Mentoring Is More Than Affirmation

Sometimes over the years I have read the question from younger women, “Where are the older, godly, Titus 2 women?”

I’ve also read many sentiments from younger women, especially younger moms, that they don’t want anyone to criticize them or tell them they should be doing anything differently. They just want to be encouraged and told they’re doing a good job.

Granted, older women have a reputation for being critical. We should take great pains to affirm and encourage younger women. We shouldn’t be talking behind our hands to our friends about the younger generation (or anyone else). We need to be open to the fact that many things about Christian womanhood can look different for different people and situations and not insist that everything should be done like we did it 20-40 years ago.

On the other hand, though, is mentoring just about affirmation? Does a classroom teacher or athletic coach or job supervisor only affirm and encourage? Do they not sometimes correct and instruct?

Once I looked up the Greek word translated “teach” in the famous Titus 2 passage about older and younger women. It’s the only time this particular word is used in the NT, and, according to BibleStudyTools.com, it means:

1. restore one to his senses

2. to moderate, control, curb, disciple

3. to hold one to his duty

4. to admonish, to exhort earnestly

Are we actually looking for that kind of interaction with older women?

I know it’s hard sometimes when you get conflicting or thoughtless or inappropriate or “out of touch” advice. Here are some thoughts:

1. Manage your expectations. No one on the planet, even a wise, godly older woman, is going to hit the nail on the head every time. We’re all sinners; we won’t always get it right; we won’t always be available when we should be. We want to be the ideal older woman, but we’ll fail. Your mentors won’t be gurus or fairy godmothers: they’ll be very human. But that’s even better, because we can learn from God’s grace in their mistakes as well as their shining moments.

2. Even though God wants these kinds of relationships, don’t seek them before Him. Seek Him first for any problem, and ask Him to direct you to whom to talk to if that is His will.

3. Attribute the best motives. Once in the mall with our young baby in a stroller, one older lady from our church stopped us and told us he needed to be covered up more so he didn’t get a chill. Just a few minutes later, another older lady from our church told us to uncover him so he wouldn’t get hot and sweaty. It’s easy to want to roll our eyes behind people’s backs sometimes, but tell yourself that they mean well and at least showed an interest.

4. Glean. Sometimes you’ll get different opinions from different older women whom you respect and who both love the Lord. This was hard for me as a young mom until I hit upon the idea of gleaning – kindly listening and then taking from their advice what would best work for our family and leaving the rest.

5. Observe. In every stage and season of my life, God has placed ladies just ahead of me that I have learned much from just by observing.

6. Interact with older ladies, whether going to ladies’ meetings, talking with them at baby showers, asking them over for lunch or dinner, etc. Sometimes older women feel unwanted by the younger: let them know that you do want to know them. Sometimes you can glean a lot just by being around them.

7. You may need to take the initiative and go to an older woman whose advice you would like to receive. Some are reticent because they don’t know how to mentor or they are afraid of offending. Feel free to ask questions. They’re much more willing to share when they know their thoughts are wanted.

8. Don’t be offended. I read a post years ago about a woman who was rebuked in a harsh way by an older lady over a modesty issue. To her credit, the younger woman took it to the Lord and came to believe that the woman was right, even though the woman had gone about it in a totally wrong way. That doesn’t excuse the older woman, but we’re also not excused from something God might be trying to tell us through an imperfect vessel.

9. Don’t be oversensitive. Don’t mistake advice or a suggestion as criticism. Some years ago I was with a younger lady who had just received a gift of a parenting book after her child was born. This was pretty common when I was a young mom, and we welcomed it – we knew we needed all the help we could get. I knew the giver, and she had discussed this book with me once and mentioned that she liked to give it to new moms because it had been such a help to her. But this new mom was hurt, interpreting the gift as an indication that the giver thought she wasn’t going to be a good parent. Likewise, I’ve heard women sound hurt when someone tells them, “You have your hands full!” and take it as a jab for having an active child or more than one child. More often than not it is said by someone who has also had their hands full parenting in the past and who know what younger parents are going through.

