Book Review: Spiritual Mothering

Spiritual MotheringWhen our pastor’s wife announced that the ladies would be going through a study of Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt, I was a little wary at first, because in reading a few of Susan’s other writings, I thought she came across as clinical. I’m happy to say, though, that that’s not the case with this book, and she comes across as much more warm and personable. This edition is a revision of a book she wrote about 25 years ago.

She begins by noting that Titus 2:3-5, the instruction about older women teaching younger, is not to be taken in isolation or out of context and only read during women’s ministry functions. It fits within the broader framework of our Lord’s command to make disciples, and the function of the church as a whole, and the context of living life for God’s glory.

To glorify God means to reflect back to him the glory he has revealed to us (p. 53).

No earthly relationship will meet all of our needs. Fulfilling the purpose for which we were created is he only way we will experience wholeness. Mary focused on glorifying God. She did not speak of Elizabeth as her only source of help; spiritual mothering is not a cure-all for the older or the younger woman (p. 52).

[Re giving birth in a stable]: [Mary] exercised the discipline necessary to move beyond disappointment and distractions and to carefully think about the thing that really mattered–God’s glory (p. 56).

Mary could adjust to these extremes [angels and stables] in her life because she saw them from the vantage point of obeying God’s will, not from the perspective of her expectation or preferences. In defining herself as a servant, she had relinquished control to God. Her purpose was not her convenience but God’s glory (p. 57).

Susan defines spiritual mothering thus: “When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory” (p. 36). Her main Biblical models throughout the book are Elizabeth and Mary, and my first thought was that I don’t think that’s primarily what the passages that speak of them are there for. But she draws out many applicable principles from their time together and draws from other relationships as well (like Ruth and Naomi). However, she points out that the principles of spiritual mothering can be seen in and drawn from many passages where God compares His care of His people to a mother’s love. And because we draw from His example and because He equips us, spiritual mothering has nothing to do with having biological children or even being married: God calls each woman to nurture in this way and enables them to do so. Usually we’re in the position of an older lady to some and a younger lady to others.

It would be easy for some women to quickly disqualify themselves by saying, But I don’t have the gift of teaching.” Sorry, that won’t work! A closer look at the word translated “train” will render that reasoning invalid. The Greek word is sophronizo and denotes “to cause to be of sound mind, to recall to one’s senses…the training would involve the cultivation of sound judgment and prudence (p. 72).

The popular concept of mentoring and coaching suggest some degree of structure and formality. Spiritual mothering may involve mentoring and coaching, but it is broader. Nurturing seems to be more compatible with what Paul is advocating in the Titus command (p. 72).

Before reading the book, I was a bit afraid that Susan would be pushing a formal and structured relationship, which can too easily seem artificial. She does share ways that can be implemented. But overall she advocates this type of nurturing in connection with other interactions, activities, and ministries, which I’ve always felt was a more natural way to go about it. “Spiritual mothering has more to do with demonstrating ‘the shape of godliness’ than with teaching lesson plans” (p. 93).

She discusses characteristics of the relationship and sprinkles many examples from modern life throughout the book, as well as opening each chapter with one woman’s story. Each chapter ends with a challenge of meditating on a specific passage of Scripture and taking definite steps in regard to the chapter’s subject matter.

Other quotes that stood out to me:

Servitude is not easy. Obedience is not a one-time decision. Obedience is a lifetime discipline. But it does bring a simplicity to life because it settles the issue of who is in control (p. 59)

This command [Titus 2:3-5] is sandwiched between the exhortation to “teach what accord with sound doctrine” (v. 1) and a statement of purpose: “that the Word of God may not be reviled” (v. 5). Sound doctrine must be the basis for the older-woman/younger-woman relationship and honor for God’s truth must be the goal of the relationship (pp. 65-66).

A reverent life is the product of a reverent view of God (p. 69).

