Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Serving God Through Faithful Child Rearing and Elder Care

My father who lives with us
and his youngest great-grandson

I read this today in Courtney Reissig's book, Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work In the Home Matters to God:

"If work is a means of loving God by loving your neighbor, then every act of faithful work that you do is accomplishing just that. You are loving God and the world by caring for the people in your home."

I think that is important to remember when you are primarily at home caring for your own children, your elderly family members, or others who cannot care for themselves. Sometimes the culture sets this type of work on the sidelines as being not important or of little value because it usually doesn't have a monetary compensation.

The stay-at-home mom or caregiver sometimes thinks there might be something else "out there" which would be a better use of her life force and time, but that just isn't true. In fact, we are doing God's work, especially if it is done in faith. I do not mean to elevate it above the work and callings of others, but it is important to at least view it with the honor it deserves in our society.

Our busy stay-at-home daughter with her two daughters:
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these,...
ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:40 

Unfortunately, some people elevate church or ministry work above the care of their children and aging parents. This was the mistake of the Pharisees whom Christ openly rebuked for neglecting their parents in the name of service to God.

He said,

"Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

"For God commanded, saying, 'Honor thy father and mother:' and, 'He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.'

"But ye say, 'Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free.'

"Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition." (Matthew 15:3b-6)

What He was saying was that if someone dedicated to God the money or provisions they could have used to help their parents in need, then they would be free of the guilt of their neglect. But, what if we said they had dedicated their lives or their time to the service of God when they have parents who are in need of their care? Do you think they would be any less guilty? I believe this is something we need to seriously consider before heading off to Timbuktu to do "the Lord's work."

I was so blessed to hear Regan Martin, missionary to the Western Cape, South Africa, share with our church what his wife Mellie is planning to do once they get to the mission field. He made it a point to make it understood her primary ministry would be caring for and home educating their five children. I could have just jumped for joy!

Indeed, I believe one of the tragedies of foreign missions has been the felt need to ship the children of missionaries off to boarding school during their formative years so they won't be in the way of their parents' ministries. However, so much abuse, heartache, and emotional damage has been done to these children, it simply breaks my heart. The first responsibility of parents is to their children, and some well-meaning missionary parents have inadvertently neglected to love and care for the nearest neighbors given to them by God.

I am glad the Martins are able to see the true value of Mellie's work in their home, even on the mission field. No one needs her ministry more than her family does. Furthermore, what better example of the love of God could Mellie give her neighbors in South Africa than that which she ministers to her nearest neighbors, her husband and children?

Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35)

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.