Small and holy things

I was one of the speakers this past week at an event for our church women’s ministry; the theme was “seasons of life”. This post is a slightly-more-polished reconstruction of that talk, based on my outline. 

I was thinking about the season of life that I’m in right now, which is being at home with small children. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old. My children are delightful; they’re sweet, and funny, and interesting; and they drive me absolutely crazy. Our good days are good, but our hard days — well, they’re really hard. There are days when I have to lock myself in the bathroom to get a moment’s peace. There are days when I think, “If I have to make dinner one more time, I’m going to scream.” There are days when it feels like I never leave the kitchen. But in this season of life, I’ve still been learning some things. I’ll frame them as the two spiritual battles I’ve been fighting.

Battle one is against apathy and despair. A lot of my day is really tedious and repetitive. I pick up the toys, they dump them out, I pick up the toys, they dump them out, and on and on we go. Dishes never end. Laundry never ends. Cleaning never ends. And that can be really discouraging, because it feels like my work is never finished, and it can also feel like it’s futile. It’s tempting to throw up my hands and just say that there’s no point. Why bother putting the kids’ toys away if they’re just going to take them out again? Why make my bed if they’re going to be pulling it apart in ten minutes anyway?

But where God has been directing me in this is towards his character. He is not a God of chaos, but of order. He is not a God of confusion, but of peace. When I am working to bring order and peace to my home and to my family’s life — no matter how long or short it lasts before I have to do it again — that is participation in the kingdom work of God. It is good work. It has value. Taking a stand against chaos and confusion — even if all that means is putting the clean dishes away (again) and tidying up the living room (again) — is taking a stand for the values of the kingdom. Our participation in God’s work in the world isn’t always going to be big or spectacular. But it doesn’t have to be.  One of the dismissal prayers in our prayer book asks God to “send us out to do the work you have given us to do”. All we are called to is faithfulness in the tasks set in front of us, no matter how repetitive or humble.

The second battle is against resentment and bitterness. A lot of what I do around the house goes unseen, or at least un-thanked. I know that my husband doesn’t notice everything I do, and my children certainly don’t (though at their age, that is perfectly appropriate). I find myself constantly tempted toward self-pity and allowing myself to wallow in the feeling of being taken for granted. And when I let myself do that, I get bitter and resentful. I resent the fact that my husband leaves the house to go do interesting work and talk with adults all day. I resent the fact that I do so many of the house chores. I grow bitter thinking about all of the things I do that nobody seems to care about.

Where I have found encouragement, though, is in the story of a woman from the Bible who we don’t think about very often: Hagar. The first part of her story is found in Genesis 16, back when Abraham and Sarah were still just plain old Abram and Sarai. They had been given the promise that God was going to bless the world through their family, but the years were going by and still no baby. So they decided to take matters into their own hands. Sarai had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar, and she offered her to Abram as a means of having the promised child. Abram slept with Hagar — I can’t imagine she had any choice in the matter — and impregnated her. We read that Hagar despised Sarai when she found out she was pregnant, and Sarai complained to Abram about this. His response was simply that she should do what she thought best, so Sarai began to mistreat Hagar. And Hagar ran away into the desert, probably expecting to die out there.

But God intervened. An angel appeared to Hagar, who prophesied over the child she was carrying and sent her back to Abram and Sarai. Before she returned, this is what we read in Genesis 16:13: “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.'” The God who sees me. I love that name! I love the reminder that God sees me and what I do — and not in a “gotcha!” way. God watches me with the same affectionate interest with which I watch my own children — only his affection and interest are infinitely greater than mine, and untainted by sin. He notices my work, even when nobody else does. He values my work, even when nobody else does.

All of us — whether we work inside the home or out of it — have work that we’re called to do. I’m willing to bet that all of us have areas in our lives in which we’re tempted to apathy and despair, or to resentment and bitterness. But remember that God is inviting you into his kingdom work, even in the smallest things. Remember that he is the One who sees you, and that your work is known and valued. Take heart!

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