Resentment erects barriers that cause older and younger women to miss each other. Resentment is a product of a self-centered approach: unless you are doing and being what I want you to do and be I am offended. Living for God’s glory frees us to value and appreciate rather than resent one another. We can appreciate our diversity of temperaments, life-stages, life-situations, abilities, and callings from God. We don’t have to be or do the same thing. In fact, there is no real unity without diversity. Two of the same things don’t need to blend to become one (p. 131).

There were just a few places where I agreed with what Susan was saying but didn’t feel that it quite came from the passage she was using for its basis, and one or two places where I felt she was wrong. For instance, on p. 52 she says, “Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms how to glorify God: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4, NIV). Completing the work he assigns us – joyful obedience to his will – is the way we glorify him.” It is a way, but not the only way. A couple of other ways: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV); “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8, NASB).

But overall I thought this was a good and helpful book and I gleaned many good things from it.

The ladies at our church who were studying the book met every other week to discuss a couple of chapters at a time, and I am sorry I missed that, because I think it would have reinforced the principles and truths brought out in the book. I did hear that they also had some panel discussions with some older ladies, which I would have loved to hear, and paired up an older and younger lady for some one on one time. I’ve been meaning to ask some of them how that went but haven’t thought of it while at church.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

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Thoughts about women’s ministries

img_0065Every now and then I come across a blog post or article saying something like, “I’m tired of fluffy pink crafty ladies’ meetings. I want to be authentic and go deep.”

I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.

And those are all good points.

I’d like to make a few observations.

1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.

2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”

3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.

4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.

5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.

6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)

7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.

8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)

9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.

10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.

Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.

I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.

See also:

Mentoring Women
Church Ladies’ Groups
Why Older Women Don’t Serve
How Older Women Can Serve
I’m An Older Woman…So Now What?
How Not to Become an Old Biddy
The Quiet Person in the Small Group

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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When God wants me to do something I don’t want to do

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I had another interesting intersection between my devotions, messages at church, and my other reading last week.

I’m in Exodus in my Bible reading just now, and I can always empathize with Moses’s reaction when God calls him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. Overwhelmed, he he responds with all the reasons he couldn’t possibly do such a thing, and God graciously promises His provision in every facet.

Who am I? Why would they listen to me? I will be with thee.

What if they ask me what God sent me to them? I AM THAT I AMThus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you

They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. God provided three signs to demonstrate before Israel.

O my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

God was very patient with Moses until, at this point, Moses says, “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.” I’m not sure exactly what all that means, but it seems to indicate he’d really rather God sent someone else. God tells him his brother Aaron will be his spokesperson, and sends him on his way.

I would probably have had all the same objections Moses did, and more. They make sense and seem quite valid, except that God promises to overcome each one, no matter how the situation seems to appear at this vantage point.

Some of our Sunday evening services have dealt with Jonah, who, as you know, disobeys God’s command to preach to the Ninevites and goes in the opposite direction. His reasons are less sympathetic; in fact, they are wholly unnoble. The Bible doesn’t say he was afraid of them or afraid to speak to them. He was afraid they would actually respond to his message, and he was so prejudiced against them that he did not want that result. His chastening was pretty severe, and he repented in the belly of a fish. But his heart still wasn’t entirely right. “It displeased Jonah” when the people of Nineveh repented. In fact, he tells God that was why he didn’t want to come to them in the first place, because “Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:2).

Then, when I’ve had time after my devotions, I’ve been reading in The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs. Around the time I was reading about Moses in my Bible and hearing about Jonah in church, I came to the section about Mary in this book. What a contrast. She may have had concerns and fears, but didn’t voice them. Or she may have just believed that God was sufficient to take care of whatever the repercussions would be. No objections. No “what ifs.” No apparent anxieties or apprehensions. Just, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

I found in my quote file this from Elisabeth Elliot, though I failed to note which book or newsletter it came from:

The story of the glory of heaven brought into a common, little house in Nazareth to a simple peasant girl, who must have been amazed and baffled, but she was instantly obedient. How often you and I insist on explanations and understanding before we’re willing to be obedient. There are many things in God’s world that will never be understood until we obey. Her response, Mary’s response—”Let it be to me according to your word. I am the handmaid of the Lord” — should be our response, too, shouldn’t it? Whatever He asks us to do.

