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[The Influential Woman 7] Making a House a Home

Jeanne gets up at 5:30 in the morning.

She chooses something chic to wear from her fabulous wardrobe, brushes her hair, and puts on her makeup.

She hurriedly dresses the baby and grabs his bag of bottles and food.

She kisses her husband Mark good-bye.

She drops off their son at day care.

She drives on the bumper-to-bumper expressway for forty minutes.

She arrives at her office promptly at 8:00 A.M.

Jeanne has an M.B.A. degree and works in a department-store buying office. Hers is a prestigious position in the upscale store, and the glamour of dealing with fashionable merchandise makes for an exciting career. Jeanne is proud of her position, but not of the small paycheck it brings her.

Retailing is a ripoff! she grumbles to herself every single payday.

Jeanne's schedule is hectic—she is either intensely involved on the phone or on the floor rearranging stock and keeping an eye on business. Most of the people she deals with are aggressive and determined, and by lunch hour she's drained. When there's time, Jeanne and her co-workers often eat out together at one of several better restaurants near the store. It's expensive, but the quiet environment seems worth the extra money.

After lunch Jeanne is hard at it again. She interacts with demanding store executives, competitive colleagues, disgruntled customers, and hardbitten manufacturers. By the time she's ready to go home, she's aching with exhaustion and dreading the commute.

During the day she often glances fondly at a desktop picture of her husband and son. Yet by the time she's reunited with the two of them in the evening, she's too irritable to enjoy their company. The baby needs her love. Mark needs her attention. But Jeanne needs nothing more than to be alone—relaxing or, better yet, sleeping.

The idea of a two-income family has driven Jeanne out of the house and into the marketplace. After lunches and month-end sales, she has precious little to show for her trouble. But she keeps her job for the sake of her self-esteem.

I don't want to be a boring housewife! she reminds herself when the going gets rough. I'm way too smart for that!

As we move toward the twenty-first century, our goal as women is not to become as much like men as possible. It is, however, to completely fulfill ourselves as the women God designed us to be. Sadly, our culture has blindfolded us, and we fail to see our vital, foundational, and far-reaching influence. It isn't always easy to convince women of their significance or to remind them of their immense responsibilities.

As for you, son of man . . . my people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but they do not put them into practice.

Ezekiel 33:30-32

That is quite an indictment, isn't it? God knows that sometimes we listen and everything sounds right to us, but we just don't allow truth to take root in our hearts. Caring for a home and children is God's best plan for a married woman's fulfillment. In many ways her domestic efforts are God's love song to the world. Yet working at home is almost becoming a lost art, particularly in America's urban and suburban areas.

Is It Really Worth It?

National statistics indicate that an increasing percentage of women with children are working either part or full time. And let me be quick to say that there is no alternative in some cases. Perhaps you are a single mother as the result of divorce or death. Maybe severe financial reverses have come upon your family. It could be that your husband hasn't been able to find a job and you've had to step in as a wage-earner.

However, like Jeanne in our story, some women are working because they have adopted the belief that being a wife and mother simply is not significant. They have been convinced that the only way to achieve personal fulfillment is to find a career outside the home. Unfortunately, for many of these women, the financial gains are too minimal to justify the amount of time and energy expended.

Suppose you are earning $18,000 a year. This amounts to $1,500 a month. If your income tax level is 15 percent, you'll pay $225 a month. Social Security, at 7.65 percent for the employee, comes to $115. If you just tithe 10 percent, you pay $150. If you travel ten miles a day (a conservative estimate) at 25 cents a mile, that's $50. All totaled that's $540, and you're left with $961.

If you can manage to buy lunch for $4 per day, you're paying $80 per month, even assuming you take your lunch once in a while. And since you're going to be too tired to cook some evenings, let's add another $80 per month for fast food. Extra clothes and cleaning expenses will amount to at least $50. And, of course, the big cost is for day care. If you have one child at $50 per week, you are paying $200 monthly. If you have two or more children, it obviously becomes more expensive.

