Spiritual approaches to housework

Although this topic is not strictly theology, I have put careful reading and thought into the spiritual angle of housework, so I felt I should finally write about it. 

Understanding God's viewpoints on housework is not easy, I found.  There is not a whole lot written in the Bible relating to housework.  This is very likely a sign that housework is not of vast spiritual importance one way or another.  However, this did not help me with my questions.  Whenever I was doing housework, I always wondered: "How do I strike the balance between doing sufficient housework to make my house a safe and hygenic place but not spending so much time on it that I neglect God's work?"  For me, this was a burning question.  I did not want to report one day to God that I had spent all my time keeping my house clean.  Yet, it is also obvious that all of us need to maintain a reasonable level of housework for health and hygiene reasons if nothing else.

I also want to begin by saying  that some people seem to have the misconception that God wants us to do as much housework as possible and that the cleaner we keep our houses the better.  While that approach might indeed work for those who view housework as an act of worship to God alone (and not their house), I get the impression from reading the Bible that housework is not something on which we automatically need to be spending lots and lots of time.  Of course I could be completely wrong, and it is important that each person does their own reading and thinking. 

The Bible verse below illustrates very clearly the need to put God's work first and then spend 'leftover' time on our own houses, not the other way around:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.
Haggai 1: 7-9

The verse above in Haggai related to rebuilding houses, rather than housework itself, but it seems that the message still stands in either situation: that God wants us to do His work first instead of busying ourselves with our own houses.

While the Bible shows that there is a great deal of importance attached to cleanliness, this importance is related to hygiene and containing the spread of germs and communicable diseases.  Indeed, many of the instructions handed down in the Old Testament can be read in light of today's knowledge to see that God was explaining basic guidelines for preventing communicable diseases and stopping their spread when they strike:
“When someone has a boil on their skin and it heals, and in the place where the boil was, a white swelling or reddish-white spot appears, they must present themselves to the priest. The priest is to examine it, and if it appears to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has turned white, the priest shall pronounce that person unclean. It is a defiling skin disease that has broken out where the boil was. But if, when the priest examines it, there is no white hair in it and it is not more than skin deep and has faded, then the priest is to isolate them for seven days. If it is spreading in the skin, the priest shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling disease. But if the spot is unchanged and has not spread, it is only a scar from the boil, and the priest shall pronounce them clean.
Leviticus 13: 18-23

God's guidelines also carefully explained what to do with mold on articles of clothing or fabric made of any material:
“As for any fabric that is spoiled with a defiling mold - any woolen or linen clothing, any woven or knitted material of linen or wool, any leather or anything made of leather - if the affected area in the fabric, the leather, the woven or knitted material, or any leather article, is greenish or reddish, it is a defiling mold and must be shown to the priest. The priest is to examine the affected area and isolate the article for seven days. On the seventh day he is to examine it, and if the mold has spread in the fabric, the woven or knitted material, or the leather, whatever its use, it is a persistent defiling mold; the article is unclean. He must burn the fabric, the woven or knitted material of wool or linen, or any leather article that has been spoiled; because the defiling mold is persistent, the article must be burned.

“But if, when the priest examines it, the mold has not spread in the fabric, the woven or knitted material, or the leather article, he shall order that the spoiled article be washed. Then he is to isolate it for another seven days. After the article has been washed, the priest is to examine it again, and if the mold has not changed its appearance, even though it has not spread, it is unclean. Burn it, no matter which side of the fabric has been spoiled. If, when the priest examines it, the mold has faded after the article has been washed, he is to tear the spoiled part out of the fabric, the leather, or the woven or knitted material. But if it reappears in the fabric, in the woven or knitted material, or in the leather article, it is a spreading mold; whatever has the mold must be burned. Any fabric, woven or knitted material, or any leather article that has been washed and is rid of the mold, must be washed again. Then it will be clean.”
These are the regulations concerning defiling molds in woolen or linen clothing, woven or knitted material, or any leather article, for pronouncing them clean or unclean.
Leviticus 13: 47-59

Again, mold is of importance in health and hygiene because in addition to causing human disease directly, mold can also spoil food and cause disease that way.

Along those lines then, it would seem that (extrapolating wildly here) that God would be likely to want us to make sure we have clean hygenic bathrooms and kitchens, which tend to be the most germ-prone areas, and that we should also be aiming for mold-free conditions.  Of course, we should still have some basic level of health and hygiene and tidiness in all areas of the house in order to go about our lives in a resonable manner... but, I don't think there is anything in the Bible that says we should be aiming for perfection in our housework.  (Especially since the 'perfection' in that sentence would only be meaningful in a secular sense, anyway).  The one exception I can think of would be for those who view their housework as a literal act of worship to God.

Even if one were to recieve Jesus into one's home, one would hope that, in the example of Mary and Martha, that one would spend the time listening to him instead of frantically cleaning the house.

So where does this leave an 'average' person such as myself? After all this reading and thinking (most of the thinking was, fortunately, done while doing housework), I have come to some conclusions on how to strike a balance between God's work and housework.  Or rather, how to keep them 'together' instead of seeing them as completely opposing things:
1.  Sing hymns while doing housework
2. Contemplate a theological or discipleship question while doing housework
3.  Do thinking/planning for whatever one's ministry is while doing housework
4.  Make the act of doing housework a literal act of worship to God alone.  (For some reason I have never been able to do this, even though I do see gardening as an act of worship to God).

Even when I came to these conclusions, I still floundered a little.  Even by pulling the housework and God closer together as outlined above (by taking advantage of the fact that the housework doesn't require much thinking, while God does), I still worried a little bit.  Was I doing too much housework per week? Too little? Was I putting too much thought or worry into housework? So far, this is the longest topic on my blog.  So at this point, have I already attached far too much importance to housework??

But then, I realized that housework is no different in that regard from eating, or gardening, or other things like that.  There is a certain amount that is necessary to cover the basics of life.  But if one's focus (on eating, gardening, or housework, etc) becomes excessive then it takes one's attention away from God.  So the thing that helped me the most was to simply put housework under the same category as eating or gardening. I just wish I had figured this all out much earlier.  And now I understand why there is not vast amounts written in the Bible about housework - just as was inferred at the beginning, housework isn't of vast spiritual importance.

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