I haven’t been called to anything of the magnitude of these three, but sometimes my response is more like Moses’s to what God has called me to do. First, “Who, me?!” Then, “I can’t, for all these very good reasons.” Sometimes, “That’s not my spiritual gift.” And sometimes, sad to say, “I know You will be with me; I know You will enable and provide. But I’d really rather not.” I’d like my nice, quiet, even life with very few and very minor bumps in the road, if that’s ok.

But that’s not ok. My life is not about my ease and comfort, or at least it’s not supposed to be. It’s about glorifying God and allowing Him to work through me in whatever way He wants to. I may not feel equal to the task, but that’s ok. That reminds me the strength to do it is not my own, but His. His provision and enabling usually comes at the time of obedience, not before. And what times I have cooperated with Him in this way, it has been wonderful to see how He has worked and to experience His presence through those things. When we believe on Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know God is with us by faith even if we don’t always feel it. But somehow when we trust Him through difficult things, we experience His presence and help and grace in ways not known before.

Sometimes I get to the, “Yes, Lord, I am Yours: Your will be done” after reluctance, objections, repentance, and reassurance. I hope, like Mary, to get to the place where I can go there directly.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Book Review: Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World

radical-womanhoodI got Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley some years ago when I caught it on sale – both because it was on sale and because I have enjoyed some of Carolyn’s writing in the past. It’s been on my TBR shelf ever since, and every now and then when I’ve noticed it, I’ve wondered why I keep getting books on this topic when I’ve already studied it out in Scripture and read several books on it and pretty much have nailed down my views. I guess because it’s one of my main interests. But I was compelled to pick it up recently (maybe due to guilt for its having been there so long) – and I was extremely glad I did.

Carolyn comes at the topic from a different angle than I have read in the past, and that makes for a refreshing viewpoint. She grew up as an unbeliever and a full-blown feminist. Her world changed completely when she became a Christian at 29, and attending church was a major culture shock. Over time and through her own study of the Bible and the preaching and teaching of it by her church, she came to different conclusions about womanhood than she had been raised with. She wrote this book partly because she wished her 30 year old self had had something like it to help her navigate through the conflicting viewpoints, but also because she discovered in her speaking engagements that a lot of women didn’t know what the Bible said plus didn’t know how our feminist-influenced culture got where it is today.

The eight chapters are divided by topic, with a history of feminism related to that topic, a Biblical perspective, and a testimony from different women about living out that particular aspect of Biblical femininity.

She points out that feminism did address some serious needs and inequalities, but then went too far. “There’s a difference between restoring God-given rights to women and setting women above both men and God. The history of the feminist movement shows that one led to another–and much earlier than the 1960s” (p. 32).

Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in 1776 concerning the fact that women were not equal in legal status to men and urging him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands…Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness” (p. 32). She “was not suggesting that women should throw off every aspect of feminine existence, trashing the roles of wives and mothers. She simply wanted laws that recognized women as fully legal, adult entities in this new nation” (p. 33). She predicted that failure would “foment a rebellion” in which women would “not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation” (p. 32). Unfortunately, though they had a “close and loving marriage,” he “did not take her seriously on this point” (p. 33).

Her prediction proved true, though. By 1848 the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention met and compiled a “Declaration of Sentiments” including a list of their grievances.

These grievances led to needed reforms in education, marriage, suffrage, and employment for women. But mixed in with those needed social reforms was a challenge to Christianity–its church governance, biblical teaching, and community service…eventually [leading] to the destruction of biblically defined concepts of God, sin, gender differences, marriage, and more (p. 36).