So this comes out to an additional $410. By now, your expenses are $950, and I'm being very conservative in my calculations. (Besides, I think that the very fact that you have a little extra money in your pocket makes you spend more.) Subtracting $950 from your monthly income of $1,500 gives you a monthly balance of $550. Divide this by four weeks, and it comes to about $137.50 a week. You have to remember, too, that the additional income usually pushes you into a higher tax bracket.

Is that worth forty hours of hard work? Plus all the time it takes you to run back and forth?

Plus the housework that is always waiting for you?

Plus the terrible expenditure on your emotional reserves?

Sometimes we feel we are making a big contribution financially, but it really isn't as much as we think. Our energy would be better devoted to the most precious treasures we will ever possess—our husbands and our children.

A Queen's Domain

When you choose a career outside the home, there are going to be some consequences. There will be a lack of involvement in your children's lives. There will be physical exhaustion, which can erode your relationship with your husband. There will be a growing apart if your career takes you in one direction and his career takes him in another. There will be demands placed upon you in the marketplace that may not suit your emotional makeup or your personal needs. But perhaps the greatest loss of all is your removal from the place of power and influence God has given you in your home.

According to the Bible, homemaking is the God-given domain of womanly authority. It is not only our responsibility, but it is our place of influence and authority. I know that in some circles wifely subservience has been promoted and encouraged. I challenge it. I do not agree with it. And I think I have a strong biblical basis for my point of view.

I saw Anna before she saw me. She was making her way through the supermarket, her eyes fixed on her grocery list.

"Well, you're certainly well organized," I commented, trying to remember everything I needed to buy.

"Oh, it's not me, it's my husband," she smiled wanly. "He always makes a list for me before I go shopping."

"So he decides what you should cook?"

"Oh, yes. He decides every week what we're going to eat. Then he makes a list of all the ingredients."

"Does he help with the cooking?"

"No, he's not really much of a cook," Anna laughed. "He thinks cooking is `women's work.' But he makes the list and then gives me the money for the food."

"How do you feel about that?"

"You mean about him making the list?"

"Yes—about him managing the menus and the grocery money."

Anna looked at me with a somewhat surprised expression on her face. "Oh, well, I think most Christians manage their homes that way, don't they? The man is supposed to be the head of the house, and the woman is supposed to help him."

With that, Anna checked her watch nervously. "It's great seeing you, but I've got to hurry. He's expecting me to be home in fifteen minutes, and he'll be upset if I'm late."

Of course it is going to be difficult to dislodge some men from their controlling positions. They may really want to believe that they have the right to be dictators and that women are nothing but underlings, required to obey orders. But God's intention is that you and your husband be partners—two people with one purpose who honor each other and respect each other's responsibilities and areas of expertise.

Paul wrote to Timothy,

So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.

1 Timothy 5:14

As I pointed out in an earlier chapter, the Greek word translated "to manage their homes" literally means to be the "house-despot." That means the woman is totally in charge of the home. She is not to manage her husband, but she does have the right to make some decisions without him. She can choose to rearrange the furniture. She can decorate in a different color. She can purchase something as long as it's within the budget. She can sew different drapes. Of course, she should discuss with her husband his likes and dislikes and make their home a haven they can all enjoy. But she shouldn't have to beg and plead—that is foolishness.

The home is your area of creativity, an environment with which you can readily identify. A man has his work, you have your home. Respect yourself, and enjoy your responsibilities. Don't sit there helplessly wondering what to do!

Mary Helen was in absolute disarray. Her mascara was smeared across her magnolia-white cheeks, and her eyes were red from crying. "Oh, Vickie, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?"

I guessed correctly that Mary Helen was in her late fifties, a true Southern Belle with a lovely face and a gentle voice. She found me at a seminar, and before long she was telling me all about herself. "You know, my father was the most wonderful man. He did everything for me. He bought my clothes, bought my cars, gave me all the money I wanted. He even took my laundry to the cleaners and my dog to the vet."

"Your father sounds like an exceptional man, Mary Helen." "Oh, he's dead now, you know. But George is just like him." She dabbed at her eyes.

"George?"

