Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chapter 6 - The Honour of Working at Home

I must admit that if I'd read this book a few years ago, I would not have been impressed with this chapter. Staying at home was not going to be my 'lot in life', I would say (patronisingly) to my mother. I was meant for better things! In fact, I still remember a conversation I had with my dad when he gently suggested that I may not ever use my law degree - that I may end up being married to a missionary in China, or decide to stay at home and raise my kids! I told him emphatically, through tears, that I was sure that God's plans for me involved me using my law degree for some 'greater good' than that.

I feel quite ashamed when I think of that story, but it's reassuring to see how God's been changing me - it has taken me a long time, but I think I have come to see the eternal significance of a day spent serving God on such a small stage, so invisible to the world.

That being said, I think there are two dangers I still need to watch out for as a stay-at-home mother of young kids -

1. Career envy

Although I feel happy with my decision to be at home with my kids, and thankful that God has blessed us with the financial resources to make that possible, I find that there are moments when I feel envious of women who have 'careers'. Sometimes, when I look at others I went through school and uni with, who now have interesting (and better paid!) jobs where they get lots of encouragement, get to wear nice clothes, get flown to exotic locations etc, my life seems a little boring. And sometimes, I get a little glimpse of how my friends who have chosen that path must see me - and I don't like how foolish I appear to them!

When this sort of career envy strikes, the temptation is to indulge it with a spell of self-pity or a bout of self-righteousness, or to become perfectionist and competitive about the kids, because they are my career-substitute ("I gave up a highly paid career for you, so the least you can do is be gifted/perfect/saintly...!").

I must be careful that I continue to fight against this, and be content in my situation, and find my joy in Jesus, not in my accomplishments!

2. House-worship

The other trap I fear in my situation as a stay-at-home mum is to focus so much on the 'beautification' of my home that my house becomes my idol. I'm not denying the importance of the mundane activities of keeping my house clean and my family clothed and fed. "Whatever you do...", Paul says in Colossians 3:23, you should do with all your heart. Sweeping a room and changing a nappy can be acts of worship and beautiful in God's sight.

But there is a difference between housework (as a way of serving a family and making a house a hospitable, welcoming home) and houseworship. Haggai has some pretty damning things to say about the Israelites of his day, who spent more energy (and money) on panelling their houses than on building God's temple. The most important way in which I serve God and help my husband as a stay-at-home mum, in this season of my life, is by caring for kids and teaching them to love and follow Jesus. And hand in hand with this (and part of this task, I believe), there are so many ways I can use my home for ministry, and use my flexible time (especially as the kids get older) to be a blessing in the wider community and promote the cause of the gospel.

I must not let my ultimate goal be a beautiful home - a magazine-picture home that my family isn't comfortable in and visitors aren't welcome in, which diverts my time and energy and money away from things which are far more important in the sight of God.

If I have a clear vision of what my goals are in all my 'busyness' at home, I'll know better how to make the everyday decisions of how to spend my time. So (in the years to come) I expect and hope that there will be times when the washing up doesn't get done until the afternoon because I'm teaching Scripture that day, or we have baked beans on toast for dinner because I've been talking to one of my children about a difficult thing that happened at school.

My worry is that if I'm too focussed on the immediate domestic agenda without seeing where it fits into a bigger vision of the kingdom of God, then I'll fail in my ultimate task. I liked what John Piper said about motherhood recently:

The women who flourish most and who delight most in that calling—and who are best at it—are not women whose lives are circumscribed by their houses. They are women who are aware of the world. They're aware of God's global purpose. They're aware of the ultimate purposes of God in history. They're aware of things in history and in the far off reaches of the world today that God is doing. And those are part of what they want to build into these children. They want to raise global Christians, world Christians.

A mother will delight most in the little baby in front of her when she has a vision of God and a vision of the world that's big enough to admit that this little child has a destiny in front of him or her and might become this or that.

If she is totally circumscribed by her little home—with no vision for the world—then I think her domestic scene is probably going to shrivel up on her, and she is going to feel that it is small and constraining. But if she sees it in the wider context of what she is a part of in the missionary enterprise, I think every detail of her life can take on a global significance, indeed, an historical significance.


Anonymous said...

Hey Nicole,
Thanks for this post. My book hasn't come in the mail yet, so I haven't really been following along. But I saw the title of this one on your blog and had to read it!
What would you say to women who would like to work at home, but can't for financial reasons? How does the mandate to be "busy at home" apply to women who have to work? (I wouldn't know if those things were addressed in the book.)
Jess xx

Nicole said...

Good question Jess!

I think it's helpful to remember that the home in the ancient world was usually a workplace as well as a place you lived, and that wives would help their husbands partly by sharing in the family's income-producing activities (eg. Acts 18:2-3). This fact, together with the example of the Proverbs 31 woman (whose income producing activity included some work outside the home as well as some within) would suggest to me that the expectation in Titus is not that women should be busy only in the home, or that they should play no part in earning the family's income.

So I wouldn't say that the Bible tells women not to help their husbands by getting a job if the family needs the money. (That's different, I think, from a self-centred ambitious careerism, or a greedy pursuit of an expensive lifestyle, or an attitude that despises and wants to escape from the tasks of managing a house and caring for children.)

Of course, if necessity demands that both husband and wife (or a single mum) has to work outside the home, then housework and parenting are a huge extra load, and you do them the best you can. (And as part of that, I don't think that the Bible forbids husbands from cooking, washing, cleaning and spending time with the kids - in fact the last of those is one that the Bible positively commands husbands to do!).

Hope that helps...


Jean said...

Another way of worshiping home and family is to be so "Tit. 2:3-5" - loving husband and children, busy at home - that there is no room for "1 Tim. 5:9-10 / Prov. 31" - hospitality, service, good deeds, helping the poor. I've been thinking a lot about how these passages fit together, and reflecting on the fact that the Proverbs 31 woman, as always, really does cover them all!

Susie said...

I have spent years resisting just being a stay at home Mum and always trying to combine work and family life and ministry. But God is doing a big work in me this year and reading Mahaney's book has been especially encouraging.So thanks for your posts Nicole.

As a self confessed interiors and design addict I can relate to the desire to want a Home Beautiful home, not a real, lived in, welcoming place. I have to be wary of feeding my desire for house porn in the mags I read or the "Shopping" I do. Reading about Sarah Edwards has been rather inspiring as she seemed to have an organised home and family life and it was this that was attractive to visitors - not the latest designer couch!

May we inspire each other with the ideas in Titus 2.

Lucy said...

I'm coming in late because I only read the chapter today, sorry! I found this chapter a bit disappointing as she seemed (to me) to equate "working at home" with cooking / cleaning / making the house (ie building) welcoming. It's not that I think those things aren't important, but I felt there wasn't enough acknowlegement of the work that "homemakers" put into the relationships in the home, not to mention the training and teaching of children. Obviously from previous chapters Carolyn believes these things are a major part of a woman's role, but I suppose I feel that's where my real "work" at home is, so it felt strange that she didn't really address it in this chapter.

Maybe I'm being too picky but I would have like to have seen the tension that so many of my friends and I feel between home (building) and home (people) given some attention.

Nicole said...

Thanks Lucy! I thought your distinction between "home" (building) and "home" (people) was a useful one. Obviously we do a lot of stuff to take care of the former, but the reason we do it is for the sake of the latter. As you say, though, there was a lot in the other chapters about the "people" ministry that God gives us to do - I guess she can't say the same things over and over again in every chapter?