Carolyn deftly details the history of feminism from there, comparing it to what the Scripture actually teaches, and providing some background information on some of its activists. I was surprised to learn–though I shouldn’t have been–that some of feminism’s most strident voices had distinctly anti-Christian views at the core of their philosophies.

I have many more places marked than I can quote here, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

All my previous feminist philosophies resulted in merely kicking at the darkness, expecting it would bleed daylight. But Scripture says it is by God’s light that we see light (Psalm 36:9) (p. 26).

The irony of Stanton’s claims is that when the Bible is actually properly taught, history shows that women’s status improves (p. 38).

Spiritual battles are won or lost in the day-to-day thoughts we harbor. Ideas matter! (p. 59).

Every one of us is prone to agree with Satan’s character assassination of God. We often chafe at the good boundaries God has given us. We are easily tempted to think the worst of God. And we doubt that what God has provided is anywhere near as good as what He has restricted. In some ways, we may have more in common with self-proclaimed feminists than we may realize (p. 60).

Back to my beginning thoughts about why I should read a book like this when I’ve already studied it out, Carolyn had this to say:

If you are a longtime Christian, I pray you will be refreshed in your commitment to these godly principles. Biblical womanhood is not a one-size-fits-all mold. It’s not about certain dress styles, Jane Austen movies, tea parties, quiet voices, and exploding floral patterns…or whatever stereotype you are picturing right now. To live according to biblical principals today requires women to be bold enough to stand against philosophies and strongholds that seek to undermine God’s Word and His authority (p. 29).

This was quite an eye-opening book for me. Though every chapter was interesting and filled with information, most interesting to me was the one on the home and it’s history from home-based businesses producing goods to consuming goods, and the fact that my beloved major, home economics, was originally an outgrowth of Social Darwinism!

I wouldn’t agree with just every little thing taught by every Christian leader Carolyn quotes, but I don’t recall coming across anything I would consider a glaring error in the book.

I feel like I have only shared the tip of the iceberg and haven’t done this book justice. Let’s just say I highly recommend it.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
My rating: 10 out of 10.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

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Those Perfect Friends

(Photo courtesy of stock images on FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(Photo courtesy of stock images on FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

A recent conversation with a young mom friend brought back to mind a struggle I had years ago. We all have those friends, the ones who seem to do everything and do it well, while we’re struggling just to keep our heads above water.

One of my friends like that was a lady at church about my age with children similar in age to mine. She was not only a mom and homemaker, she worked part-time. Her house was not only picked-up, it was clean. On top of that, it was beautifully decorated. She sewed (her clothes, her children’s clothes, curtains, etc.) She did craft projects; she helped out in various ministries at church; she sang. And she was hospitable: she had people over regularly.

I don’t know how many times, after being with her, I would come home discouraged and wonder what in the world was wrong with me that I couldn’t do half that. I finally came to the place where I just had to accept that people had different gifts and capacities, and hers were more than mine.

The funny thing is, if I had talked with her about it, she probably would have felt like she wasn’t doing all that much and would’ve pointed to one of those friends in her life. She probably would have lamented to me about what she didn’t get done or couldn’t do or the ways in which she felt like a failure.

None of us has everything totally together. When friends excel in one area or another, we compare ourselves to them and end up envying them, or feeling discouraged, or trying to find a fault with them to burst the bubble of their seeming perfection. The Bible says this is not wise: “But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12b).

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. We all have different gifts, capacities, and circumstances.

2. There is always going to be someone who does what I do better than I do it.

3. It’s ok not to do everything, or even strive to do everything, like someone else. One friend I had in early married days was an organizational wiz. But one day as we were talking, she shared that she made one kind of soup and sandwich for her family’s lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and another kind on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. And I thought – how boring! Not to criticize her – if that’s what she and her family liked, that was fine. It did save time trying to decide what to do for lunch every day. But I decided I didn’t want to be that organized: though it took more time, I liked a little more variety.