"George is my husband, or at least he was my husband. Last week he told me he's leaving me. It's such a nightmare! I'm nearly sixty years old, and I don't know how to do anything for myself!"

"You mean George has always taken care of you like your father did?"

"Oh, yes. George does everything. He handles the finances, the cars, the housekeeper, and the gardener. Trouble is, now I don't know how much money we have or what bank it's in. I don't even know what to do at a service station!"

"Haven't you wanted to know?"

"Why would I want to know?" Mary Helen began to cry in earnest. "I'm a woman! I always looked nice for him, I was always at his side, and believe me I was always there for him in the bedroom, too. Women aren't supposed to handle business. We're supposed to be pretty and not too smart. That's what my mother taught me."

"Why is George leaving you, Mary Helen?"

"Oh, a woman he works with has seduced him. That's the only thing I can figure out. This woman works with him every day on his projects, and they spend all sorts of time together. It's obviously just sex. What else would it be?"

If you think it's kind of cute and feminine to be dependent and helpless and dumb, think again. For one thing, men can become extremely bored with women like that. For another, you need to be prepared for any eventuality that may come your way. What if there's a death or a divorce? It's important for you to learn about the family finances. Find out about your money, how much there is and where it is. Get into the real world! It takes enormous skills to manage a home, far more than to be a secretary or even an executive.

Some Historic Models

Think about some of the women the Bible depicts. Remember the Shunammite in the Old Testament? She provided meals for the prophet Elisha. Then she went to her husband and said, "Let's build a room. Let's get him a table and a chair and lamp and a bed. Everything he needs."

Her husband said, "Fine." And they did it.

The amazing benefits and miraculous events this couple experienced because of the wife's generosity are indelibly printed on the pages of Hebrew history.

In the New Testament, Lydia said to Paul, "If you consider me a believer, come to my home." The early church could not have flourished without women opening their homes. For three hundred years there were no church buildings. What would have happened if those women had said, "I'm not up to entertaining today. I just don't feel like cooking!"

It was women who gave that fledgling church the warmth and the hospitality that allowed it to flourish. Romans 16 is filled with the names of women who worked hard for the gospel, who believed that their mission station was their home.

This is all possible because of the loving, sacrificial leadership that the husband is supposed to give to his family. And it continues on into voluntary submission, which is the wife's appropriate response to that leadership.

Your home should not be a cell block in which you are repressed and inhibited and ordered around. Instead it should be a greenhouse where you are allowed to flourish to your full potential, under your husband's protection, with his provisions and blessings. If we could get ourselves and our men to see that, it would change our lives and transform our families.

Most Christian women have heard, at one time or another, of "The Proverbs 31 Woman." To tell you the truth, this dear lady has always irritated me just a little. She is just about perfect, and my way of handling perfect people is usually to avoid them. I didn't want her to make me feel guilty, so I just decided that I wasn't going to read about her any more. However, when I finally studied her seriously, I was thrilled with what this very familiar passage was actually saying.

Before we read what the Bible says about this incredible "Wife of Noble Character," let's bear in mind that her failures are not mentioned—only her successes are recorded. The Word of God shares with us the sum total of her life: the intentions of her heart, her interaction with her husband and family, and her involvement with her community. The woman's everyday frustrations are not even discussed, but you can well imagine that she had her share.

I have a feeling that God looks at us with gentle eyes. Even in this very truthful tribute, He has overlooked all the negatives of the leading character, and painted a thoroughly positive portrait. I believe He does the same with us. He sees our hearts, recognizing our highest goals. He knows our built-in strengths and inborn weaknesses. He recalls the families we were raised in, the role models we had, and the experiences that scarred us emotionally. Our heavenly Father is-well aware of our limitations.

Jesus Christ died for our sins, and God forgives them for His Son's sake. So when the books are opened on our lives we will be surprised at what God does not hold against us. If this woman is any example of God's way of viewing His people, we can trust Him to be very gracious to the rest of us.

A Woman to Be Reckoned With

Proverbs 31 describes the total life of this woman. She didn't do everything mentioned here every day—not even every month or year. There are seasons in our lives where we are able to do some things more than others. Furthermore, I think it's possible that this great lady may be a composite of many women. In any case, I don't think this passage is trying to tell us how busy we should be.

