January 21, 2013

The Better Portion

Between Christmas and New Year's, I devoted most of my waking hours to the  major project of de-junking and reorganizing my home. Thus, by New Year's Day, I had at least 15 bags of trash waiting on my curb and a large pile of items for donation in the basement.

I was able to begin 2013 in what felt in some ways like a "new" house because every space north of the basement was scrubbed and in order. And since then I've maintained a daily cleaning schedule such that things are still in very good shape.

But don't think I'm the poster child for "Susie Homemaker." It had actually been months since I'd done any but the most basic of cleaning - and I hadn't previously scrubbed the oven in the six years we've owned the thing. In fact, though I've been married for over 20 years, I've never before had a regular schedule for household chores. I'm very pleased that I persevered through overhauling the whole house, and I've enjoyed keeping to my new daily chore schedule, but I'm not here to encourage you to do the same.

As a matter of fact, it would be a shame for some of you to even consider it. 

My daughters are 10 and 11. So, though they still need me for a great many things - in fact, I homeschool so I've got significant responsibilities with them most days - I'm in a different season of life than those of you with young children. My girls are able to easily entertain themselves for long periods of time, and they can even make simple meals on their own if I'm sometimes otherwise occupied. Thus, I've now got more mental and physical energy to undertake a larger household project without stretching myself too thin. 

But, if any of your kids are under the age of six or seven, you're not there - and that's okay. I know you want to keep a "decent" house so neither you nor your husband is stressed about being there and so you feel comfortable having guests over now and then. But even the most compliant babies, toddlers, and preschoolers demand significantly more time and energy than do school-aged children. So, as a Titus 2 (i.e., older!) woman compared to most of you reading this post, I want to admonish you in love to be real about the limits on your time and to prioritize your key relationships - with the Lord, your husband, and your kids - over the dream of having a spotless house.

I mentioned that I've never before had a regular cleaning schedule. For the first several years of my marriage, I worked outside the home, and we didn't have children. Thus, our house didn't get all that dirty - and my husband and I simply cleaned it together or dumped in a load of laundry whenever we noticed a need. No schedule required.

When our children came along - the second daughter less than a year after the first - I happily became an at-home mom, and I wanted to be a "real homemaker" as well. But I quickly discovered that the girls' physical, emotional, and developmental needs consumed most of my time and energy. I had to use snippets of leftover time just to keep up with basics like simple meal planning and spot cleaning. 

Of course, I could have created a detailed weekly schedule for deeper cleaning as I just did this month. But something would have had to give in the process - if not my time with the girls or the little bit of alone time I carved out for my husband, it would have come from my sleep. But, just like any mom with young kids, I was already exhausted and sleep-deprived. So giving up more rest to scrub bathroom floors like clockwork would have stretched me too far.

I didn't live in a pig sty. I did at least one load of dishes every day, straightened up the main living spaces every evening, and did more significant cleaning when we wanted to invite guests. But I had to learn to ask for help - my husband became the Vacuum King and Mr. Floor Scrubber - and I had to adjust my expectations to match my season of life. So, no, I didn't actually clean my closets or scrub my oven for several years - because my guests didn't go there. And I made peace with closing the doors to certain rooms when company came over. In the rooms where I entertained, things were decent even if chaos reigned on the other side of the wall - and that was truly okay for that season of my life.

{Hope for the Home} is all about ways we might bring Jesus into our homes. And, acknowledging his admonition to Martha (Luke 10.38-42), I don't think it's a stretch at all to remind ourselves that He is, first and foremost, about relationships. Thus, we bring Jesus to our kids by being present - physically and emotionally - for them, according to their needs at different stages of life.

Jesus didn't tell Martha she was sinning by wanting to have a nicely kept home and a good meal for her guest. But He did point out that she was "distracted with much serving" and that Mary had chosen the "better portion." Likewise when we need to choose, He calls us to set aside the dishrag in favor of cuddling up with the kids or going outside to make some mud pies in the January thaw. 

There comes a season when we can manage the deep cleaning in addition to continuing to meet their needs. But until then, be at peace with less-than-pristine showers and sticky cupboards. I know from experience that the security you'll build into your kids' hearts is worth it. And I know you'll bring a smile to the Lord's face in the process.


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