”

Keeping house, tending to the needs of people, is one way we can image God and reflect in a small way The Story that God Himself tells us about His work.

The concept of living life as a character in a story, in The Story, is one that draws me. I remember as a child wandering the house, wondering if it were possible that I was not the main character of my own story, if perhaps I were “fake,” a bit-player in someone else’s story. Perhaps I was a robot, a puppet. I was a thinker, and I had some bizarre existential thoughts that I thought were fascinating. More recently, I’ve appreciated Nate Wilson’s take on “worldview” thinking as Story thinking. Having the author take that approach herself immediately made connections in my mind and helped me see the significance. How I live life is what kind of character I am. We like to think we are who we imagine we are deep down inside; but the truth is that our real life manifests the real us.

What I make of my resources — home, energy, time, money, faith, knowledge — is a stewardship issue and a choice. The amounts entrusted differ and the specific calls and pulls differ, but how we use what we have been given and where we have been put is one way to boil the multitude down to a unity.

Homemaking as Eschatology

“The practicalities of housekeeping — cooking, cleaning, laundry — are among the things that ground our existence in the particular times and places in which we live and in so doing make it possible for us to keep alive the memory of our first home in paradise and the hope of our ultimate home in God’s new creation.”

This little home-building that we do now connects us both to our origins in Paradise and to our future in the place God is preparing and the feast He is hosting. What we do here and now are little, tiny, foretastes of that fellowship, feast, and rest. That is, it can be and should be, even in small, trivial, and unglamorous ways. Too often, I know, the fellowship and atmosphere I have provided speaks much more of a different sort of place than Heaven. But a small outpost of glory, of kingdom come, is what our homes are meant to be. What a purpose and meaning that gives!