10. Don’t assume that you know the motives behind what another woman is saying. Ask questions to clarify if need be.

It’s hard for older women to know how to go about mentoring unless we’re in an actual position of authority (parent, Sunday School teacher, pastor’s wife). Even then it can be touchy. For most of us, in our everyday interactions it wouldn’t go over well to just stop a younger women in her tracks and start “teaching” her. But here are a few considerations:

1. Pray. If there is someone on your heart, pray much before approaching her, pray much about how to approach her, pray much about whether to approach her at all. If someone asks you a question on the spot, send up a quick prayer for wisdom and possibly even ask for time to think and pray about their question and get back to them.

2. It’s generally best not to offer advice unless asked.

3. Even when offering advice, we need to couch it in suggestive rather than authoritarian tones. I often say, “You might think about…” or “Something that helps me is…” rather than “You ought to…”

4. Don’t contradict a woman’s doctor or pediatrician unless a moral issue is involved. Obviously if a woman’s doctor is advocating abortion, we’d want to try to help her see another view. But in just the little everyday parts of child care, I was amazed at how much had changed between what I was taught as a young mother and what my daughter-in-law was instructed to do with my grandson. It’s probably best never to use the phrase, “Back in MY day…”

5. Don’t contradict a woman’s husband unless there are moral, sinful, or abusive issues. If he wants her to work while she wants to stay home, pray with her, possibly suggest ways she can approach him about it, but don’t incite rebellion.

6. Don’t major on the minors. There are so many divisive issues among women: getting married or remaining single; working vs. staying at home; breastfeeding or bottle feeding; home school vs. public school vs. private school, whether to use a pacifier or not, and on and on and on. Most of these are secondary issues that the Bible does not give specific commands or instruction about. You may have specific principles you’ve drawn after much study in the Word. That’s as it should be. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). The whole tenor of Romans 14 is that believers can have differing opinions about even such things as what days to celebrate and what’s permissible to eat without judging each other or having divisive arguments. Take a stand where the Bible does but allow for differences where the Bible does.

7. It’s best to mentor in the context of relationship. Don’t just look at someone as a “project.” Look at them as sisters or daughters in Christ. Have them over, develop a relationship, truly care about the other person. If some kind of advice or a different perspective is needed, it will go over better coming from a loving relationship.

8. Don’t be a busybody. Don’t overstep or go too far.

9. Don’t belittle.

10 Don’t assume. Sometimes when you see part of a situation, you may not understand the whole of it or what has lead up to it. One off reaction might be just one off reaction rather than characteristic of a whole personality. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19, ESV).

11. Be careful of your example. Some time ago I was at a table of women at a church event, and the oldest woman at the table started talking about things her husband did. It was all quite funny, but I cringed at the negativity couched in humor. Would he have thought it funny if he had been there? The other women may have chuckled in sympathy, but did they get an example of reverencing their husbands? I’m not saying we have to put on a front and pretend everything is perfect in our homes, but we can present godly ways to deal with conflicts. By contrast, once I was with an older woman at church as she and her husband were preparing for an event for a group they headed up. The woman came into the kitchen looking for something or trying to figure something out, and was not exactly rattled (like I would have been), but pressured in getting everything ready. Her husband came in at that moment with another issue. Her back was to him, and I saw her just close her eyes a moment and then gently answer him. She probably wasn’t even aware that I was there or had observed that moment, but it spoke volumes to me.

12. Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes and what you’ve learned from them.

13. Do encourage that God will give them strength and wisdom, that the “terrible twos” don’t last forever, that they can go through their children’s teen years with their relationship intact, that God is using them and will give them grace in every moment, to keep on instructing and disciplining their children even if it seems nothing is getting through.

14. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29, ESV.

I’m not saying that older woman should start looking for things to correct and advise on. Rather, I urge them to look for ways to encourage and help younger women. And I urge younger women to look for more than affirmation from older women. Pray over advice, filter it, discuss it with your husband.

