The Good of Hard Work and Housework

I scanned the isle of colorful cleaning supplies intensely. My eyes fluttered from a bright purple brand promising that, with its help, I would clean my bathroom half as often and in half the time, to the neon yellow bottle boasting large bubble letters that read “For an EFFORTLESS clean.” And I sighed. This is what I come here for. This was the promise I was itching to hear, and at its proclamation I knew it would fall flat.

I am innately an efficient person. My mother raised me this way, and it has made me strategic and savvy, quick and concise, and unrelentingly discontent with the pace of life. It is this efficiency that makes me hunt down the latest short cuts for the unlovely task necessitated by life (namely cleaning and cooking), and constantly turns over in my mind how I can avoid the hard work of housework with a new gadget, tool, or toy. I cut out coupons for grocery items that will allow me to afford pre-chopped veggies for Tuesday’s dinner recipe. I willingly sit in front of my computer for an hour and a half trying to figure out this whole online grocery shopping business, adding things to my virtual cart, removing them, and scouring for coupon codes to afford the luxury of delivered goods. And I save and save and save my grocery budget pennies so that one night, one week, we can go out for dinner and skip the prep, the cooking, and the mess altogether.

I want to do less and I want it to cost less.

But as I stood in that isle of neon cleaners I knew that I would, once again, be disappointed. For as much as I try to avoid the hard work of housework, some things cannot be outsourced or avoided. There will laundry to fold irregardless of what detergent promised me that it would get out stains the easiest. The floor will need to be swept, even if there’s a gadget endlessly prowling the room. Dinner will need to be served, even if it’s a frozen dinner popped into the microwave. Housework requires hard work.

And it is a good thing.

I am coming late to the realization that hard work is both unavoidable, but also a created good. In the garden, man and woman were given dominion over the land and animals. This dominion was not meant to be played out in ease, but with hard work. Both man and woman were to steward the land, nurture the animals, and curate the abundance of Eden. In the glory of pre-fall garden life, they were intended – explicitly and intentionally – to work. And God said that it was good.

The same is true of you and I. There is work to be done. All around us, in our homes or townhomes, in our yards or on our patios, in our studio apartments or country acreage, there is work to be done. Life requires maintenance – ongoing, daily work. And our God proclaims this work good for us. It is part of our human construct, an innate design carved into our Imago Dei (image of God), to work.*

Because of this, work rightly reminds us of what it means to be human. Only God is endless, we are painfully limited. God alone is eternal, we are bound by days and minutes and seconds that we must allot to specific tasks, irregardless of how unappealing those tasks might be. There is humility in our humanity, and there are few places in which this is more tangibly felt than leaning over a sink washing dishes for the third time in a day.

There is nothing wrong with modern inventions that ease our tasks, and God bless the person who invented dishwashers and take out. But we are deceived if we believe that we can plan ourselves out of work altogether, as if by enough coordination we can abdicate our responsibilities and work to machines or to another. Work was made for us and we were made to work – and it is good.

Today will require work. For you and for me, today will offer us plenty of opportunities to do hard work to keep the spaces entrusted to us. And I want to embrace it. Let’s go to the store, wipe the baseboards, fold the laundry and put it away, and chop the veggies. By the God who formed us, you and I are invited to work today, and to agree with him that it is hard, but that it is very good.

*Before anyone imagines that I’m talking to women about housework, please note: work, including housework, is for all Image Bearers. Men and women are partners in keeping house, making dinner, and doing laundry. I praise the good Lord Jesus that he gave me a husband who cooks and cleans (often better than I do). All the praise hands.

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