4. We can learn from each other and appreciate each other’s gifts. Though I might not want to implement all of my organized friend’s habits, if I have an organizing question, she’d the one I’d ask for advice. I may never exercise hospitality with the ease of another friend, but I can ask her for tips or observe what she does. My friend whose home is decorated so nicely may be able to help me with a decorating dilemma.

5. Remember you only see part of the picture. Our seemingly perfect friends have their struggles, too, and probably none of them feels perfect.

6. We’re all in a state of growth. Organization used to be one of my major struggles, and whatever improvements I made, it seemed like I’d never get on top of everything. One day I realized that I would never reach 100% organizational perfection (and even if I did, it would take the rest of my life to maintain it). But that didn’t discourage me: instead it was the greatest relief. Organization (for me) is not a destination; it’s a journey. I still have areas I can improve upon, but I’m better at it that I was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago.

7. Some seasons are more limiting than others. When there is a new little one in the house, or someone is ill, or the family is taking care of an elderly loved one, or a husband is working 60+ hours a week during a crunch time, our time and attention is needed in other areas. Elisabeth Elliot said about limitations, “But my limitations, placing me in a different category from…anyone else’s, become, in the sovereignty of God, gifts. For it is with the equipment that I have been given that I am to glorify God. It is this job, not that one, that He gave me.”

8. Remember life is not a competition, at least in this sense. Oh, there are times of competition: athletic events, political races, perhaps even a job promotion, etc. But everyday life is not about trying to best others at every turn.

As we seek to improve in any area, our competition should be against ourselves rather than trying to be as good as or even better than someone else.

But ultimately, we need to keep our eyes on Christ, seek His will for our lives, and live to please Him. What He wants us to do may not look like what He wants others to do. Even in those everyday practical matters, He can help us or lead us to the resources we need to improve. If we’re walking with Him in His perfect will, we’re right where we need to be.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

(Sharing With Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Wise Woman Wednesday)

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The Mother’s Hymn

The Mother’s Hymn

by William Cullen Bryant.

Lord, who ordainest for mankind
Benignant toils and tender cares!
We thank Thee for the ties that bind
The mother to the child she bears.

We thank Thee for the hopes that rise,
Within her heart, as, day by day,
The dawning soul, from those young eyes,
Looks, with a clearer, steadier ray.

And grateful for the blessing given
With that dear infant on her knee,
She trains the eye to look to heaven,
The voice to lisp a prayer to Thee.

Such thanks the blessed Mary gave,
When, from her lap, the Holy Child,
Sent from on high to seek and save
The lost of earth, looked up and smiled.

All-Gracious! grant, to those that bear
A mother’s charge, the strength and light
To lead the steps that own their care
In ways of Love, and Truth, and Right.

(HT to Ivory Spring, where I saw this a couple of years ago).

My heart echoes the last stanza especially, even though mine are grown men now.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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The Value of Housework

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Housework is probably not on many people’s lists of favorite things to do. I tend to get frustrated over having to put aside the more interesting or even spiritual pursuits in order to dust or do laundry. But I do value housework. I don’t get excited about the need to dust, but once I get started, I enjoy the clean surfaces. I like the results of picking up, sweeping, doing laundry, washing dishes, even if I am not fond of the process. But even the process can be lightened up with listening to an audiobook, podcast, or music, or conversation while working with someone.

I’m embarrassed to confess this, but, believe it or not, when my husband and I were first married, I often wouldn’t do dishes until we ran out of clean silverware. We didn’t have a dishwasher, and I was a part-time student with two part-time jobs and the adjustments of being newly married. Plus both my jobs involved cleaning – a person’s home and five banks (my husband and I did the banks together – nice job for students because it could be done any time the bank was closed), so by the time I got to my own home, well, who wanted to clean then? But that meant that washing dishes, plus everything else I didn’t get to, took up a big chunk of time on Saturdays. I eventually learned it’s easier (and more sanitary and less disgusting) to clean in smaller doses as I went along, especially once I had children and no longer had big chunks of time to do anything.

