Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Woman's Work

I've been reading Woman to Woman by Rebbetzin Esther Greenberg in hopes of getting a fresh perspective on what my Father desires of me as I keep my home. Some ideas from her book, along with some recent encounters with various women on the subject of homemaking, have prompted this post. Be forewarned, it’s a little strong, kind of like the coffee I drink in the morning ;-)

Let me explain what I mean by "keep." It's a lot more than pushing a broom and cleaning the bathrooms. From the beginning, we see two principles at work for us to grasp in our daily walk: having an authoritative rule over our domain, and guarding it. These principles come from Bereshith/Genesis 1:28 and 2:15.

"And Elohim blessed them, and Elohim said to them, "Bear fruit and increase, and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over all creatures moving on the earth." (1:28)

"And יהוה Elohim took the man and put him in the garden of Ěḏen to work it and to guard it." (2:15)

We’ll skip the implications of birth control and the admonition to be fruitful and multiply for now. And please don’t assume because you don’t see “the woman” in 2:15 that this verse implies she is not involved. Not many verses later, we see the Creator bringing her into existence to be man’s ezer, one to complete him so together they can carry out His mandate.

From the Complete Word Study Dictionary, the word in 1:28 that gets translated "subdue" is Strong's H3533, "kabash, a verb meaning to subdue, to bring into subjection, to enslave. It means basically to overcome, to subdue someone. It is used to describe God's mandate to humans to subdue the created order (Gen 1:28). It describes Israel's taking of the Promised Land, Canaan (Num 32:22, Num 32:29; Jos 18:1). King David subjugated the land (2Sa 8:11) … It is used once of Haman's supposed assault on Queen Esther (Est 7:8). It is used in its causative stem to indicate subduing or subjugating peoples (Jer 34:11). It is used figuratively of the Lord's subduing, removing, crushing the iniquities of His people (Mic 7:19). It is used of the Lord's people overcoming their enemies with His help (Zec 9:15)."

As is usual with Hebrew words, kabash can have a negative or a positive connotation, depending on the context. (As a side note, I think this is from where the phrase to "put the kibosh" on something comes).

Again from the CWS Dictionary, the word in 2:15 that gets translated "guard" is Strong's H8104, "shamar, a verb meaning to watch, to keep, to preserve, to guard, to be careful, to watch over, to watch carefully over, to be on one's guard. The verb means to watch, to guard, to care for. Adam and Eve were to watch over and care for the Garden of Eden where the Lord had placed them (Gen 2:15); holy things were to be taken care of dutifully by priests (2Ki 22:14). The word can suggest the idea of protecting:  David gave orders to keep Absalom safe (1Sa 26:15; 2Sa 18:12); the Lord keeps those who look to Him (Psa 121:7). The word can mean to simply save or to preserve certain items; objects could be delivered to another person for safekeeping (Gen 41:35; Exo 22:7). The word also means to pay close attention to: Eli the priest continued to observe Hannah's lips closely as she prayed (1Sa 1:12; Isa 42:20)."

Well, there it is. We are to bring things into subjection as we pay close attention to and protect our homes. Would that be a reasonable definition of a homemaker? Or should we try to extend the definition to cover doing two jobs by working outside the home while trying to "keep" our homes as well? Have you ever noticed how the tension level goes up in a home where there are disagreements between spouses over the "division of labor" when the wife works outside the home? Has it occurred to you that this might influence the feminization of men and predispose us to usurp their authority? Have you wondered how this applies to the woman who is single and perhaps parenting solo? Or the man who insists that his wife work outside of the home? (Those subjects will be covered in a separate post, but much of what I have to say here applies as well).

Unfortunately, the lies of our adversary come at us from all directions, and have for a very long time, telling us that "woman's work" is somehow demeaning and unimportant. As a consequence, many of us have at one time or another allowed ourselves to be seduced (and ultimately distracted) from our homes. Our adversary certainly knows how to tempt us to fall prey to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. And what happens? We lose our way, and our faith is oftentimes weakened by our own disobedience. Ouch. I said it. Going outside His order is disobedience. Do we not believe that we are living in a black and white world with our Creator? Or are we going to insist on having our own way? Which, He will give to us, but often it comes without His blessing.

How can we more effectively demonstrate a loving trust toward Jehovah Jireh, our provider, to bring us everything we need for life and godliness? How can we model to our children and our neighbors the kind of faithful trust and submissive respect toward our husbands that is required for a harmonious home? What needs to happen in our hearts so that we can allow our husbands to care for us without feeling bad about it? Are we willing to examine the grief we cause our husbands – and ourselves – with our independent spirit? How can we stop insisting on having more than what He provides for, and be content with the boundaries He has given us? Do we truly understand the magnificent design He has implanted in us? Have we honestly and deeply considered the enormous responsibility He has given us, that of showing to the nations His great care for us by the biblical outworking of our marriages? And how can we be in agreement with that when we pursue employment outside our homes?

