Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Dirty Little Secret of the Proverbs 31 Woman

A man gave his testimony at our church the other night, sharing all the blessings he had received from God throughout his life, including the fact that his wife was a true "Proverbs 31 woman."

My initial reaction was one of guilt, mingled with admiration....and maybe a little envy. From experience, however, I had to stop and consider that this man's definition of the Proverbs 31 woman might be different from mine. (We'll call her P31W for short.) So what exactly did he mean by a P31W?

I can only figure he meant she conforms to the ideals of the Western culture for women who primarily stay at home and single-handedly take care of every need of their husbands and children. She "looks well to the ways of her household." Her house is continually spotless, there are punctual, homemade meals on the table three times a day (including pies, cakes, and other goodies for dessert), and when the drawers and closets are opened, there are clean, neat clothing there ready to choose from. They never run out of salt or pepper, toothpaste or toilet paper. In fact, the roll is always on the holder, never on the counter. Her grout is white and so are her teeth. You will never see her in her jammies, not because she wears a cotton or fleece gown (depending on the season), but because she is up and dressed immediately after making the bed. Of course.

Though your definition may be different and include or exclude some of these things, this is what I think of when I think of a true P31W. Yet, while reading Courtney Reissig's book Glory in the Ordinary, I was shocked to find I've had it all wrong. The P31W had a dirty little secret.

Courtney points out,

"We have done a great disservice to families in the Christian community as we have elevated the Proverbs 31 woman to saint status. She is praised for her tireless work, yet we forget to mention that she had servants."

Did you get that? She had servants!

Courtney goes on,

"She was no more a supermom than we are. Her place in Scripture is not to tell us how to be the mom of the century. Accepting help from our friends, our husbands, our parents, and anyone else who wants to lend a helping hand is not accepting defeat. It's God's gift of rest to you. Take it. Embrace it. And let the rest go."[1]


Now, I'm not saying we should make sacrifices in the budget for a cleaning lady and a chef. But I am saying that if you are unable -- not unwilling, mind you, but unable -- to keep up with the basic provisions of a reasonably clean environment, clean clothes, and nourishing food for our family, then something has to give. You need to ask for the help and accept it when it is offered.

First of all, however, I am a firm believer everyone living in a home should be contributing to the needs of that home, according to his or her ability. Even small children can be taught to clean up after themselves. If your child is three years old and you are still picking up her toys, you are not only not availing yourself of the help you need, you are also robbing your child of an important character trait. It takes time and patience to teach a toddler to pick up their things and put them away, but the reward of their assistance will bear even greater fruit as they mature. Children not only learn personal responsibility from this exercise, they also derive a feeling of satisfaction and purpose through it. The sooner they can help the better.

Our granddaughter Elsie helping set the table, age 3

And just let me say here, if you have teenage or adult children living at home who aren't helping with the laundry, dishes, and and other housework, then you missed the parenting boat a looooooong time ago. I've known more than one family whose adult children are home all day while their parents are out working. I don't know what they do all day, but I guarantee you, in that situation, mom and dad shouldn't have to do much of anything when they get home from work. If adult children aren't working outside the home, they had better get busy working IN it. It's never too late. Enlist their help now. And if they resist or refuse, I'll come over and help you move their stuff out to the curb. Seriously.

Even my 78-year-old father, whom I care for and who lives with us, does what he can around the house. He has been a tremendous blessing to me as he puts away the clean dishes, sweeps the kitchen floor, and puts away his own clothes. He can't always help me because of his health, but he certainly does what he can when he can. I resisted him at first. I felt like he was being critical of my failures to keep up with the housework (P31W guilt). But then I realized his own need for feeling significant and useful. His contributions, however small, help to fulfill his purpose in life. Now I swallow my P31W pride and accept his help with grace and gratefulness.

My husband also helps around the house. He pretty well has all of the garbage chores under his care, as well as all the yard work, gardening, and heavy lifting. Our washer and dryer are in the basement, so, though I do all the washing, drying, sorting, folding, and putting up, he takes the four baskets of laundry down to and up from the basement for me. He even does the dishes on Sunday afternoons to give me a break once a week from that responsibility. I appreciate it all so much.