I’ve been in homes where housework wasn’t valued – where I would have been afraid to eat or use the bathroom, where bugs crawled all over everything. I’ve been in hotels where there was pink stuff growing in the corners of the shower and the bedding looked questionable. I’ve been in restaurants with a waitress that acted like she could care less about serving and food that was under or over-cooked or unidentifiable. I’ve even gotten food poisoning from restaurant food. It makes such a difference when people care.

I just finished reading and reviewing True Woman 201: Interior Design by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss yesterday, and one of the chapters I most appreciated dealt with work. Before discussing “keeping the home,” they couched the discussion in the greater spiritual principles that work is good, that we work because we’re made in God’s image and He works, that Jesus did humble physical labor longer than He worked as an itinerant evangelist and teacher. In the course of that chapter the authors quoted a couple of feminists of the past concerning housework:

“Women’s work within the home gives her no autonomy; it is not directly useful to society, it does not open out on the future, it produces nothing” (Simone de Beauvoir).

“Women who adjust as housewives, who grow up wanting to be just a housewife, are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps … they are suffering a slow death of mind and spirit” (Betty Friedan).

Wow – pretty strong stuff. It made me wonder – did they live in a pigsty, then? Or did they hire housekeepers but devalue them as “lesser” specimens of womanhood? Or did they value housework if someone was paid for it but not if women did it in their own homes? Reminds me of the G. K. Chesterton quote, “[Feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”

I decided to list all the advantages I could think of for housework:

1. Sanitation. I have been in homes where there were roaches crawling over caked-on food on counters and appliances and toilet seats and sinks were black. Bleah.

2. Sense of peacefulness. When things are chaotic in the house, it’s hard to relax. But when everything is in order with my surroundings, my mind and heart feel more orderly.

3. Not being embarrassed if someone comes by unexpectedly, or not having to do a major overhaul before having people over. There may be shoes off by the couch or a newspaper or glass on the end table, but there’s an overall sense of order and cleanliness.

4. Saves time. Staying on top of things is much easier than having to do major clean-ups.

5. Being able to find things rather than having them get lost in the shuffle or buried.

6. Save money. Things last longer when they’re taken care of, plus you avoid purchasing things that you forgot you had.

7. Releases you to be creative in other areas. For some of us its hard to be creative in a mess.

8. Multitasking – with some chores you can listen to music or a podcast or an audiobook while your hands are busy with something else.

9. Almost instant gratification. You can see the dish pile diminishing and the dust disappearing.

10. Sense of accomplishment. I’ve been thinking over this post for a few days, and just this morning while listening to Robinson Crusoe heard this passage, in which he brings supplies into a cave. “At first this was a confused heap of goods, which, as they lay in no order, so they took up all my place; I had no room to turn myself.” Then he tells how he arranged things, made furniture, fixed a place to hang his gun, etc., then “so that, had my cave been to be seen, it looked like a general magazine of all necessary things; and had everything so ready at my hand, that it was a great pleasure to me to see all my goods in such order.”

Of course one can go too far and make everyone feel like they can never relax for fear of getting something dirty or out of place. You want a place where everyone is comfortable, not a museum. I knew of one women who did all sorts of things around the house that she thought a good wife was supposed to do only to find that those things didn’t really matter to her husband: he’d rather be greeted by an attentive, peaceful wife than neglected by one who was in a constant frenzy over the house. It’s good to confer together over these things. Some people don’t mind a little dust as long as clutter is picked up. We all have things that “bug” us or make the room feel unclean, but then have other things we can live with, at least for a while.

And we don’t have to go all Disney princess, singing “Whistle While You Work” while bluebirds tie bows in our hair.

And there are seasons and moments of life when housework takes a back seat (when a young child is in the house, when there is a “teachable moment” with a child or an opportunity to sit and play with him for a moment, when a husband wants you to do something or go somewhere with him and leave the dishes for now, when a friend needs a listening ear, when you’re tired, etc.).