Am I asking too many uncomfortable questions? Will you write me off as an “idealist” and perhaps disregard the plain teaching of scripture?

The phrase “woman’s work” can have a positive or negative connotation, depending on the context. I believe I have some understanding about what my work is and how it is distinct from my husband’s work. For example, I do not ask him to do any “housework,” for that is my domain. Besides, if he puts the dishes away from an honest desire to help me, I sometimes cannot find what I’m looking for, because he does not understand my “flow” in the kitchen. So I've thanked him for his concern and have encouraged him to start a compost pile and turn over the garden beds, which actually is a help to me. Likewise, I limit my activity in his backyard shed to the area he has set aside for my gardening tools and supplies. Do I go out there and try to organize or clean up his space? No, for that is his domain, and I would not want to disrespect him by enforcing my “rules” on him. That may sound ridiculous to some, but respecting boundaries and living fully within our domain is an important concept that our Father wants us to learn. Unfortunately, the Bible is replete with examples of what happens when we live outside of His order, when we move those "ancient boundary stones."

As I have come to understand my role as a homemaker, and to walk it out from a growing sense of love and obedience toward my Creator, I have seen an amazing transformation in my husband. But that is the subject of a different post for another time. But when I hear that phrase “women’s work” spoken negatively, or see the attitude that agrees with that connotation, I hear an echo of the original first lie from the garden, the one that tricked us and has worked continuously to keep us from fulfilling our mandate as His women.

I’ll admit, after I was married it took me a while to “unplug” from working outside the home. I had been supporting myself for many years and I had real issues with trusting my husband to not “lord it over” me if I wasn’t earning any outside income. It took me a while to see the depth of pride in my soul. There was a lot of anti-woman thinking in my brain that I had to get rid of as I came to fulfill my role as a wife. And to be honest, for awhile he expected me to work, as we do not have any children and what was I going to do at home all day anyway? But he has seen the fruit of it, and honestly, my being home has given him a much stronger sense of his own responsibility as provider and protector.

As I have learned to live within the bounds of my Father’s provision that comes to me by the hard work of my husband, I have become a much better manager of money and resources. And the benefits of my being home far outweigh any paycheck I could get from working for someone else besides my husband (and my Creator) outside of my home. And amazingly, it has allowed both of us to pursue fulfilling our callings and has brought us together in ways we could have never predicted or “worked up” on our own through human agreement. It’s been a true knitting together by our Creator as a consequence of our obedience to His design.

It is always instructive to watch someone’s reaction when I tell them I am a homemaker. This is usually in response to "Where do you work?" as if I naturally would be working somewhere outside my home. Feminists (and men sympathetic to them) in almost all cases immediately put up their guard and get a haughty, defensive spirit. “Oh, that’s good for you, but don’t put that stuff on me!” It is doubly heartbreaking to watch professing believers’ attitudes toward me when they hold – even unwittingly – feminist beliefs or worse, when they don’t trust our Father – and thus their husbands – to care for them. I believe this stems from a belief that either such work is demeaning, or deeper still, from an unfulfilled longing for the protective covering of a loving husband and the responsibility of caring for him. But this longing can be fulfilled through submission to His design.

Some women have always understood “their place” and have not been offended by it. I used to be offended by it, because I believed the lies of the adversary instead of the words of my Father. Still others are being drawn in these last days to their rightful domain, like the woman working the intake desk at the hospital yesterday morning. When she asked me where I worked, and when I told her I was a homemaker, she gave me the "thumbs up" sign, and perhaps the glance at her wedding ring was subconscious. It was nice to see approval, for a change! But how much more would be in store for her if she were willing to go home and guard her home!

Do you know how many women I’ve heard wistfully express the longing to be home with their children? You see them everywhere, weary and struggling, health suffering and spiritual lives flagging, yearning for a touch from above. But does He really approve of their being outside their domain? Would He not rather see His women in line with the pattern He has established?

You cannot imagine the number of women I have met over the years who have told me they never learned to properly cook or sew or garden or, in short, guard her home. They blame their mothers or the fact that Home Ec was taken out of the curriculum ;-) When my own mother was at home, she was able to teach me things. When she was working (trying to “find herself,” in the ‘70s vernacular), she was unavailable to me in so many ways. So I have had to learn on my own, and from other women who understand their calling as homemakers.

