The was written by Lisa Vitello in her newsletter New Harvest Homestead
Some twenty years ago, when my first child was still small and we lived in Southern California, I attended a church near our home. It was a fairly typical evangelical church with a large congregation and lots of young couples with children. It seemed like a perfect fit for us at the time.
I hadn’t been attending too long, but I made a few friends right away. One lady I remember was named Carol. She was a stay-at-home mom with a hard-working husband and four small boys. She and I got to know one another because we both sang in the choir. I love to sing and have been involved in choirs or some type of musical group since I was in elementary school. Carol loved to sing too.
I arrived for choir practice one day, walked through the back door of the church, and slipped into a pew next to Carol. I noticed right away that something was wrong. She looked very dejected. When I asked about it, she quietly said that she thought she was probably going to have to quit the choir. I was stunned! I knew how much joy it brought her to sing in the choir. I couldn’t believe it.
She went on to share with me how she was just about at her wit’s end. She was very busy every day of the week with one thing or another, having been asked to volunteer for various ministries, projects, and events the church was sponsoring on top of her usual errands and duties as a wife and mother. Like so many of us, she had a very hard time saying no, believing that she ought to be more than willing to give of her time to such worthy pursuits.
However, her home life was suffering. Her house was rarely in order. She had a hard time getting regular meals on the table and her husband and children often found themselves “waiting in line” for mom’s attention. She felt incredibly guilty as if she should be able to balance it all but fell far short.
And so, because the choir was the one thing that she had not been pressed into committing herself, it was the one thing from which she could easily extract herself without having to let a lot of people down. Ironically, it was the one thing she wanted to be doing.
She confided in me that day that she was seriously thinking about just leaving that church and starting over fresh somewhere where no one knew her; a place where she could be anonymous and unnoticed. It just broke my heart.
Does Carol’s story sound familiar? Are you in the same predicament? Then this article is for you. I have been involved in a number of churches in the past 27 years and I can tell you I have seen this same scenario played out over and over again. I have been in this place myself.
In one of his books (I can’t remember which one right now), author John Eldredge made the observation that if you wanted one word to describe Christian women in our culture (generally speaking), that word would be “tired.” That went like an arrow straight to my heart. It’s so true. Too often, we are not projecting the peace, joy, and quietness of spirit we so deeply want to be but rather the overall impression is that of women who are worn out, frazzled, distracted, and busy, busy, busy.
Let the Word of God Speak
I have a few of those “life verses,” you know, the particular verses from God’s Word which have spoken deeply to me over and over again. One of them is Hebrews 12:1-2.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangle us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (NASB)
The Greek word used for “encumbrance” in that passage is ogkos, literally meaning a weight or a burden. What the writer of Hebrews is telling us is that we need to lay aside those things which burden us or weigh us down so that we can get on with the race that JESUS has set before us. Don’t let yourself get bogged down because you went off the track, following some rabbit trail that someone other than Jesus has set before you. We are only required to pursue that which God has said we should pursue.
And, what does the Word have to say to wives and mothers, especially as it pertains to our obligations to our fellow believers and the local church? I think the passage that speaks most specifically to us is 1 Timothy 5:9-10, 14.
“Let a widow be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work…Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.”
Here, the Apostle Paul is giving specific instructions for deciding whether or not widows should be supported by the church. He gives us a list of qualifications that would make her eligible for such support, if she has no other family to take care of her. This list would represent this woman’s reputation in relation to her fellow believers as a member of their church community. Point by point, women are expected to:
Be the wife of one man.
Have a reputation for good works.
Bring up children if they are able, obviously.
Show hospitality to strangers, probably fellow believers visiting from other places (see 3 John 5)
Wash the saints’ feet. This is something you would do when welcoming believers into your home.
Assist those in distress; literally to relieve the afflicted. In other words, to minister to the sick and affirmed.
Devote herself to every good work.
In verse 14, Paul is instructing younger widows who do not qualify for the list to:
While verse 14 is directed to younger widows, I think it is safe to assume that Paul was instructing them to live in the same way he instructed all young wives to live. There is no reason to believe that he had a separate set of rules for young widows different than the rules for all young mothers.
So, what is the picture that emerges here? We see that women’s responsibilities are mostly those which revolve around home and family. The only words that are open to any kind of “out of the home” interpretation are that we are to devote ourselves to every good work. What, exactly, qualifies as good works? What works are pleasing to God? What qualifies as a “ministry” that is acceptable to the Lord? Well, Paul doesn’t give us a list, but we can look at the rest of the instructions he gives as a starting point for understanding what he means by “good works.”
