I’m a part-time journalist and stay-at-home mom with a 15-month-old daughter (a daughter who’s currently trying to hand me blocks and, for the record, keeps deleting words as I write them). While portions of my day are spent reading news and writing articles, most of my hours are spent caring for this sweet little girl—and cleaning up the chaos she leaves in her wake.
It’s easy to get tired of washing dishes, sweeping floors, and cleaning up the Ikea high chair one more time before bed. It’s easy to think none of this really matters, in part because it isn’t seen. The house may be clean for a moment, but its destruction will take a matter of seconds. The laundry is folded and ironed for now, but will be completely undone tomorrow.
In the world’s eyes, “what we do” from 9 to 5 is our easiest marker of success and social standing. The more money we make, the more prestigious our position. The more humane and world-changing our career, the more our lives seem to matter. The more complicated and intellectual our jobs, the more cerebral and astute we’re perceived to be.
But then there’s stay-at-home work. It’s unpaid. It’s focused on just a handful of people (maybe just one). And it involves the sort of mundane, manual labor we usually pay minimum wage for others to do. It doesn’t make us prestigious in the world’s eyes.
Glory in the Monotony
Thankfully, we’re not alone in this journey. In her new book, Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God, Courtney Reissig assures us she feels our frustrations:
Moms are weary of the pressure to live up to expectations and ideals that no human being could ever attain. Either we hear that our work at home is the pinnacle of greatness (leaving the mother who works outside of the home feeling inferior) or we hear that we are letting down women everywhere by staying home instead of taking advantage of the strides women have made in the workplace (leaving the mother who stays home feeling inferior).
Reissig—a wife, mother, and writer—doesn’t condemn women with careers outside the home. But in this book, she focuses on defending and encouraging those who situate themselves within the domestic sphere. Because being a stay-at-home mother (or SAHM, for short) means contesting the cultural narrative that we should “have it all,” and instead choosing to focus on just a few things.
But this needn’t make us depressed, bored, or resentful. Sweeping floors, cleaning dishes, and changing dirty diapers may be monotonous—but it can still convey and contain great meaning. The key, as Reissig points out, is seeing the vocational depth within even the most monotonous of tasks: seeing the glory in the ordinary.
And we must turn to Jesus for this sight. Because, as Reissig puts it, “ordinary and mundane is the way of Christ.” The gospel redeems and enchants every aspect of our lives—from the spectacular to the quotidian. We have a Savior who was a carpenter, a King who spent his days with fishermen. And he taught us that work isn’t ultimately about us, or about how it makes us feel—it’s about “loving and serving our neighbor.”
We’re not all called to be radical in our vocations—often, small and ordinary acts of unnoticed faithfulness are moments in which the radical manifests itself.
When we feel a “pull toward the spectacular,” we must remember God values the quiet and the unseen. We’re not all called to be radical in our vocations—often, small and ordinary acts of unnoticed faithfulness are moments in which the radical manifests itself. “God cares about what happens behind the closed doors of your house each and every day because he cares about the people in it,” Reissig writes. He is the God, after all, who was never too busy or important for the children.
Love Your Neighbor
Reissig suggests we should see at-home work as our means of obeying Christ’s commandment to “love your neighbor.” Usually, we think of this concept in a more distant way: neighbors are those afar off, or at least in the house across from us. But Reissig writes, “We love God by loving the other people under our roof whom God has given us. . . . If you are married, your husband is our neighbor. If you have children, your children are your neighbors.”
This concept is helpful to the mom (especially of infants or toddlers) who feels her Christian vocation is limited by the need to care for her kids. If I weren’t a SAHM, she may think, I could serve as a missionary, or help out at a homeless shelter, or work for a nonprofit. It’s easy to feel as if the work done inside our front door is somehow “less than.”
But if we view our children and husbands as our neighbors, we can see the most mundane work as done unto the Lord. Reissig suggests we can even view this work at home as “a tangible opportunity to obey Jesus’s command to love the ‘least of these’ (Matt. 25:40).”
Perhaps Reissig’s most important chapter, however, is that on community. Women in our Western culture have become increasingly isolated, as many move away from family, commute to church, and get jobs outside their local spheres.
“For the most part, if you live in Western society, you are going it alone,” Reissig writes. She encourages moms to not just seek out community on the internet, or among other mommy bloggers, but to seek out real presences, in real time. “You and I were not meant to be alone,” she writes. “We were not meant to work alone.”
Reissig encourages moms to not just seek out community on the internet, or among other mommy bloggers, but to seek out real presences, in real time.
It can be difficult to make this sort of community happen. In our busy world, schedules are always seemingly in conflict. We want to use our free time to “chill” and watch a show—not drive somewhere. But Reissig reminds readers that community is “vital to your thriving as a human being made in the image of God.” TV, on the other hand, is not.
Reissig’s book is soft-spoken. There’s no condemnation or guilt-tripping to be found. Indeed, at times she seems a bit too acquiescing. But I can understand why Reissig chooses this tone. Moms are sensitive, and not without reason. Career moms are used to getting condemnation for not being involved enough in their kids’ lives. Stay-at-home moms feel slighted and ignored by our society’s veneration of career and high-income work. We’re often on the defensive against criticism or judgment, and we fear moms from the other side of the vocational aisle will criticize our choices.
But Glory In the Ordinary is a comforting book in a performance-obsessed culture. While there’s some tough love in these chapters, there’s enough encouragement in between to ease ruffled feathers.
Reissig reminds us of the gentleness of the Lord, the way he loves us in the hard moments. She reminds us of the beauty of vocation—no matter how simple or mundane that vocation may be.
Courtney Reissig. Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017. 160 pp. $14.99.
- God Uses Our Work—Even Cleaning Milk Off the Floor (Courtney Reissig)
- Stay-at-Home Work When Kids Have Special Needs (Courtney Reissig)
- Women, Callings, and Having It All (Jennifer Marshall)
- Your Child Is Your Neighbor (Jen Wilkin)