Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chore or heart service - it's a decision

Sunshine Mary has found a gem of an essay written in 1896 by Mrs. Amelia E. Barr. In her post, Discontented women were the same yesterday as they are today, she highlights some of the text. I printed the document and devoured these words of wisdom that are as relevant today as they ever have been.
One of the saddest domestic features of the day is the disrepute into which housekeeping has fallen; for that is a woman's first natural duty and answers to the needs of her best nature...
...this revolt of certain women against housekeeping is not a revolt against their husbands; it is simply a revolt against their duties. They consider house-work hard and monotonous and inferior, and confess with a cynical frankness that thy prefer to engross paper, or dabble in art, or embroider pillow-shams, or sell goods, or in some way make money to pay servants who will cook their husband's dinner and nurse their babies for them. And they believe that in this way they show themselves to have superior minds, and ask credit for a deed which ought to cover them with same. For actions speak louder than words, and what does such action say? In the first place, it asserts that any stranger - even a young uneducated peasant girl hired for a few dollars a month - is able to perform the duties of the house-mistress and the mother. In the second place, it substitutes poor ambition for love and hand service for heart service. In the third place, it is a visible abasement of the loftiest duties of womanhood to the capacity of the lowest paid service. A wife and mother can not thus absolve her own soul; she simply disgraces and traduces her holiest work. (Emphasis mine)

Oh, wise woman! I sit at your feet to learn.

My mother-in-law told me the most calming activity she does is hang the laundry. This will tell you what a city girl I had become:  I asked her one day what fabric softener she uses that makes her sheets smell so wonderful. RLB has had so much fun with that question, he reminds me often that I asked it. Her answer was kind and that it is the fresh air she hangs them in. The guys, of course, chided me: "that would be a combination of dirt, cow shit, and diesel fuel!" (they live on a farm).

I came to understand why, though she has the modern convenience of a dryer, she still hangs the laundry. When we were living in South Korea and only had a wash machine, I reflected on her words often as I hung the laundry on our fifteenth floor balcony. If discontent arose in my heart, and I was tempted to begrudge this daily chore, I would pray for God to give me the heart of this woman who treasures this service and finds peace and calm in doing it. Because - it's a decision. My mother-in-law knows this. She is wise. I can only imagine the pleasure she's had in educating her naive daughter-in-law to the truths of life (and the giggles she's enjoyed when I say dumb things like "what kind of fabric softener do you use?")

It's a decision and we, ladies, have the choice to go about our daily tasks begrudgingly, daydreaming of outsourcing our labor to the lowest bidder, or we can embrace our work, as Mrs. Barr so eloquently writes, as heart service.

I, just as I know my mother-in-law does, still scrub floors on my knees. Every woman knows that no modern convenience, be it a Swifter mop or a robotic floor cleaner, does as good of a job as a rag, a bucket of soapy water, and elbow grease. In that task, as in all of our tasks, there is a choice. It is time that has to be spent no matter what, so take that time to cultivate peace in your heart and contentment in your spirit. Talk with God, think on good things, and cherish your heart service.


  1. One of the things I want when we get a house is a laundry line for drying. Although with the amount of laundry I wash on a given day, that would probably take up half the yard ;)

    You're lucky to have such a good mother in law, someone who truly gets it. I haven't had that luxury, either from my own family (FAR from it), or my in laws. Hopefully I will be a better mother in law to my own sons wives, and give my daughter a much better start in her marriage than I had.

  2. Thanks for the linkage!

    That's great that your mother-in-law shared that with you. Titus 2 in action.


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