Since adding the twins to our family, I have had dozens of conversations with well-meaning women that went something like this:
“How are you doing? Are you getting any sleep?”
I normally smile and admit that sleep hasn’t been very plentiful or prioritized in the last four years. With a sympathetic nod and a comforting pat on the arm, she says:
“Well, take care of yourself, and don’t worry about the house.”
Every time I hear this response, I work to stifle laughter or indignation. I want to laugh, “Ha! Don’t worry about that!” Truth be told, I don’t have an affinity for housework. Don’t get me wrong; I love staying home with my kids and reading all the books, Deejay-ing dance parties, facilitating finger painting sessions and acting as construction chief of the magna-tile building, but I gain no satisfaction from the unending tasks of dish washing, sweeping, laundering, or cooking. A quick inspection of my house would reveal that I need a pep talk to worry about it a bit more.
After the initial humor wanes, I feel disgruntled. What does she mean by “Don’t worry about the house?” Someone needs to worry about the house. If not me, then who? After all, I have scavenging toddlers who have a reputation for eating discarded fruit loops and loose carpet fibers off the floor. Clearly, this is a safety issue. Not to mention a mental health issue! Oh, the feelings that simmer from unexpectedly stepping down on a wooden block or searching for a lost pacifier among the toy ruins or discovering a child emptying the remains of a castoff bottle on the couch!
So you see, we have to agree that the house actually does matter, and not just for the obvious reasons like crushed fruit loops and lost pacifiers.
A clean house is a ministry. A clean house serves my husband and children and naturally produces the desirous fruit of order and peace. The work of cleaning also offers natural opportunities to invite my children to work alongside of me to foster joint ministry and unity. My littles feel so invested and included when I’ve allowed them to dump the soap in the washing machine or rinse dishes standing on a chair pulled up to the sink. And let’s be honest: we are much less inclined to do the ministry of hospitality when yesterday’s dinner dishes still sit on the table, and a mixture of books, toys and clothes run trails throughout the house.
A clean house is a teacher. The care of my house teaches my children to be good stewards of the gifts the Lord has given and instructs my own heart in faithfulness. I’ve already shared that cleaning is no secret joy of mine, but to quote Elizabeth Elliot, “This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. . . . God looks for faithfulness.” When I think of my housework as an offering to God, it suddenly feels very sacred even if it’s not very glamorous. House work also heavily instructs my children both presently and in the future. My children learn delayed gratification and patience when I ask them to help straighten before beginning a new game or to wait for my help until I’ve finished a task. Plus, the execution of my cleaning and cooking practices will involuntarily instruct my children’s future practices and lifestyle choices.
An unclean house is an invitation. It’s tempting to write off someone’s struggle by telling them not worry about it, but what would happen if we acknowledged the struggle and offered real, roll-up-your-sleeves, I’m-coming-alongside-you support? I can’t help but think of Jesus’ ministry to his disciples at the final Passover. After coming off the dusty, dirty streets of Jerusalem, he gathered a towel and a basin of water and humbly washed the filth off the stinky, sandaled feet of his twelve friends. He didn’t call for a servant or look at their feet and excuse, “Oh, they aren’t that dirty.” He intentionally served them and invited us to do the same, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15) Fast forward some 2000 years and his example looks a lot like cleaning the toilets of a frazzled, tired mama.
Housekeeping can be dull and exhausting work, but it’s also a daily opportunity to show faithfulness and humility. We can joyfully clean the house as an act of service to those who live there namely our husbands and children. We can clean the house as a means of ministry to those we invite inside our homes: our friends, neighbors, co-workers and church family. We can graciously serve a struggling friend in an effort to mirror the heart of our humble Savior. Most importantly, we can maintain our homes as an offering unto the Lord to glorify Him: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” (Colossians 3:23)