When the Ordinary Feels Anything but Glorious: housework and the housewife

I suppose like almost anything, we have a version of what something might be like that is invariably different than what it is actually like once we're one or two years or weeks into it. Home-making is one of those things for me.

When I was in my early twenties, wont to reading poetry about laundry, stories about bread-making, and looking longingly at my married-with-babies friends while I trudged through my office job, I thought home-making was a high and holy calling with warm smells and constant joyful feelings. When I crossed the threshold of marriage, I started working out of yet another office a week later. Dinners still felt hasty, chores filled the margins, and I thanked God repeatedly for a husband who made it clear from day one that dishes would be his job so hold my peace about it—and I have. 

When I was single I lived with no fewer than three girls at all times and so chores were a shared burden, the only laundry I was responsible for was my own, and meal-planning was more of group texts trying to get at least one night a week for us around the same table and less budgeting, shopping, and menu planning. Now that I've spent a full year working out of the home both at housework and paying work, I've discovered a growing dislike of all the laundry, mopping, sweeping, and dusting. Things mound up and it isn't until I see Nate wearing smart wool socks with his dress shoes and scrounging through his t-shirt drawer that I realize, "Oh, the laundry..."

I'm sometimes embarrassed that I'm a stay-at-home wife now, as though we have to have kids to justify me staying at home and working out of it. The question, "What do you do all day?" looms heavily and when people ask, I sometimes stumble over my words. I do stuff all day, but not the stuff that seems to matter, not the kind of stuff I used to do, meeting with people, writing ferociously, preparing speaking engagements, thinking through women and singles in the church. I do a bit of that still, but mostly, I take care of our home. Before marriage that seemed mysteriously glorious, but in reality? It's hard. Not the work itself, but the junk it reveals in my heart about satisfaction, joy, glory, selfishness, and laziness. It has been one of the most revealing part of marriage for me personally.  

Housework in marriage isn't better, but it's different. And there doesn't seem to be much glory in it. Before marriage, I didn't take my glory in it and it didn't matter because no place was solely my home. Now our place is my domain. Nate works hard out of the home and I work hard in it. And, just like any job I've ever had, there are days I'd trade if I could. It doesn't feel very glorious to fold the same dish-towels every week or sweep the same floor, especially one like mine that just seems to grow dirt. It seems less than glorious, it seems hopeless because it's never done. 

Courtney Reissig reached out to me a few months ago to do an interview with her about working from home as a new wife in preparation for her new book, Glory in the Ordinary's, release. I had a few minutes last night to read through the book and I read it cover to cover in an hour or so. I wasn't sure what to expect because more How-tos and cleaning schedules and promises of fulfillment aren't what I need in this home-making journey. I am not fulfilled in this role and what I love about Courtney's book is that she doesn't pretend we ought to be. She and I have similar struggles in house-work and her vulnerability about it in Glory in the Ordinary was disarming and helpful. The book is full of scripture supporting the necessity of work but also the difficulty of it—which, I don't know about you, I need to hear. The glory in my work is not for myself or even for my home, it's for God, which means what matters most is not how clean my corners are, how perfectly scheduled my laundry is, or how seamless my menu-planning is, but my faithfulness to the God who has called me to it. 

In my interview with Courtney, I said this: 

At the end of Little Women, Friedrich Bhaer says, “But I have nothing to give you. My hands are empty!” Jo puts her hands in his and says, “Not anymore.” I think of my life like that a lot. My hands feel empty much of the time, not because they are, but because my work feels empty or meaningless. But a friend told me shortly after I got married, “If you look around and feel torn in a million directions and aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing, “Care for the needs of your household,” it’s that simple.” I’ve gone back to that hundreds of times this year. What is in my hands are the needs of my household and that is contributing to society, whether it looks like it or not. Right now, I’ve been entrusted with this home, this husband, this work, this same bed making every day. That is my contribution and it is not a small one. As insignificant as Josephine March’s hands might have looked in Professor Bhaer’s, they were capable of, as she said earlier in the book, “A great many things.”

Whether you're a seasoned stay-at-home wife or a working mother, both struggling to get it all done, whether you're unmarried and trying to incorporate these rhythms into your life now or an empty nester whose house stays clean for the first time in years, I recommend picking up Courtney's new book. Its themes ran through my mind and heart all morning as I set aside a chunk of time to tackle some as yet unorganized closets, wash our linens, and sweep the floor—again. This work is working something, not just in our home, but in me. 

Glory in the Ordinary just released yesterday. Check it out here.