There are a few passages in the Word that can shed a little light here. In Acts 9 we are told about a believer named Dorcas who lived in Joppa. We are told that she was “abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.” When she died, the disciples sent for Peter who wasn’t too far away. When he arrived, they showed Peter all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make for others.
Deeds of kindness and charity; that sounds like good works to me! The King James uses the word “almsdeeds,” or acts of mercy and beneficence. Put this together with Proverbs 31:20, which tells us that the excellent wife “extends her hand to the poor and she stretches out her hands to the needy” and Titus 2:5 which tells young wives to be “workers at home” among other things, and we begin to get a beautiful picture of what we are to be about as wives and mothers.
From all the above, I can safely say that a godly woman is to:
Make her home a welcoming place for other believers, both friends and strangers.
Be committed to her duty to keep her home.
Tend to her husband and children’s needs.
Be concerned for the poor and for those who are ill or infirmed.
Put her hands to good use in helping others. This could involve:
Making meals for others
Visiting the sick
Meeting the needs of the poor
Sewing, knitting, crafting, etc. good things for others
Traditions vs. Biblical Commands
Are you beginning to get the idea? Nowhere in the Word of God are we told that the only way to acceptably serve the Lord is to participate in any number of the myriad programs, committees, meetings, and ministries that are to be found in typical traditional churches today. We have to keep something in mind. In the first century, when Paul, Peter, James, and John were writing their letters that eventually became the bulk of the New Testament, these types of things were unheard of. Up until the third century, Christians met in homes in a very simple gathering which involved eating a meal together, listening to the elders share and dialogue from the Word (which would have mostly been the Old Testament at the time), singing a few Psalms together, and then home they went.
Most of the activities in which we involve ourselves in the contemporary church are done by way of traditions that have developed over hundreds of years rather than biblical command. In other words, there is no scriptural command that women are to serve in the nursery or Sunday School, join the VBS committee, organize youth groups, or kid’s clubs, participate in various programs, etc. If anyone is telling you that you are displeasing the Lord by not taking part in these things, I would urge you (with your husband’s permission) to gently ask them to show you from the Word where God requires this of you.
Doing vs. Being
Remember that word “encumbrance” from the passage in Hebrews 12? Are you involved in activities that feel like a burden rather than a joy and a blessing to you? Do you dread having to pack up the kids and head off to yet another meeting or program or activity? Well, guess what? God knows your heart, and He knows that you don’t really want to be doing this. You can’t hide it from Him, even if you can plaster a smile on your face when you get to church. God loves a cheerful giver (whether that is giving money, time, or talent.) If you aren’t cheerful, then something is wrong. And, I don’t mean that something is necessarily wrong with you, like you are just not spiritual enough. Maybe something is wrong with this picture. Maybe we are being stretched beyond that which is required of us by God.
What happens to us when we are overcommitted, overburdened, and overwhelmed? We can get depressed, cranky, and resentful, among other things. Maybe that is why Paul tacked on these warnings to his instructions for women in both 1 Timothy 5 and Titus 2: “Give the enemy no occasion for reproach” and “…that the word of God may not be dishonored.” We do not honor the Lord when we are frenzied, when we can’t keep up with our homes, when we neglect the needs of our husband and children, when we can’t respond to a neighbor or friend in need because we are too busy. We do not communicate to others the love of Christ when we are in this state of mind.
My experience is that most women get overcommitted by their own choice, rather than at the urgings of their husbands. Some ministry or program sounded so wonderful at first, didn’t it? You saw an opportunity to do something other than washing, cooking, and changing diapers all day. Here was a chance to exercise your gifts and let your creative juices flow! Or, you were approached with a need that pricked your heart or approached in such a way that you felt like you couldn’t say no. Oh, sure, there was that still, small voice in your heart telling you to go home, think it over, talk to your husband, pray about it, and then wait a full week before you gave your answer, but you ignored it and jumped in.
Why do we do this? I think it is because there is a message out there, sometimes subtle and sometimes spoken plainly, that in order to be a “good” Christian, you need to be participating in all these things. You need to be doing something! I mean, how can you be serving God just sitting there at home all day?
Honestly, do you think that this attitude was found in the Church 2000 years ago, 1000 years ago, or a hundred years ago? No, because up until the last 60 years or so, most women did not even have the option to get themselves involved in countless activities away from home. It just wasn’t possible.
When I read the scriptures, do you know what I see as being important to the Lord? I see that He wants to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is done in us day-by-day, as we commune with Him while we go about the necessary tasks of life. He desires that we become conformed to the image of His Son. And, as we grow to be more like Him, He desires that we extend our love and kindness to neighbors, the stranger, our families, and friends. We don’t need a program to do this.
One of my favorite quotes is from the book, The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. I included it in my introductory issue, but it bears repeating here:
“The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activity which occupy time and attention, but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.”
If you feel like you have gotten in over your head, why not let your husband know that? He will probably be thrilled to know that you want to devote more time to his happiness and well-being and that of your children. In fact, when I found myself in this predicament, Guy told me to “make him the bad guy.” In other words, as I went to different people to tell them I would need to back out of a certain ministry or program, I was to tell them that this was my husband’s wish and if they had a problem with it, they needed to call him. I love my husband! Now, that’s what I call being covered! 😊
A Plea to the Older Sisters
Can I talk to the older moms for a minute? Those of us who are past our baby and toddler years need to remember what it was like when we were younger.
Remember when you had a six month old baby, a three year-old toddler and a busy five year old? Remember how you felt like you had achieved a great accomplishment just because you caught up with the laundry that day, or managed to get a decent dinner on the table? We need to be doing all we possibly can to encourage the younger women to stay home and work on the priorities of a husband, children, and homekeeping, instead of laying upon them even more duties by asking them to serve on a regular basis in the church. Once in a while is fine but week after week is too much for most young mothers.
In fact, I think a wonderful way to fulfill the biblical instructions for women and how they are to minister to the body of believers is for us older ladies to begin to find ways to come alongside and support the younger moms. There is no clearer command in scripture for older women than Titus 2:3-5, in which we are admonished to encourage the younger women in their relationship to their husbands, their children, and in the keeping of their homes. And yet, we have no such ministry in most of our churches. This should be an ongoing, practical, hands on one-on-one ministry from older women to the younger.
How can we do that? Well, Titus 2 Meetings for one thing! If you haven’t heard about Titus 2 Meetings, please write to me and request a free meeting guide to help you get some idea of what they are all about. We need to instruct young women in the practical, everyday home arts, while also sharing spiritual wisdom with them. This will help them, in turn, be a blessing to their husbands and children.
Here’s another idea. Why not find out how you can help lift some of the burdens for the young mothers you know? Perhaps you could make a list of the young moms in your congregation (who would like to participate) and pick one a month. You and some other older ladies can come over with a few meals for the freezer, help them clean house a bit, get caught up with their laundry, watch their babies while they take a bubble bath, just anything that a young mom might need. Wouldn’t that have been a wonderful gift to you when your children were younger?
Too often, I have seen the attitude among older women in the churches that they have “done their time” and now they can leave all the work to the younger moms while they go out and find a job or “just play.” We need a generation of older moms who are willing to turn the tide and begin to take up their biblical responsibility to minister to and teach the young women around them. Will you join me?
My friends tell me that I am not one to mince words. I always, always pray that I will come across in a spirit of gentleness and love. So, there are a few things I need to clarify in closing:
1. I don’t think all church activities are bad. Most churches have very worthwhile programs. My concern is that we develop these programs and then expect young mothers to volunteer for them, without consideration for the strain it puts on their ability to keep a handle on their first priorities. If a program is truly worthy and blessed by God, you will not need to hogtie folks into participating. The Lord will work it out for you.
2. You may be a pastor’s wife or your husband may be very involved in the church and wants you to be at his side. If you are getting burned out on church involvement, you need to respectfully let him know that this is a struggle for you. He may not realize how you feel. I don’t want anyone to take this article and smack him over the head with it! I am not in any way trying to be divisive or stir the pot nor is it my desire to urge you to do anything that would be in contradiction to your husband’s wishes. Just find a time to gently approach him about it and then submit it to his wisdom and authority.
I can’t tell you what level of church involvement is right for you. Every family is a little different. I can only urge you to examine your heart and see if you are doing what you are doing in a spirit of joy with gladness or sense of heaviness and burden.
You may find yourself swimming against the current as you pull away from numerous commitments. Just know that you are not alone. There are probably quite a few young mothers who feel like you do and were just waiting for someone with enough courage to take a stand for their convictions. You will be a light to them and help them to have the courage to go back home, where they really wanted to be in the first place.
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
1 Timothy 5:14