Also, these truths apply to more than marriage and motherhood, but that’s my realm, so that’s where my examples come from. Obviously women who are single or who are in the workplace can apply these same principles.

How about you? Have you ever received advice from an older woman that was particularly helpful? What are some other ways older women and younger women can help each other?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Tell His Story, Faith on Fire)

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Laudable Linkage

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I don’t usually do these two Saturdays in a row, but I came across a lot of good reading this week.

When Control-Craving Hearts Get Angry.

Why We Don’t Need to Fear the Moment of Our Death, HT to Challies.

Embrace the Life You Have.

In Defense of the Unspoken Prayer Request.

Which Bible Woman Are You Like?

Advance in Favor. Sometimes an “I don’t care what people think” attitude helps when standing for right and truth when others are not. But the Bible says Jesus increased in favor with God and man. I appreciated this article on what that means.

Don’t Hide Those Grey Hairs.

Infuse Your In-law Relationships With Grace and Love. I am happy to have good relationships with both my mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

If I have Enough Faith, Will God Heal Me?

At the bottom of the above link is this video, worth the 12+ minutes to listen:

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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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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 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)

Book Review: True Woman 201: Interior Design

True Woman 201I’m not sure how I first came across True Woman 201: Interior Design: Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (now Wolgemuth). But I saw that it was a study of Titus 2:1, 3-5, a passage I’m very much interested in, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Nancy’s writings. In fact, I’ve been asking myself why I haven’t read more of her. My “interior design” can always use some work, so this seemed like a good book to work through.

It is set up as a ten week study for either an individual or a group. Each week contains five daily 15-minute or so readings around one particular “design element.” There are leader resources as well as videos which run about 20 minutes that cover the highlights of the lessons on TrueWoman201. So a group studying together would work through the lessons for the week, meet together and watch that week’s video, and then discuss the lessons. I only watched 3 or so of the videos. Though they did provide a good recap, I just didn’t feel inclined to listen to the same things I had just read.

Normally when you hear Titus 2:1-5 preached or taught, people hone in on a woman’s responsibility to love her husband and children, be submissive to her husband, and be a “keeper at home,” with much debate over exactly what that last one involves. Off the top of my head I can only think of one time where I have heard the whole passage dealt with, and that was at a lady’s conference where there were sessions on each section. So I very much appreciated that the authors here dealt with every part of the passage, beginning with verse 1. Titus is told to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” and the authors explain that one’s doctrine is a set of beliefs and that “sound” doctrine is healthy, without contamination. They discuss the use of a “plumb line” in decorating or building to help one’s work to stay straight and show how we need to use the “plumb line” of Scripture to make sure we’re “in accord with sound doctrine,” “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14).

There is so much in here that it would be hard to encapsulate it all, but here’s a little bit about each “design element” after discernment:

Honor: “A True Woman makes much of Christ…She is ‘reverent in behavior.'”

“The basic meaning of the ‘fear of God’ is ‘reverential awe.’ It’s a personal, jaw-dropping awareness of God’s majestic greatness and holiness, reflected in a commitment to honor Him by turning from sin and faithfully obeying His Word” (p. 41).

Slander and being “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3) are seen as a lack of reverent behavior toward God and our fellow man, a self-promotion and self-indulgence that dishonors His sacrifice for us.

Affection: “A True Woman values the family…She “loves her husband and children.”

The authors make some interesting observations in this section, one noting what’s not on this list. If we were going to come up with a curriculum for discipling young women, we’d likely list Bible study, prayer, etc. – which are essential for all believers. But the specific things mentioned in this passage emphasize God’s priorities for women, which in our day is countercultural. This passage also emphasizes that these things must be learned. And they observe that this passage is for all women, even for those who are single or without children (Nancy was single with no expectation of marriage at the time of this writing), because marriage and childbirth is part of God’s plan of redemption, the marriage relationship picturing that between Christ and the church.