I know some women live in isolation from their extended family, have husbands who refuse to help around the house, and have many little ones who cannot contribute to the household chores. Yet, perhaps there are others who could lend a hand at times. Are there friends at church to whom you could reach out, or maybe you could exchange help with other young mothers in your same situation? In Glory In the Ordinary, author Courtney Reissig offers advice on how to go about finding help in those situations as well.

However, for some women it may mean actually investing in hired help. If you can't afford a cleaning service or a chef, can you afford a teenager? I was blessed to help a woman from our church when I was a teenager. She had cancer and could not keep up with the housework. I went over once a week for two hours and did whatever she needed help with at the time. I mostly vacuumed, but I also washed her kitchen cabinets. She paid me a modest fee, and we were both happy. Our daughter also functioned as a mothers' helper to families with many children when she was a teenager. They couldn't pay her much, of course, but what she gained in on-the-job training was worth a fortune. I am so grateful for the contributions those mothers made to our daughter's development and character, and I am blessed to see the fruit of it as she guides her own home and rears her children.

Though it can be a challenge to rethink what it means to "look well to the ways of [your] household," it is important to understand clearly how the P31W narrative actually plays out in the time and culture in which we live. It will most certainly play out differently for me than it will for you as each woman and household are different. Yet, rather than beating ourselves up while comparing ourselves to others -- even the P31W --, let us pray for wisdom in how to direct our homes and to know how and when to get the "servants" we need in order to succeed.

[1] Courtney Reissig, Glory In the Ordinary: Why Your Work In the Home Matters To God (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017), pp. 105, 106.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Reformation Women - Book Review

I have always enjoyed reading about the contributions of women in our Christian heritage, so I was excited to find Rebecca VanDoodewaard's Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity's Rebirth, which she wrote specifically to include those lesser known figures whose contributions were pivotal during the Reformation.

The twelve biographical sketches in this volume are rich with detail and intrigue. In it you will find women from many different walks of life, from those who lived in poverty, neglect, and banishment for the cause of Christ to queens who used their influence to further the cause of Christ and to protect believers from persecution.

Originally published as separate articles in the Reformed Church Magazine (1893-1895), they were then compiled into one volume, called Famous Women of the Reformed Church, by James Isaac Good. Rebecca has now further revised, expanded, and corrected his work in Reformation Women.

When Christian women today seem to be faltering about where they belong in the work of Christ's kingdom and church leaders are equally baffled with what to do about women who want to serve, the publication of this book couldn't have come at a better time. Younger and older women alike will benefit from reading it as they are challenged by the examples of others who lived through often perilous times. It encourages us to not be content with the status quo, but to seek ways to further the cause of Christ in our own sphere of influence, whatever that may be.

Furthermore, I appreciate how the author never elevates nor demeans women who worked alongside their husbands and children on the home front. Though often in obscurity, yet their works, as a light set on a hill, could not be hidden, and we are blessed and encouraged to follow in their footsteps with honor and dignity even if we never leave the sphere of our homes. Yet, those who are active in the workforce or in positions of leadership will also gain many insights into how to portray the love of Christ where they serve with those qualities unique to believing women. I would especially encourage high school aged women to read this book as they are seeking to discern God's plan for their lives, and it would make an excellent graduation gift.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Discovering the One Thing Needful

There are just some books and authors who stand out as making a huge difference in my walk with God. In addition to the Bible, reading Spurgeon's sermons has been one of them. But, I have recently been blessed by a little book called Disciplined By Grace: Studies in Christian Conduct by J.F. Strombeck which has completely opened my understanding concerning the work of grace in the believer.

You see, I always understood grace to be "the unmerited favor of God" -- and it is! --, but I never saw it also as the way by which God works His mighty power in us. It is the operation of God in salvation both in justification and sanctification. Perhaps all of you already knew that, but this is news to me!

The whole book so far has been very good, very enlightening, but after reading Chapter 13, "Devotion and Works," I am overwhelmed to my very core that I have been missing something vital in my walk with God. The Lord has been revealing it to me little by little over the course of about five years now, but this morning it all opened up for me. How could I have missed it for so long?

Loving devotion to Christ is the one thing most needful.

