Long have I debated about whether or not to write about the concept of stewardship, defined as “the responsible planning and management of resources.” Something tells me that this, more than any other topic, has the potential to offend my women readers. (Note that nothing in this post is directed at any individual, though it is at the front of my mind after talking with a friend today).
Stewardship is about so much more than money.
It’s not just writing that tithe check.
Stewardship is bound up in recognizing that God already owns everything. We are tasked with caring for and using wisely whatever He has given us, be it much or little.
I am the last person on earth who will tell you that women must do all the housework. Nor do I believe that men should do all the yard work. The family shares the space, and so each member should contribute to its maintenance in equal measure. No kid is ever harmed by doing chores, no man will die if he does laundry and no woman will faint if she mows the lawn. Each person within the family has preferences, of course. I’ve never mowed a lawn in my life and have no interest in doing so. I also hate cooking.
So this isn’t about rigid gender roles. It’s about figuring out what works for the people living in that space. There’s no “one size fits all” cleaning schedule. There isn’t a hard-and-fast list of rules.
However (and I say that with caution), I have noticed a trend among women authors and photographers in which mess is glorified. In one sense, I get it. Women are busy. We all have jobs (and being a stay-at-home mom is a job). We have schedules to juggle. We have things that we are passionate about. We don’t want (or need) to be wrapped up in a legalistic system of house perfection. We shouldn’t be the only ones doing the housework. So, if the floor goes unvaccumed for a week, that’s fine. If the dishwasher doesn’t get unloaded the second it’s finished running, that’s fine. Nobody needs to be stressing out about having an ever-spotless house.
Neither should we revel in slovenliness. Yes, everyone is different. I don’t collect anything (other than books) because I can’t stand being surrounded by a bunch of stuff. I crave order. I couldn’t leave a kids art project strewn all over the table for more than a day if my life depended on it. But it’s perfectly normal and fine that other people collect Depression-era glassware or have easels set up 24/7. It’s normal and fine for other people to be more neurotic than me or less neurotic than me.
The whole left-brain, right-brain, creativity vs. logic stuff is at play here.
All of that being said, there’s no reason for our homes, inside and out, to be disaster areas.
There really isn’t.
We’ve swung the pendulum too far in the “did you come to see me or to see my house?” line of thinking. Again, I’m not talking about the elimination of all dust bunnies ever or never having a dirty bowl in the sink. We don’t have to strive for hospital-level cleanliness. We should, however, recognize that people feel more comfortable in a tidy home. The carpet doesn’t have to be new. The furniture doesn’t have to match. Nothing has to be fancy or expensive.
It should be inviting.
It should send a message: “I respect myself. I respect what God has given me, whatever it is. I respect you and want you to feel safe and at ease when you come over.”
My question is simple: Are we taking care of the things God gave us?
I grew up very low middle-class, maybe upper-poverty level. We lived in a single-wide trailer on two-and-a-half rented acres. Money was never plentiful. Except for the every-summer, tightly-budgeted school shopping, clothes came from thrift stores or from the hands of my mom as she pushed fabric through a sewing machine. I learned to make my own brown-bag lunches in third grade. My first car had approximately three moving parts, none of which were a heater, an air conditioner or, on one memorable occasion, windshield wipers.
Yet our home was never dirty. The yard and plants were always well-cared for. Our clothes were clean and mended when needed. We all bathed daily. My parents – who worked together and shared the load – communicated to me and my brother, without ever actually saying the words (that I can remember), that it didn’t matter how poor we were or weren’t. You took what you had, cared for it, used it wisely and made the best of it.
That’s what stewardship is.
We need to stop the glorification of messy, because it’s truly a celebration of laziness and a rejection of responsibility. I write this with real understanding that “life happens”; chronic ill health means I’ve had to sometimes redefine what “clean” means for my family and let go of a lot of little, nit-picky things. (And trust me, my husband knows that he’s just as responsible as I am in caring for our home). I know that seasons change.
I also know that if I have time to blog, I have five minutes to wipe down the kitchen counters. If I can read for half an hour, I can scrub the toilet if necessary. I can make the bed every day, except when I’m at my sickest. Doing little bits of cleaning or organizing throughout the week keeps the chores from getting overwhelming.
So, instead of sloughing off responsibility for our homes, let’s figure out what works. This isn’t about condemnation or comparison. Set your space up in a way that works for you. Get your people to do their part.
Let’s be thankful to God for whatever we have.
Addendum, 7/14/15: A lovely friend pointed out to me that my words here can come across as condemnatory, despite my desire that they not. I failed to address the fact that there are homes without able-bodied residents, whether they are ill, elderly or dying. It is not my desire than anyone in this situation feel embarrassed or ashamed. I do not want to put pressure on those who don’t need it. My post is directed at the healthy and able-bodied (or those of us on the “high functioning” end of chronic illness) who may take a perverse sense of pride in having a chaotic home.
Church, this is where we need to step up. We need to offer help to those who need it – and keep offering. Even if, gasp!, the people needing help aren’t part of our congregations. (Or, double gasp!, aren’t Christians at all). Those who need the help, please accept it. I know that you might be gun-shy after being hurt or mocked by others. But there really are kind people who will mop your floors or pull your weeds or do anything you need in order to be supportive.
When I am at my worst, there are people who gladly offer to clean my home or cook meals. If Chris wasn’t here and my family didn’t live just around the corner, I would take them up on it. I know they are sincere and seeking to express their love. If there aren’t people in your life who are like this, if your church doesn’t have the first clue about benevolence of this fashion, then…well, I’ll be blunt: it’s probably time to raise a stink with the pastor or other leaders (who may be willing, but dense) if you are able, or to cut ties and find a new church if you’re not.
My prayer is that anyone who reads this and is not able-bodied will not feel accused. You are not the intended audience.