“As God designed it to function, ‘family’ helps us to understand what it means to have a heavenly Father and be part of a household of faith….God gave us these images so we’d have human thoughts, feelings, experiences, and language adequate and powerful enough to understand and express deep spiritual truths” (p. 68).

Discipline: “A True Woman makes wise, intentional choices…She is ‘self-controlled.'”

“Sometimes we focus too much on trying to change or stop the behavior, when what we need to do is go back and find out what kind of thinking produced that kind of behavior in the first place. It’s easier to fix the ‘what’ if we understand the ‘why.’…Here are some examples of the type of false beliefs that may have accounted for your behavior:

I have a right to return tit for tat.
Life should be easy.
He’s the problem, not me.
I deserve to be happy.
I just can’t handle it!
Indulging is better than holding out.

What if you paused to recalibrate your mind with truth?” (p. 101).

Virtue: “A True Woman cultivates goodness…She is ‘pure.'”

“Virtue and purity are two sides of the same coin: the presence of goodness and the absence of defilement” (p. 111).

The authors discuss the difference between “positional purity” that Christ wrought for us when He died on the cross for our sin, and “personal, practical purity (sanctification)” in which our everyday lives grow bit by bit to match our “position.”

“Two of the three times when diabolos refers to slander, it’s speaking specifically to women. God created women as relators and gave us an amazing capacity for verbal communication. Unfortunately, Satan likes to turn this strength into a weakness. He likes to turn virtue into vice” (p. 121).

“The Bible’s definition is broader…Slander means to speak critically of another person with the intent to harm…even if the information is correct. That’s why diabolos has been translated ‘malicious gossip’ as well as ‘false accuser'” (p. 122).

“Getting rid of vice and growing in virtue isn’t easy. It takes work. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Make every effort to add to your faith virtue’ (2 Peter 1:5). That’s right: love-motivated, Spirit-enabled, Christ-glorifying effort” (p. 131).

“In ancient Greek, the word pure originally meant ‘that which awakens awe’ or ‘that which excites reverence.’ Purity is ravishingly beautiful. It makes the gospel attractive and believable. When you make every effort to cultivate virtue in your life, the great ‘Refiner and Purifier of silver’ will reveal His beauty in you, and others will be drawn to love and worship Him!” (p. 131).

Responsibility: “A True Woman maintains the right work priorities…She values ‘working at home.'”

“In our minds, the question isn’t ‘Should women work?’ but rather ‘What is God’s view of work?’ ‘How do I choose which work receives the most time and attention at this stage of my life?’ ‘Am I giving my home the focus and priority God wants it to have?’ And ‘am I determining the value of my work based on earthly or heavenly economics?'” (p. 135).

“Work…exists because we’ve been made in the image of the great worker, God. We work because He works. Work is a God-ordained activity. Honest, diligent, attentive, productive, innovative, creative, faithful, fruitful, conscientious, hard work bears witness to God’s nature and character” (p. 142).

“Work does not primarily exist for the purpose of financial gain (though we may get paid). It’s primary purpose is to glorify God” (p. 142).

“No legitimate work, undertaken for the glory of God, is menial or meaningless. Hard physical labor wasn’t beneath the dignity of the Son of God. Jesus worked as a carpenter for about seventeen years and only about three years doing itinerant ministry. Carpentry was a lowly, ill-paying profession. Yet Jesus was doing God’s work when pounding a nail just as much as He was doing it when preaching on a hillside–because He was doing what God wanted Him to do when God wanted Him to do it” (p. 143).

“[The Proverbs 31 woman] could be a bit intimidating for the most energetic, gifted woman. But the thing that stands out in this passage is not so much all this woman’s abilities or all the things she does. What makes her extraordinary is the fact that she is so utterly un-self-centered and that she consistently demonstrates a heart to serve her family and others–all grounded in her reverence for God” (p. 149).