Strombeck explains:

"Devotion to Christ is most important. As important as are good works in the believer's life, there is that which in God's sight is even more important. While Christ desires and recognizes service, He far more desires and values love and devotion to Himself. In this day when service has become the keynote of Christianity, meditation on Christ, devotion to Him, and a desire for Him, purely because of what He is, have almost become a lost practice. These are, however, necessary and prerequisite to acceptable service for Him."*

He goes on to give examples of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), the dialogue between Christ and Peter in John 21:15-17, and Christ's letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-5.

A loving devotion for God in Christ is the one thing needful. Everything else flows from that. And that loving devotion is given by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5 and following). It all begins with the revelation that God really is love (1 John 4:8). I believe that knowing this is the key to understanding the seeming contradiction of justice and mercy.

God's laws are not a means of constraining us from something good and fulfilling. They are a means of restraining us from destroying ourselves and others. A loving God gave a loving Law in order to show us what living really is. Christ summed up the greatest commandment of the Law to be "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." (Matthew 22:37)

While memorizing Deuteronomy 6:4-7, my brain kept wanting to skip over verse 5 and go straight to verse 6.

"4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

5. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

6. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:"

However, omitting the verse about first loving God before embracing His commandments should be no surprise when you consider that this route around loving God first has marked nearly all of my Christian walk. I have not made the love relationship with God my main focus. I have made His law, keeping His commandments, and being a champion of "the truth," my whole force and ambition. I even thought doing these things was how I proved my love for God. Unfortunately, that was what I was taught growing up in the church.

But, "there is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Proverbs 14:12), and I'm afraid this way has led me astray from the joy and beauty of life in Christ Jesus. The way I was going seemed right! I wanted to do what was right. I wanted sin to not have dominion over me. I wanted to please God. But, I was going about it in entirely the wrong way, by the works of the Law through the flesh. Disciplined By Grace has helped to bring the truth into focus for me.

God is love.

God's Law is given in love.

No other law or commandments from any other god can be trusted to be in our best interest; but every law of God is an extension of His pure love only with our highest good in mind.

The cry of the loving heart of God for even those who reject Him is "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29)

The reason God desires us to keep His laws is because only His laws are truly just and will bring life and peace to those who keep them. It all flows from His love. Once we see this, we can begin to love Him in return. "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

To only keep God's commandments because He's "the Boss" and will punish us if we don't is a twisted way of looking at the relationship God desires with mankind. It is a pagan god who will only draw near when their devotees cut themselves and cry out all the day long. 1 Kings 18 gives us this example. You can read the whole story in 1 Kings 18, but please note that it was the pagan god who didn't answer. Yet, God answered the prophet Elijah immediately when he offered the sacrifice.

I've heard a lot of preaching about how God will not save a man until he humbles himself in some sort of painful exercise and cries out to God continually until He gives an answer. But, this looks too much like how the god Baal operates. There are people who give examples of how they cried out to God to save them but never received an answer or were given an answer only after a time of extended contrition. But, I believe this is a grievous error.

Salvation is never given apart from faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrifice of Himself on the cross. That faith comes not from our cries and prayers and humblings but by hearing and believing the truth of that good news! (Romans 10:13-15) The faith to believe that Gospel good news of Christ is given by God by His grace (the effectual operation of God on the soul).

Now, it's true that once you've had your eyes opened by the preaching of the word to see the ugliness of your sin against God and against others, there will be a natural agony of soul. If you see it rightly, there will be. But none of that avails anything apart from then believing on the finished work of Christ to forgive those sins and give new life. The Holy Spirit is only given to those who believe in Christ. And new life, hope, and peace with God are then given through the indwelling Spirit of God. Thus, Christ has made the way for man to be reconciled to God, both for now and eternity. Believe it, and be saved!

These are the things I am learning. I would appreciate any feedback or discussion anyone might have. Even if you disagree, that is good, too. I want to be sure what I am discovering isn't in error. I may be figuring things out, but that doesn't mean I have it all figured out.

I encourage you to get a copy of this little book and consider the things in it. It's not very long. The chapters are short and easy to read. But, it is deep in nature and pulls up living waters from the very depths of the well of the Word. So refreshing!

*J.F. Strombeck, Disciplined By Grace: Studies in Christian Conduct (Chicago: Moody Press, 1946), pp. 75-76.