And it is ok to pay someone to clean your house: it’s not a sin if you don’t do it all yourself. Even the Proverbs 31 lady had help. I’ve known elderly or working women to hire household help  for various tasks or people to hire help for special occasions. By the way, if you’re a mom, it’s perfectly ok and even a good thing to have your children do household tasks. It’s good for them to learn to pitch in, to learn the value of work, to value keeping things clean and orderly, to train in that way for their own homes and jobs. We always had the attitude that kids doing work wasn’t just “helping Mom,” but rather instilling in them that we all pull together as a family to get things done (more on children and chores here).

But the point is that housework is valuable and does provide meaningful service, for ourselves, for our families, for guests.

Of course,  the feminists quoted probably didn’t have any problem with a woman swishing a broom occasionally: what they particularly disliked was the idea of a woman being a full-time homemaker. I’m glad for many of the choices available to women today, but one of them is being a fill-time homemaker (I realize that not everyone who wants to be at home can be). I prefer the term homemaker to housewife, because I am not married to my house: I am creating a home. In a sense every woman is a homemaker, because every woman has a home, whether she’s single or married, has children or does not, works outside the home or does not. And as someone who has been a homemaker for 36 years, full-time for 32, I can tell you it isn’t a mind-numbing, useless existence. It can be as creative as you make it.

Some years ago I wrote Encouragement for Homemakers, and want to pull a couple of quotes from there:

Homemaking—being a full-time wife and mother—is not a destructive drought of usefulness but an overflowing oasis of opportunity; it is not a dreary cell to contain one’s talents and skills but a brilliant catalyst to channel creativity and energies into meaningful work; it is not a rope for binding one’s productivity in the marketplace, but reins for guiding one’s posterity in the home; it is not oppressive restraint of intellectual prowess for the community, but a release of wise instruction to your own household; it is not the bitter assignment of inferiority to your person, but the bright assurance of the ingenuity of God’s plan for the complementarity of the sexes, especially as worked out in God’s plan for marriage; it is neither limitation of gifts available nor stinginess in distributing the benefits of those gifts, but rather the multiplication of a mother’s legacy to the generations to come and the generous bestowal of all God meant a mother to give to those He entrusted to her care.”
~Dorothy Patterson

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.
~Helen Keller

What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow.
~ Martin Luther

And I’ll add this one just discovered in the True Woman book:

“The reason we give priority to managing household responsibilities is not that vacuuming, dusting, or cooking are intrinsically valuable or satisfying tasks. It’s that we want to create a peaceful, orderly, welcoming environment conducive to nurturing and growing disciples for the kingdom of God” (p. 154).

So take heart as you go through your home bringing order out of chaos: your work is both valuable and meaningful. And perhaps be inspired by this:

The Blue Bowl

All day long I did the little things,
The little things that do not show;
I brought the kindling for the fire,
I set the candles in a row,
I filled a bowl with marigolds—
The shallow bowl you love the best—
And made the house a pleasant place
Where weariness may take its rest.

The hours sped on, my eager feet
Could not keep pace with my desire.
So much to do! So little time!
I could not let my body tire.
Yet when the coming of the night
Blotted the garden from my sight,
And on the narrow graveled walks
Between the guarding flower stalks
I heard your step, I was not through
With services I meant for you.

You came into the quiet room
That glowed enchanted with the bloom
Of yellow flame. I saw your face;
Illumined by the firelit space,
Slowly grow still and comforted—
“It’s good to be at home,” you said.

~ Blanch Bane Kuder

See also:

Encouragement for Homemakers, which, incidentally, contains my favorite ever comment from my husband.
Happy Housewife Day!
I confess: I don’t really like to cook.
A Real Home.
Wanting things to be “perfect.”
A Homemaking Meme.
Another homemaking meme.
A prayer for home.
Two views of housework.
Meditations for daily tasks.
Thy list be done.
The Value of Homemakers.

(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday)