Modern practice and ancient principles aren’t mutually exclusive…

…but they are differently applied. Expecting the lifestyle of a suburban Christian family of 2017 to look like the lifestyle of a family who lived in 1900 -or even 1950- is an invitation to all kinds of battiness and heading off the rails.

I’ve considering several different takes on the subject of the Proverbs 31 wife and how she translates in our current era. Depending on where you look and what you listen to you, can find countless books, commentaries, and discussions on the topic. For example, here and here.

Many debates, in my opinion, miss the point of the “ideal woman” vignette and it’s too bad, because there is a lot to be learned from it, and most of that has little to do with the practical matter of how one keeps house. That matters, but too much criticism and too little thought are given to the strains of postmodern homemaking because a lot of the physical demands have been mitigated by modern technology.

Life today offers many opportunities for leisure and with that the attendant mischiefs. I often think about Maslow’s hierarchy and how perfectly his pyramid applies to postmodern life.

maslow-pyramid

In the absence of a need to focus on survival, we fall prey to distractions, some of which seem good, but are their own form of mischief. One of the ways this manifests is in our insistence that the solution to today’s problems is to live life exactly the way it was lived when the struggle for survival occupied the majority of people’s time and thoughts. And so wives are advised:

  • We should sew our clothing even though it’s often far less expensive to buy comparable clothing ready to wear.
  • We should grow large portions of our food even if we live in areas or climates which again, can make this difficult and expensive compared to buying produce.
  • We should eat the cheapest food available to save money even though we know that many of those processed foods are not nutritious or good for our long-term health.
  • We should have one car while having many children despite living in areas where public transportation is inconvenient to nonexistent.
  • We should spend all our time at home, with little contact or support from other believers. Even though this is not how families and mothers lived 100 years ago when multi-generational and woman to woman support was a significant part of family life.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but as I contemplated it I remembered something written a few years ago by a prolific blogging friend of mine, and she pretty well captured a lot of the inherent problems with trying to pretend that we can live a simplistic, 19th-century lifestyle in the context of the isolated, atomized 21st century with its complicated economy, proliferations of choice, and higher expectations and standards which most all of us embrace:

We are incredibly mobile now, and getting my children in and out of the car is so stressful that we need 30 minutes head-start in order to get everyone buckled in without a meltdown. There is one day in the week where we undergo that particular torture 4 times, and by the end of the day, I’m exhausted even though I haven’t really done anything. I’m increasingly purchasing with local businesses, many of whom will deliver for a small fee, in order to spare myself a bit of that pain.

Visiting friends and relatives is equally grueling, as everyone lives at least 15 minutes drive away. We visit grandma at least once per week, and it’s a 1.5-hour drive in each direction, longer if there’s traffic. And there’s usually traffic. In my MIL’s homemaking days, everyone lived in the same neighborhood and visiting her sister entailed walking two blocks down the street. She was also never in the position of caring for her children while nursing a fever, or alternating making them snacks and vomiting up her own lunch.

I’m lucky that my husband supports me letting the children play outside, and that our house is small and sparse enough that cleaning it is short work, but other women aren’t so lucky. I know women who clean four bathrooms twice a week, as opposed to my 1.5 baths, and cleaning the floors takes them hours and involves lugging a vacuum cleaner up and down stairs to clean their wall-to-wall carpeting. The truth is, anyone who had a house larger than mine “back in the day” also had a cleaning lady or shared the house with other women who could help her.

Yes, you have a washing machine in your basement, but you used to only have three changes of clothes per person, and many had their laundry washed for them. I know this for certain, as my aunt’s family used to run a laundry service and she swears that her family washed the laundry for the entire urban neighborhood. Women bought washing machines, which killed the washerwoman business, but then everyone’s wardrobes grew exponentially.

For all of the talk of “pioneer women”, they were a small minority of women and tended to all be dead before they hit 50. Most women 100 years ago were doing a similar level of housework and homeschooling as I am, but they didn’t have to take on the additional chauffeuring duties, they weren’t as isolated, and they weren’t expected to look like a lingerie model and turn tricks in the bedroom that would put some prostitutes to shame. The workdays were also shorter before cheap electric lighting and most people got more sleep.

So spare me the rewriting of the past. Spare me the rewriting of the present, as well. Far from the “Desperate Housewives” meme, the majority of homemakers are in the lower and working classes. The equation has flipped precisely on its head: the middle-class homemakers are now middle-class workers and the lower-class workers are now lower-class homemakers. And the latter are increasingly male.

I’m not complaining, as I enjoy my life, just pointing out the obvious: then and now aren’t really comparable.

Am I saying that the Proverbs 31 ideal woman is irrelevant or obsolete? Absolutely not! She is more relevant that ever, in context. One of the first areas of the passage that I focused on when I stopped running from it several years ago was this:

The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.

This alone encompasses a lot, and when I focused on this with my whole heart, a lot of things came into clear focus and instantly fell into place. Along with that, every single item on my bullet list above? It became unnecessary or at least pared down significantly.

Most of my days are quite full, although without very young children underfoot, I certainly get more breaks than a mother of many littles. The priorities of my days are the priorities which will keep me in line with the verses I highlighted above, and my husband is very much a postmodern American man. Take that as you wish, but coupled with faith,  this means a combination of modern things executed in the spirit of eternal truth. Mostly it means lots of editing: of memos and emails, or other stage management type deals. Also, lots of cooking. The proliferation of food choice has certainly infected this family.

So, while there is a small garden, a bit of sewing, and even homemade bread from time to time, for me Proverbs 31 means that at the end of my child-rearing years, I will prayerfully be able to look back over the decades and see where I struck all the ideal woman notes. I cannot get it all done today. Trying to do so would illustrate a stunning lack of regard for the priorities of the man whose heart’s trust I am trying to maintain and the ultimate goal of a life which represents a woman who fears the Lord.

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12 thoughts on “Modern practice and ancient principles aren’t mutually exclusive…

  1. Just a thought that occurred as a result of reading Alte’s old post. We used to get our potato chips (along with some other stuff) delivered to the house. Am I the only one who remembers this company, Charles Chips? The Avon lady was a big deal. Lotion, perfume, soap, and other stuff -usually just the god stuff for Sundays- was sold and delivered door to door. My daddy’s life insurance agent would come to the house every month to pick up the premium payments.

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  2. It is something often overlooked that we, as wives, are to follow the preferences of our husbands. Another thing that is often overlooked is that our microcultures differ. We are all one in Christ – but that doesn’t mean our day-to-day lives, even our day-to-day *ideal* lives, look the same.

    I *like* to sew, and I *like* to garden, but those things are very unimportant to my husband (except weeding, which I do not like). (I always say if someone is bored, I have plenty of hobbies, and I’ll share). Creating an income stream IS important to him, and I’m trying to figure that out. Watching over his kids is supremely important to him (I would NOT be permitted to let the kids play out front – I am still not permitted to let my 12yo walk four doors down to my BFF’s house by herself).

    Another thing that is often overlooked is stages. I think that’s an American thing, tbh. We consider ourselves “done” after career/marriage/kids. Like you don’t grow and change between that and the day you retire. You mentioned that above – your opportunities and the opportunities of a mom of littles (particularly multiple littles) are totally different. Right now I feel like I change stages with the start of every school year! Expecting a mom with littles to run a business and invest and create … no. She’s got too much on her plate.

    What we *can* do is expect every Christian wife and mother to keep striving to improve herself, to above all, glorify God in all she does, and attempt to be someone in whom her husband’s heart can safely trust. “What does he need from me? How can I make his life better? What skills can I pick up today that will pay dividends in our future? Where do my talents lie now, what can I improve?”

    It’s heart, not outsides, that is the core of the matter. But I guess that’s a drum I beat pretty hard, lol.

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  3. It’s another one of those things that Christians give lip service to: “But of COURSE you should calibrate your efforts in line with what your husband wants for the family!”

    But they only mean it if what your husband wants dovetails with what they have determined is the most godly way for a wife to be and do. Then they offer *grudging* support of your submitting to your DH’s desire that you generate income: “It’s not right, but you have to do what he needs.”

    How, please tell, is a woman supposed to respect and love with abandon a man she believes is leading her astray? She can’t, not really.

    Once I let go of my preconceived notions of what a “godly woman” must be and do and just paid attention to what it looks like in the context of my own marriage, I found that anxiety about “am I doing the wife thing right?” went away.

    It was stupid too because he has always thought I was doing it right, except for the period of time when I was focused on “doing it right” according to NeoTrad standards.

    And there are strains of that in every ethnic/Christian sect. It’s NOT just an Internet thing.

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  4. Written with a smile; up here in Minnesota, it is emphatically not true that one can get clothing cheaper at stores and still be able to spend any serious time outdoors in the first three months of the year. Not even Minneapolis-based Target, and not even their former owner, Macy’s. Those you’ll meet skiing or skating generally get their outdoor clothes at specialty stores or make it themselves.

    (doubly so for my family, as we’re built a bit different from most….)

    But that said, agreed that “one size fits all” is a recipe for disaster in family life in the same way…it’s a recipe for disaster in clothing.

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  5. As always, Bike, YMMV. Cut a lifelong S. Florida gal some slack, huh? We don’t need a lot of clothes down here. Not even when it’s “cold”.

    That, and as a classic hourglass, I don’t find it particularly hard to find things that fit well. My long, lanky banana shaped girl, however, struggles a bit more with that. It might do her well to learn to sew. She dabbles but has a long way to go.

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  6. :^)

    I gotta admit, though, that being of the “pigmentally impaired” variety, my wardrobe wouldn’t change that much if my family moved down your way. Little less wool, little more linen and cotton, I guess.

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  7. You can have my Pendleton shirts when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers. :^)

    And I’m guessing that while I’d need to invest in some cedar to protect them from the bugs, they’d come in handy in those cold snaps y’all get every once in a while. My dad and brother once rented a sailboat down in the Keys for spring break, and it snowed on them.

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  8. FWIW I wear wool a few times a year, sometimes only once. We’ve been known to skip winter and have 80 degree January days. “Flannels” here tend to be cotton.

    But if you’re going to go to the desert at night, keep the wool. 😀

    I wear a lot of light-weight linen in the summer – keeps the sun off somewhat (light-weight is sheer) and lets breezes through.

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  9. We do have a few cold snaps most winters; two or three days when the temp drops to 30 overnight and peaks at about 50 by mid afternoon.

    But this is the tropics, no desert here. So when it’s hot in the morning, it’s at least warm at night. Bike said it snowed here. Hmmm. I think it snowed in 1989 if I recall, but I don’t think FL has seen so much as a flurry since.

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  10. I think my brother and dad’s experience was a few years earlier, actually, maybe 1984 or 1985. They just still talk about it, because obviously they were expecting something a bit different! Another bit of fun was that a coworker came back from the Sunshine State with a cartoon showing a Minnesotan in a swimsuit jumping into the pool while the Floridian workers at the hotel were in winter coats and shivering, which is exactly what my daughter and others did on a mission trip to Spain when they got to Valencia. 50 degree dip in the Mediterranean!

    I can personally wear wool shirts as warm as 65 degrees, and wool slacks (say super 100s fabric) at 90F or so, just not with Florida humidity. Would like to get some linen slacks for August up here.

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  11. It snowed in 1968… :p But most of winter is in the 60s during the day. I’m wearing a cotton hoodie over my tank top today. It’s 63. People come from other places and whine about the seabreeze all the time. Like, dude. It’s the coast. It’s supposed to be like this. Enjoy it.

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