When my wife and I were first married, we moved into a small one-bedroom apartment with a mini kitchen. We quickly established habits and family patterns. Each night, for instance, we would gather by our micro sink to wash and dry the day’s dishes.
Whether culturally-conditioned or not, many men do not enjoy household chores.1 Perhaps I’m a poor cleaner, dish-drier, or organizer; or perhaps I’m not as practiced because of how we’ve divided our home responsibilities. But whatever the reason, I don’t think I’m alone.
God has a word for us. He wants us to see our household duties, our monotonous chores, with fresh eyes. When we do, it’ll transform the everyday and bring new meaning to the mundane.
Three Guiding Principles
There are at least three biblical principles that especially apply to unseen, uncelebrated work at home.
1. “All … for the glory of God”
In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” While his application is more narrow in the passage, the principle is wide-reaching. The Christian life is meant to be lived “before the face of God” and for the glory of God.
Colossians 3:17 and 3:23–24 confirm our broader application and apply the principle both to life in general and also to our daily obligations.
2. “In our image, after our likeness”
Genesis proclaims that God made us “in his image” (Genesis 1:26). There is one application of this truth that we should especially note: dominion.
Part of the way we “image God” is by having dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). When we care for and maintain our daily surroundings we are—in a very real sense—doing the work of God. “Totally dominating” that pile of laundry is, well, having dominion. It is the pre-fall work of “working” and “keeping” the earth—albeit with the sting of the post-fall world.
3. “The heavens declare the glory of God”
Psalm 19 teaches us how to see and interpret creation. It reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The Holy Spirit continues, instructing us that even without human speech, creation is constantly teaching us about God.
The Christian, in other words, should engage with the world (yes, even the fallen world) in a way that sees God in it.
Putting it Together
These three principles combine to bring new life, importance, and dignity to the simplest of duties. We image God (in part) by working and keeping the earth, seeing God in our work, and doing our work for God. These realities make daily chores more significant and help us to find more joy in doing them (i.e., it’s not about laundry, it’s about God!).2
When you start tracing the streams back up to the Fountain, the smallest joys and labors are filled with significance because of Who they’re for and how they connect to Him and His things.
A Poem and a Prayer
When you let the Bible inform how you think about daily chores and household duties, the work itself takes on an elevated meaning (or rather, you see its meaning more clearly).
George Herbert, the English poet and priest from the turn of the 17th century, expresses these truths in a deep poetic prayer called “The Elixir.”3 It’s short and very worth your time (even if you hate poetry), but I’ll point you to the closing two stanzas.
Herbert remarks that when you learn to connect even the simplest of tasks with your King (i.e., “for thy sake”, Col 3:23), the tasks themselves are transformed. Even drudgery is divine when you view daily tasks with this perspective. Sweeping with the clause “for Thy sake” at your side makes sweeping a “fine” action.
A servant with this clause / Makes drudgery divine: / Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws, / Makes that and th’ action fine.
He concludes by alluding to the famous philosopher’s stone.4 What is this stone? It’s not magic. It’s God himself. When we connect God to our work he acts and transforms and elevates our work.
This is the famous stone / That turneth all to gold; / For that which God doth touch and own / Cannot for less be told.
A Final Word
Martin Luther is known most for his role in the Protestant Reformation, but you may not know he was the father of seven children. When reflecting upon daily tasks in the home, he writes with an insider’s knowledge and a pastor’s heart.5
He begins with the natural perspective, exposing the way we complain to ourselves about our daily tasks.
When “our natural reason … takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves?’”
He then asks the question, “What does Christian faith say to this?”
“It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother.
How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? .… God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.”
May God give us this biblical perspective! 6 Would you pray now with me to confess your wrong perspective and to ask for this Christian perspective?
C.S. Lewis points the way in his “Meditation in a Toolshed”: I was standing today in a dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety-odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences. As image-bearers, we “work and keep” our world before God’s face and for his glory, constantly looking back up the beams of light to see the Son. ↩
The philosopher’s stone is the mythical stone that could turn any metal into gold or, in some accounts, offer the elixir of life. ↩
Excerpts from The Estate of Marriage by Martin Luther (p 1522). ↩
Luther also addresses an important criticism in the following paragraphs: “Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.” ↩