My eyes swept over a dimly lit bedroom and fell on the face of my sleeping husband. I studied him for a moment and then looked back down at the laundry in my hands, and continued to gently place shirts on hangers. I felt a smile gradually spread across my face and after a moment, my hands stopped.
“Wait. Why am I smiling?”
It was late and I was incredibly tired, this burst of emotion didn’t seem fitting. My mind went into “figure myself out mode” and I began working through the memory bank of my entire day. My husband and I had spent the morning cleaning our home together. He had spent the afternoon cooking racks of ribs to take over to his mother’s house. After enjoying the company of his family, we returned home to tackle our children’s bedtime routines together. I concluded that I was a “good” kind of tired but that still didn’t explain the smile.
“It’s the laundry. It’s satisfying. But I hate laundry!”
I tried to make sense of what it was that I found so satisfying about folding laundry while everyone else was asleep. Was it the quiet? I really do love a quiet house but that wasn’t it. Was it because I would be organized tomorrow morning and not have to rush around? While that was partially true, there’s something else. As my fingers caressed the buttons on one of my husband’s shirts, the answer came.
“The people who own these clothes will go to their closets in the morning and find everything they are looking for, right where they need it. These people who are sound asleep right now — my people. I love them.”
That was it. That smile bubbled up at the work of my hands folding this laundry, even late at night. It was so satisfying because it was out of love for my family. Tears began pooling around my bottom eyelashes and I smiled even bigger this time. I realized in this moment, God had been restoring the joy of my work.
This may be coming across trivial, but there was a time when that very work crushed me under its weight because I was using it to gain acceptance. I used the work of my hands in my home to try and garner the acceptance and adoration of my husband but even more alarming, acceptance from God. I believed that God’s love for me was based on how tidy my home was, that all of the laundry was completed, and that meals were on time, before my husband walked through the door. When I wasn’t able to fulfill my tasks, I felt like a complete failure. I believed that this failure meant that I wasn’t being a godly woman who could hold my husband’s desire for me, let alone God’s. This continued for over 10 years until miscarriages, followed by a difficult pregnancy, left me flat on my back, unable to do anything for anyone. This is where grace wrecked me. I was physically forced to trust that the work Christ had done on the cross was my full acceptance before God; it was not by the work of my hands. It was the biggest newsflash ever. I had been working in vain and I, a pietist in every way, was undone and helpless.
“When I wonder if I have done enough, the Law gives only one answer, “When in doubt, try harder!” Thus, striving to fulfill the Law as a means to righteousness before God, the focus is on us and not on Christ, and the neighbor is nothing more than a means to a self-serving end. Before God, one must ignore the Law and cling only to the Christ, who is delivered to us in the Word.” (Charles P. Arand and Joel Biermann, Why the Two Kinds of Righteousness?)
I spent some years in resentment towards working with my hands in my home because of all of the baggage legalism afforded me. It has taken some time to realize that the problem was never the work itself — working with one’s hands is not bad, in fact, it’s a very good thing. People need clean clothes, homes that don’t look “post frat party” are pleasant to live in, and who doesn’t like a hot cooked meal waiting for them every now and again? The bad part comes in when we try to gain acceptance from God through those works. Justification by works of the Proverbs 31 woman is a false gospel; and I needed to be crushed by that reality.
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law … But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (Romans 3:28; 4:5)
Grace has done its work in my own heart and in the heart of my husband. The truth of the gospel wrecked both of us as individuals and then it reoriented us back to one another. Instead of one authoritative role and one subservient role, we freely submit to one another in love. Under this new reality, we have different tasks that are fitting to our gifts with which we serve each other. He will cook dinner, I will tackle laundry, and together we keep our home running. We work side by side as co heirs with Christ. The burden of work has been lifted along with the resentment that comes with the weight of carrying those responsibilities alone, while trying to earn love by it.
“Since there is nothing left to do coram Deo, the passive righteousness of faith means freedom to focus all attention on serving creation, leading us to appreciate earthly life as the sphere for our labors. The reception of passive righteousness leads us to embrace the world as the good creation of God.” (Charles P. Arand and Joel Biermann, Why the Two Kinds of Righteousness?)
Now here I sat, late at night, on my bedroom floor, not needing to earn anything from God. He’s promised to love me based solely upon the work of his own son, whose life is now my very own. I’m free. I’ve not been freed from my neighbor just to occupy my own interests, I’m actually freed towards my neighbor to serve his in a real way. Because a perfect love engulfs my very being, no matter what, I am turned back to love the people around me. The joy in work has returned and I can’t help but smile.
“Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days. Make us rejoice for as many days as You have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. Let Your work be seen by Your servants, and Your splendor by their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands — establish the work of our hands! (Psalm 90: 13-17)
I’ve written this piece as part a dual-part post with Lauren RE Larkin. You can find her piece, The End of Toil; Work Restored here.