There are a few popular Christian books published in recent years which encourage women to think of themselves as helpmeets and to find joy in domesticity. I applaud the efforts of these books even while I think they are fundamentally flawed because they fail to recognize that the Industrial Revolution has altered the domestic landscape almost beyond recognition. (See my article “What is Woman? A Re-Examination of Feminism and the Church” for an in-depth analysis on this topic.) But rather than offer a critique of the ways in which these books define both what it means to be a keeper of the home and a helpmeet, I’d like to examine instead something that troubles me much more.
In a couple of these books I ran across the following line of thinking: One book rebuked women for selfishly seeking “me” time. Shockingly, the selfish act that was rebuked by the author was a woman’s desire to spend time daily alone in prayer and Bible study. The other book made the same basic statement, but presented the remarks as an encouragement instead of a rebuke.
Women, both authors argued, should neither selfishly crave alone time with the Lord nor feel discouraged and downcast that her domestic duties are so demanding that she doesn’t have time to pray and study Scripture. No, the authors explained, a woman’s job is to be a helpmeet to her husband and to keep the home well. When she does these things, she worships the Lord and therefore she has no need for private worship. Both books stop short of saying outright that a woman is saved through her work as a helpmeet, but the suggestion is nonetheless very strong.
Now let me say first that I agree that the Lord is pleased when a woman does her duty to her husband and her children and cares for her home well. Likewise, he is pleased when a man does his duty well and when children obey their parents. But to put a woman’s calling to her home and her obligation to worship the Lord in opposition with each other is not only madness but it borders on works-righteousness heresy.
Yes, women are instructed to be keepers of the home, but they are also commanded—as all human beings are—to work out their salvation with fear and trembling and to pray without ceasing and to be like the Bereans who study the Scriptures. These are commands for all of God’s people, regardless of gender.
The work of both men and women is hard. Because of sin our toil is cursed: frustrating and often futile. Not only do we need the Lord’s help and strength to accomplish our duties, but the only way our work can be pleasing to the Lord is if it is done in humility and reliance on Him rather than on our own strength.
And if a woman’s duties are so overwhelming that she truly has no time for private worship, then she needs to reprioritize her duties. She needs to put the first things first. She needs to remember that the laundry can wait for the eternal things are far more important. She does not need to be told that clean clothes please God more than prayer.
Even more importantly, a woman should never be rebuked for seeking the face of the Lord. The desire to worship the Lord is not selfish. It is a holy desire that should be encouraged and made a priority. It is the first duty from which all other duties must flow.
As the Lord Jesus himself said when Martha complained to Him that Mary was neglecting her domestic duty in order to be taught by Jesus, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
May we all choose the good portion and exhort one another to do the same.