What is our benchmark, our scriptural standard, our guide in all of this? We can turn to this familiar example from the Proverbs:

א Who can find a capable wife? Her value is far beyond that of pearls.
Eshet chayil mi yimtza v'rachok mip'ninim michrah
ב Her husband trusts her from his heart, and she will prove a great asset to him.
Batach bah lev ba'lah v'shalal lo yechsar
ג She works to bring him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
G'malathu tov v'lo ra kol y'mei chayeiha
ד She procures a supply of wool and flax and works with willing hands.
Darshah tzemer ufishtim vata'as b'chefetz kapeiha
ה She is like those merchant vessels, bringing her food from far away.
Haitah ko'oniyot socher mimerchak tavi lachmah
ו It's still dark when she rises to give food to her household and orders to the young women serving her.
Vatakom b'od lailah vatiten teref l'vetah v'chok l'na'aroteiha
ז She considers a field, then buys it, and from her earnings she plants a vineyard.
Zam'mah sadeh vatikachehu mip'ri chapeiha nat'ah karem
ח She gathers her strength around her and throws herself into her work.
Chagrah v'oz motneiha vat'ametz zro'oteiha
ט She sees that her business affairs go well; her lamp stays lit at night.
Ta'amah ki tov sachrah lo yichbeh balailah nerah
י She puts her hands to the staff with the flax; her fingers hold the spinning rod.
Yadeha shilchah vakishor v'chapeiha tamchu felech
כ She reaches out to embrace the poor and opens her arms to the needy.
Kapah parsah le'ani v'yadeiha shil'chah la'evyon
ל When it snows, she has no fear for her household; since all of them are doubly clothed.
Lo tira l'vetah mishaleg ki chol betah lavush shanim
מ She makes her own quilts; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Marvadim astah lah shesh v'argaman l'vushah
נ Her husband is known at the city gates when he sits with the leaders of the land.
Noda bash'arim ba'lah b'shivto im ziknei aretz
ס She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchants with sashes.
Sadin astah vatimkor vachagor natnah lak'na'ani
ע Clothed with strength and dignity, she can laugh at the days to come.
Oz v'hadar l'vushah vatischak l'yom acharon
פ When she opens her mouth, she speaks wisely; on her tongue is loving instruction.
Piha patchah v'chochma v'torat chesed al l'shonah
צ She watches how things go in her house, not eating the bread of idleness.
Tzofi'ah halichot betah v'lechem atzlut lo tochel
ק Her children arise; they make her happy; her husband too, as he praises her:
Kamu vaneha vay'ash'ruha ba'lah vay'hal'lah
ר "Many women have done wonderful things, but you surpass them all!"
Rabot banot asu chayil v'at alit al kulanah
ש Charm can lie, beauty can vanish, but a woman who fears Adonai should be praised.
Sheker hachen v'hevel hayofi ishah yir'at Hashem hi tit'halal
ת Give her a share in what she produces; let her works speak her praises at the city gates. 
T'nu lah mip'ri yadeiha vihal'luha vash'arim ma'aseha

Known as the Woman of Valor Hymn, or Eshet Chayil, these verses instruct us toward an ideal that can be reached only by His help. Some believe Solomon wrote down this eulogy for Sarah that Abraham had spoken long before. It is often read by the husband to the wife before the erev Shabbat meal. Most women read it and either roll their eyes (this must have been written by a man!) or groan inwardly at their own shortcomings (and fail to humble themselves in order to receive the measure of spirit required to be transformed). But I encourage you to meditate on these things and honestly listen to what He is saying to you. And then, like a good Hebrew woman, to obey what He is telling you to do.

I do believe homemaking will come naturally to any woman as she submits herself to the Creator’s design. But I’ve said that dirty little word again – submit – the one quality that is so pleasing to our Father and against which we all struggle in varying degrees. Oh, if only we could truly believe Him, trust Him, obey Him! There is such life to be had that can be gotten no other way but by submitting ourselves and following His path for us. And honestly? It will bring your man to a place you have always wanted him to be but have never with your words been able to convince him to go – to his God-given role as your cover and provider.

Do you think I'm too old-fashioned? Religiously zealous? Off base? Misinformed? Or have you learned something here that is of value to you? Your comments are always welcome. Shalom!

1 comment:

  1. So, Lori, where's the post about men who like their wives earning the extra cash? I'd like some insight on that, since you said in this post you were going to touch on that subject. As you know, I work inside my home and make really good money but feel stretched constantly with homeschool and homemaking. I really don't want to do both anymore. When I bring it up, he really desires for me to continue bringing in that money for now.