Instead, we should appreciate the vast scope of interests and activities open to women. If such an array of opportunities were available to a woman three thousand years ago, how much more can we expect to accomplish in today's complex world! We all have different capabilities and gifts, and I believe God wants us to use the abilities and interests He has given us individually, with an inner sense of freedom. Think of it this way: It gives Him pleasure when we become everything He has equipped us to be.

A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

Proverbs 31:10-12

The word "noble" may be translated "virtuous" or "excellent" in your Bible. It is translated 245 times in the Old Testament. And most of the time it is translated "strong." It is used to describe God's strength. It is used to portray men who are dynamic and valiant. And here, it speaks of a woman's strength of character.

It depicts a woman who is loving, good, trustworthy, industrious, creative, skilled.

She is humble, discerning, organized, strong, dignified, compassionate, generous.

She is unselfish, unworried, peaceful, confident, intelligent, productive, joyful, wise, disciplined, enterprising, responsible, and authoritative.

This is nothing less than the picture of a woman under the control of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, this kind of noble character is available to every single one of us.

We also see that she is rare—one-in-a-million. And she is highly valued—worth far more than material wealth. This is the kind of wife we should instruct our sons to seek. This is the kind of woman we should train our daughters to be. We place such an emphasis today on outward appearance, peer conformity, pleasure, and entertainment. Let's remember to teach our children the joys of productivity, accomplishment, discipline, and hard work.

This woman's primary relationship is with her Lord. He has first place in her life. Consequently, her other relationships are in the right priority.

Meanwhile, her husband has full confidence in her. The two of them are a team—truly one in mutual respect, in goals for their family, and in responsibility. He trusts her totally because he knows that everything she does is for his good. This man can delegate responsibility and authority to his wife without fear that she will override him as head of the home. He will never become a hen-pecked husband—she will not grab the reins and run. His wife completes him—he lacks nothing. This husband has it all.

She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

Proverbs 31:13-19

Here is a wonderful home manager! This woman is an early riser, such a necessity if we are going to get our day off to a right start. If we get up early enough, we can have a quiet time with the Lord, then plan our activities and get a head start in preparation.

This Proverbs 31 woman also knows how to prepare food. She plans menus, prepares nutritious meals, and delegates jobs to her servants. We know the meals are nutritious because she is physically healthy—strong and vigorous.

She is described as a merchant ship bringing her food from afar. She sells and buys wisely and brings the profits home—a good businesswoman. She is trustworthy with money, handling the family accounts with authority, freedom, and creativity.

This "noblewoman" invests in land, makes a profit and diversifies her crops. She is an eager, hard worker who delights in the fruit of her hands. There's a great sense of accomplishment in doing a job well, in producing, in success. This is not unspiritual. God has made us goal-seeking creatures (Eccles. 8:15).

In an agricultural society, the Proverbs 31 woman is fully knowledgeable and involved in every aspect of earning and managing the family income. She and her husband raise sheep, and she carefully chooses the best wool, weaving it into garments. They raise flax and she weaves it into linen. She designs and sews clothes for herself, her children, and her servants. She also sells the products she makes for extra money.

She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Proverbs 31:20-27

Busy as she is, this amazing lady makes herself and her bed attractive for her spouse. She keeps herself sexually inviting and available to him. And her influence on him is evident. A community leader, her husband is respected and honored. Her home management has given him the freedom to be involved in his community.

The woman in Proverbs 31 is always prepared for the next season. Her family is clothed in scarlet—high-quality, warm clothing for winter. She treats her servants as if they were part of her family and provides for them as well.

But her care for her family is not limited to material provision. She instructs them with wisdom and kindness. Since there is no other source of true wisdom, this implies that she knows God's Word and applies it to daily living. I'm sure this extends beyond her immediate family to friends who need counsel and encouragement.

She is deeply involved in her community. She cares for the needy and is compassionate and generous. Because so much charity has now become institutionalized, we can individually shrug off responsibility or just write a check. This woman was personally involved.