“To be idle is to ‘not be working or active,’ to habitually avoid one’s responsibilities, or to fill one’s time with things of no real worth or significance. Idleness is not the opposite of busyness. Idle people are often extremely busy. Take the woman of Proverbs 7 for example: “She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market,  and at every corner she lies in wait” (Prov. 7:11-12). Though this woman was busy, she was actually being idle; for she wasn’t doing the ‘good work’ she was supposed to do” (p. 151).

“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).

Benevolence: “A True Woman is charitable…She is ‘kind.'”

“In the type of ‘random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty’ that society commends, the benefactor and the beneficiary generally have little if any awareness of each other’s deepest motivations and needs” (p. 159).

“For a believer, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit that is empowered, enabled, and directed by God. When our kindness extends beyond those who deserve or reciprocate our benevolence, when it reaches out to those whose shortcomings and failures we know full well, that is when we reflect the heart of Him who is ‘kind to the ungrateful and the evil'” (Luke 6:35) (p. 159).

Disposition: “A True Woman cultivates a soft, amenable spirit…She is ‘submissive.'”

“Jesus Christ is the epitome of submission. His ‘not-My-will-but-Yours-be-done’ attitude is at the heart of the gospel story” (p. 182).

Legacy: “A True Woman is a spiritual mother…She ‘teaches what is good.'”

“Deborah had a God-given nurturing instinct that gave her courage and compassion. She wasn’t driven by the things that drive many modern women–power, control, position, or recognition–but by a mother’s heart. She saw herself as ‘a mother in Israel'” (p. 211).

Paul’s use of the Greek word neos in Titus 2:4 “indicates that his categories of older and younger had more to do with experience, life stage, and spiritual maturity than chronological age. A neos is a newbie, a ‘greenhorn’–a fresh, inexperienced novice. It’s a woman new to the circumstance in which she is placed. The point is, if you want to be the kind of woman who brings glory to God, you should actively learn from the lives of women who have walked the path before you, and actively teach those who are coming after. Regardless of your age, the Lord wants you to be both a learner and a teacher” (p. 219).

“The older we get, the bigger the catalog of failures Satan can throw in our faces. You may think, ‘I don’t have anything to offer.’ But you can teach out of your failures as well as your successes” (p. 223).

Beauty: “A True Woman displays the attractiveness of the gospel…’So that the word of God may not be reviled.'”

“A Christian woman whose life doesn’t bear witness to the transformative power of the gospel causes the gospel to be blasphemed, defamed, and dishonored–it’s as though she invites vandals to deface it with foul graffiti. If, on the other hand, she cooperates with God and allows Him to change her, she ‘adorns’ the gospel. To adorn means to beautify it and make it attractive. Outsiders will look at her life and say, ‘Wow! Her life makes me think the Bible is true!’ We can’t just tell them it’s true. They need to see and feel and experience that it really is true through our lives” (p. 235).

They stress that God’s design for genders is not fluid according to whatever the world’s thoughts are: they’re a part of “sound doctrine.” On the other hand, they agree that God’s design doesn’t turn out cookie cutter Christians who all look the same, that how this works out in a life might differ from woman to woman. I appreciated that while they held fast to those areas where Scripture is specific, they dealt evenhandedly with controversial issues like a woman working outside the home, sharing a list of Biblical women who had other kinds of jobs, but stressing the primary ministry of home and family. They mention also that though many of these characteristics should be true of men as well, there are reasons that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to list some characteristics for men and some for women.

If there is a “201,” there must have been a “101,” and there was: True Woman 101: Divine Design, which focuses on God’s plan and design for womanhood. I have not read it yet but probably will some day. It looks like it’s laid out the same as this was with 5 daily readings for each chapter, covering eight weeks rather than ten.

Back to True Woman 201: I thought the layout was a bit distracting at first. The spiritual “interior design” theme was couched in a similarities to the design of a home, and there are lots of photos relating to that kind of thing scattered throughout the pages. Verses and quotes are in sidebars. I got used to it after a while, and it’s a minor complaint. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this study. I appreciated the authors’ thorough and gracious treatment of the topic and I can enthusiastically recommend it to you.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)