This week, my husband took over the meal planning.
We are loving it.
He arranges the menu and emails me the grocery list; I put the grocery list into Kroger’s Clicklist; he picks up the groceries on the way home from work. Sometimes, we cook together, but, often, I cook alone. My least favorite part of meal-prep has been taken off of my hands.
I love it so much, and it’s somewhat familiar. Since my dad worked from home and loves to cook, the meals were a 60/40 split in his favor. I know from experience that kitchen stuff is not just women’s work.
I also know that we tend to have a hard time not seeing home-work that way. “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens,” right?
Not a lot of passages in the Scriptures speak directly to women. So when they do, we’ve generally made them hills to die on.
Woman Things and Guilt Trips
Women are homemakers. Home-workers. Home-keepers. They are supposed to be the organized ones, the ones who pay attention to every detail, anticipate every need, and keep the house humming smoothly while their husbands are out on the front lines doing God’s work.
Her home is a well-oiled machine because she is a well-oiled machine.
She’s a swan.
But I’m not a swan, y’all. I’m a chicken. And I’m really great at tending to my little chick and doing what needs to be done, but I don’t do it beautifully. Or in an organized fashion. I couldn’t care less if the laundry is piled up to heaven as long as my son and I got in a dance break that day.
So my husband helps me a lot with organizational structures and has even hired help to come in and clean for me every couple of weeks.
I once heard someone say quite snidely of a similar arrangement: “Oh. It’s like he’s your helpmeet.”
Proverbs 31 fail.
Women get the short end of the stick with Proverbs. I have never seen a man held in the same way to the same strident standards held out in the other 30 chapters of the book.
It’s wisdom literature. It’s full of poetic examples of what it’s like to live a rich and God-fearing life. But, taken as a literal how-to-guide, it’s also full of contradictory information.
Take, for instance, Proverbs 26:4 —
“Answer not a fool according to his folly,
Lest you be like him yourself.”
And Proverbs 26:5 —
“Answer a fool according to his folly,
Or he will become wise in his own eyes.”
We know God doesn’t contradict himself. We understand that, sometimes, it’s fruitful to answer a fool, while other times, it isn’t. Wisdom dictates the difference.
Proverbs 31:10-31 is probably not a day in the life of a godly woman. It is an intricate tableau of different facets of excellence. It’s not a point-by-point guide for wifehood, but a picture of obedience expressed in all different aspects of life. It’s superhuman; probably because it’s not a picture of a specific human, but a passage meant to draw us into deeper reliance on Christ as we strive to be faithful in all of our duties both at home and abroad. (Edit: Wendy Alsup offers insight here and in her book, also linked at the end of this article)
But What About Titus 2?
I can hear the uncomfortable shuffling commence: “What about Titus 2?”
What about it?
Titus 2:3-5 isn’t just a group of verses floating out in the middle of space. Paul opens Titus 1 giving his young protege advice on how to choose an elder:
“He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict.” Titus 1:5-9
He goes on to warn Titus that there are people in the congregation going from house to house stirring up controversy, turning others away from the truth. He warns Titus that his flock should be combating these falsehoods by teaching the truth.
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2:3-5
Instead of going from house to house spreading mischief, older women should be engaged in discipling the younger women and teaching them to be faithful in their day-to-day responsibilities, which are beautifully parallel to the men in the congregation (look back at Titus 1:5-9). Note, also, that men are also called to be reverent, not gossips or enslaved to wine, self-controlled, holy, disciplined, kind, submissive to their authorities, and lovers of their wives and children plenty of times in God’s Word. Our home-focus does not make us a different kind of Christian.
Down to Human Level
We’ve taken one phrase in a New Testament epistle and applied it exclusively to one Old Testament passage and decided that that’s all women are allowed to be: homemakers.
But my job isn’t just to keep this home. In fact, my husband shoulders some of that responsibility, since it’s his home, too, and he’s the leader of it. Nor is my job just to raise our children. That, too, is also my husband’s responsibility, since they are his children, and he, too, is commanded in the Scriptures to see to their nurture and discipleship (much more explicitly than I am, actually). And, further, Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 aren’t the only biblical passages addressed to me; biblical womanhood isn’t just locked up in those verses.
Scripture does teach us that God created us male and female with unique purposes for his glory. However, often, our pink and blue understanding of our household responsibilities has been borrowed from two sources besides Scripture: our pragmatic biological differences (my husband can not birth babies, and he’s much stronger than I am), and our culture.
Blame The Industrial Revolution
Before Industrial Revolution, the home was often the center of industry, and entire families took part in them. Women who managed the home weren’t just managing their children or the household chores; they were managing the cottage industries that would soon give way to huge businesses. Most of life was agrarian, and men and women were both in the fields (particularly when it came to my ancestors). In her stunning essay, “Are Women Human?” Dorothy Sayers notes:
“It is a formidable list of jobs: the whole of the spinning industry, the whole of the dyeing industry, the whole of the weaving industry. The whole catering industry and… the whole of the nation’s brewing and distilling. All the preserving, pickling, and bottling industry, all the bacon-curing. And (since in those days a man was often absent from home for months altogether on war or business) a very large share in the management of landed estates. Here are women’s jobs -and what has become of them?”
What has become of them is a lot of needless debate about what women are allowed to do with their time. And a lot of going from “house to house” and heaping shame instead of seeing to the affairs of our own homes (didn’t we just read something about that?).
Tie It With A Pretty Bow
But what about Genesis 2:18?
Am I not my husband’s helpmeet?
“Helpmeet” is such a narrow translation of the word ezer. I love how John McKinley proposes, instead, “necessary ally.” Ezer is also the word used time and again in the Old Testament to refer to God’s help and rescuing of his people. Instead of just being a glorified secretary or the grunt that stayed behind while Adam was out kicking butt, ezer is an integral part of God’s dominion work in creation, and she’s standing right next to Adam.
This article is not an exhaustive list of all of the ways Eve stands next to Adam and all of the ways she does not. But I hope it’s an encouragement that we have bigger fish to fry than who is vacuuming the living room or getting dinner on the table.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Phillip and I are a team. According to Ephesians 5:22ff, he is the leader of this house, and I am learning to joyfully submit to that leadership (a process), as unto the Lord. He is learning to lead in service and self-sacrifice in this house.
He is also the most organized of the two of us. We play to our strengths. For God’s glory.
We want to have a home that is by the Book. We are also children of this millennium who are learning to separate our twenty-first-century cultural baggage from what’s actual God-breathed wisdom.
I’m not the stereotype of a homemaker. And, by God’s grace, I’m not called to be.