Confessions of a Former Housework Hater
- Monday, March 12, 2012
Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie kept herself and her environment neat even when there was no chance of any neighbor stopping by. She felt it was worthwhile to iron the clothes, make the beds, and sweep the dirt floors even though only her husband and children would appreciate her efforts. Most contemporary housewives (and I fell into this category) avoid housework until company is coming. There is a mad dash of cleaning to make the house presentable for the visitors, and then housework is neglected again for more attractive pursuits. There is an old Southern saying that people should treat their family like guests and their guests like family. I knew I was not following this sage advice when I would tidy the house for company but leave it sloppy and dirty for my family. My ability to serve the Lord was also hampered when I was ashamed to have people drop by. It's impossible to be "given to hospitality" (1 Tim 1:2) when it takes several hours of work before guests can cross the threshold. I began desiring to have my house ready for company at all times, and this became a New Year's resolution for several years before it became a reality.
I was also challenged by Proverbs 31:27, which says the virtuous woman "eats not the bread of idleness." As I doggedly tried to ignore and avoid housework, I felt I was eating this bread. I was sure Ma Ingalls would have been appalled at me sitting on the couch reading a book before all the housework was done. As my conviction and discomfort over my messy house grew, I tried to improve my slovenly habits, but found it difficult. Even though I could legalistically force myself to do my daily chores, the core of my being still hated housework, and there was no joy in my labor. My mom observed my struggle and told me to stop fighting and surrender instead. That was very wise and spiritual advice. I confessed and surrendered my laziness and work-avoiding habits to Jesus, and He gave me victory over my disorderly way of life.
I remember having a conversation years ago with a group of career women about how to sweep a floor for God's glory. We were all a bit mystified about how such a commonplace and seemingly unspiritual task could have eternal significance. I now know that it glorifies God when I keep my surroundings orderly. It glorifies Him when I set a good example for my children. God is pleased when I honor my husband and my children by working hard to make things nice for them, even at the unglamorous jobs. Elizabeth Elliot, in her book Discipline the Glad Surrender, states the following: "Let us lift up our hands, our hearts, our bodies—a sacrifice, acceptable because it is lifted up to Him who alone can purify. Without this offering, the thing dies. Deadness, lifelessness, boredom are inevitable." As I dedicate my household duties to God and perform them as unto the Lord and not for men, I find joy in the housework I once hated.
But all spiritual victories have a practical outworking, so I'll tell you my system for housework. Work is put before play whenever possible, since it is easy for the urgent to crowd out the necessary. I once saw an old-fashioned set of dish towels that had a daily chore stitched into them: Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, etc. Like the housewives of decades past, I try to accomplish one major chore every day. When nothing comes up to disrupt the cleaning schedule, I am normally done with most of my chores by Thursday. I then have some discretionary time and can hit the couch with a book for an hour without guilt.
General pick-up takes place several times a day. We pick up after school, after the baby is down for a nap, and before bed. This type of pick-up seemed so useless to me when I was a new mom with a "toddler tornado." Why pick up when I know she will quickly come and mess things up again? My mom set the example in this also for me. I observed her pick up the mess my toddler had made as soon as my toddler left the room. When I asked her what was the point in putting forth this effort, she told me that getting out the toys was half the fun for the child. And she was right. It was also wonderful to have the living room back in order again, even if the order only lasted 10 minutes. To my surprise, the toddler didn't always immediately recreate the mess, so the room was often picked up for an extended period of time.
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