Sunday, July 31, 2011

Keeping House

Hello faithful readers (both of you, haha). It's been awhile since I've posted. In fact, I could currently be working on stuff for my stats class, but I wanted to at least check in and share some of what has been swimming around in my head. Silence, in this case, does not mean that there has been nothing to report.


"Love your enemies" is freaking hard. Lord, have mercy. That is all on this one.


My sister gave me Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson, and since I have had a teensy bit of free time this summer to indulge in some non-grad school reading, this was my pick. I'm almost done and I have been so encouraged by Peterson that there really, truly is God-ordained value in keeping house and taking care of one's family.

Essentially, I am a performer. I mean that in the positive and negative sense here, by the way. I do love the stage, and I can hog the stage fo' sheezy...BUT the positive side of this is that I really enjoy being among people and if that being with them also means we are working together to achieve something I really care about, that's even better. I did this sort of thing for 10 years, the last four being as a high school choir director. Then I quit teaching, got pregnant, had our sweet baby girl...and for awhile there, the most important thing about me was how much milk I could produce on any given day.

And I struggled. "Is this it?" I thought. "Is this all I do now?" I felt like the exciting stuff was happening out in the world, and while I love my daughter so much that most times I can't talk about this love without crying, many times I felt like I was simply fading away from relevant and meaningful interaction.

Peterson's book has helped me see that I was a victim of an internalized cultural bias against the duties of keeping house and, I believe, against women in general. That second thing is a huge can of worms among some evangelicals, and a whole 'nother post in and of itself, so I'll leave it alone. I think. :) The main thing I want to share is what I've learned from Ms. Peterson.

Did you know that the word "housekeeping" was not even in the English language until the late 19th century? Before the industrialization of the Western world, almost every family had a homestead. They all worked the land, and took care of the house and clothes and food -- together. Enter industrialization, and factories, and bigger cities...and many men are going to do the hard manual labor of the factory which leaves the women at home to keep house. Peterson submits that this was when the division of labor that we live with today (to some extent) came to be. She further asserts that the various appliances and gadgets that were created to make life easier actually did not achieve their function, but that we still expect ourselves to continually do more and be more.

Take food for an example. A typical weekday meal on the homestead consisted of a pot of stew (made from seasonal veggies and whatever meat was available, if any) that was placed near the fire in the morning and forgotten about until a bowl was eaten at lunch and a bowl was eaten at supper. But today, we have ovens and food processors and fancy gadgets and celebrity chefs constantly in our faces demonstrating how to cook these huge feasts ("in 30 minutes or less", right?) and even someone who loves cooking, like myself, can begin to think it's all just a little much. Peterson even goes so far as to refer to the TV networks and magazines and websites devoted to food as food porn. It is beautiful and alluring and, let's face it, unattainable.

So. Many people who could otherwise learn a few simple technniques in order to cook healthy meals for their family just give up before they even get started. Many others spend money and time and energy on pursuing the fantasy at the expense of the heart of the issue -- that is, loving and caring for your family.

There is a third group here as well: those who view housekeeping (Peterson's definition includes providing food, shelter, and clothing for one's family) as simple, menial, and by extension, insignificant. And if the work is insignificant, what does that say about the worker? And here is the heart of the matter. I felt like I was wasting away because I couldn't see the value in doing such simple things for my family. But Jesus' view is upside down from our cultural view, isn't it? He says the last will be first.

Many of Jesus' parables and teachings revolve around these everyday matters, as if God Himself values to the utmost what we refer to as mundane. The parable of the feast speaks of a king (probably the Lord) who prepares a feast, and when the people he invites don't show up, he invites others until his house is full. And what is He doing for us right now? He is in heaven, preparing a place for us and a magnificent wedding feast. (John 14:2, Rev. 19:9) God Himself is doing these things for me so that I will be fed and housed for eternity, and He is asking me to do these things for my family in the meantime. How beautiful is that?!

Sidebar: I do not believe this word is just for women, or just for married people. Peterson suggests, instead of wedding showers, we give people "graduating from college" showers or "getting my first apartment" showers regardless of whether they are married or single. I love this! I'm kind of wishing I still knew some college students so I could help them set up house. Wait! I do know a few. Awesome!

This is getting longish. But I want to share some scripture with you. I've read it many times, but in light of what I've learned from Keeping House, it is bringing tears to my eyes these days. If you are a stay-at-home parent, or you're a working parent with children, or you're a single person who just needs to be encouraged to take good care of yourself and the people who cross your threshold...please read the following scripture in the context of housekeeping. It's just beautiful.

Matthew 25:31-40 (The Message)

"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about?...' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me -- you did it to me.' "

Take good care of the people in your lives. It is, truly, the Lord's work.


Ran said...

"I felt like I was wasting away because I couldn't see the value in doing such simple things for my family. But Jesus' view is upside down from our cultural view, isn't it? He says the last will be first." Amen! You're speaking to my heart girl! Thank you for sharing! I may have to check out this book.

Sharla said...

Yes! Exactly! The most meaningful concept she set forth in the book for me was demeaning housekeeping. I spent so much time loathing and complaining about the uselessness of housework, that what else could I possible feel about my daily work except disgust? And better yet, how demeaning is this attitude to men and women who make housekeeping their profession. That one stopped me in my tracks.