Can you imagine a woman with this much responsibility laughing at the future? Yet she does, because she knows she has done everything she possibly can to prepare her family for every eventuality. The rest is up to God. She trusts Him implicitly to supply whatever may become necessary to face unknown future possibilities—sickness, death, grief, loss, disability. This godly woman fears the Lord. She has joyfully placed the future in His hands.

Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all."
Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31:28-31

As you contemplate this awesome role model, are you feeling a touch of despair, and perhaps even guilt? Please don't! Remember, Proverbs 31 overviews the entire life of a godly woman. She didn't do all of this at once. But she did use all the talents God gave her to the fullest, and that's really all any of us has to do. I am NOT responsible for the gifts someone else has. I must simply make the most of my own.

By the way, this woman was no doormat. She was not miserable, waiting to get out of the house to "find herself." She was queen of her home and family. And there was a wide range of activities open to her. In fact, there seems to have been no area of the culture that she did not influence, get involved with, or supervise. She participated in education, charity, business, manufacturing, sales, land investment, agriculture, ranching. You name it, she was involved.

She was confident of her ability. Her influence on her husband, children, household, and community speaks for itself. Her example to countless generations of women is immeasurable.

Just a Matter of Time

Believe it or not, every one of us can do the same things she did, as long as we have our priorities in order. We are not all called to do everything she did. But think about the scope of her activities. There was nothing withheld from her because she was a woman. She was free to do anything she wanted. All she needed was ability, desire, and opportunity.

You may be thinking that the role of homemaking in your life right now is actually the role of a prisoner. "I have these small children, and I can't do anything. I can't wait to be out and be free and prove myself in the marketplace." Well, this woman proved herself, but she did so working out of her home.

Homemaking is a legitimate career! This woman used all of her capacities joyfully, fearlessly, and creatively. She managed her home and gave it priority. Then, as time allowed, she expanded her activities and interests. You may not be able to imagine it now, but babies really do grow up, and toddlers eventually go to school. And all of a sudden you are going to have several hours of time that you haven't had before.

I remember when my youngest was finally in first grade and was gone from the house until two o'clock. For the first two or three weeks I didn't understand what was wrong. The days seemed so long! Then I realized that for the first time in twenty years, I had all those hours until 2:00 P.M. to myself. It was quite a shock. And before long, I was putting my "spare" time to good use.

Yes, it really happens! Time goes on and soon your children won't be completely dependent, requiring so much of your time. Please—don't be impatient.

As friends and mentors, let's encourage our young women to continue to develop themselves, even if their energies are presently being consumed by little children. These women were persons before they were mothers and persons before they were wives. A woman should never give up her personhood or her special interests. Any woman who stops sharpening her skills while she is mothering little children is making a big mistake. When those kids leave the nest, she will have no outside interest to continue to pursue. Young mothers must continue developing spiritually, intellectually, and socially.

Setting Proper Priorities

Married people have built-in priorities about which they really don't have much choice.

God must come first for us, whether we're married or single. We have foolish expectations when we count on our husbands to do for us what only God can do. That makes men into idols, and God certainly never intended that. God is rightfully jealous, and He won't allow any human relationship to take His place.

After God, the spouse comes next.

Then come the children.

Little children are so demanding and draining that it is very easy to inadvertently consider your husband after the children. I asked my husband not long ago, "What was the biggest adjustment you had to make as a father?"

"Realizing that I would not have all your attention," he replied after some thought.

It was the first time in thirty years that he had ever said it. But now I can remember little frictions that would arise, little arguments we'd have because I had to do something for the baby. I didn't understand it, but Fred was feeling the loss of something that he valued.

Putting your husband first requires a lot of sensitivity. You must give the child what he or she needs. And yet your husband must know that he has not been supplanted by some little helpless parasite!

After God, husband, and children, for a woman, her home comes next in priority.

Then you can reach out to others and, last but not least, to yourself.

If we reverse any of this we get ourselves into trouble. If we put other people before our families, we'll regret it. And if we put ourselves ahead of everybody else, we certainly are going to create problems.

The Single's Sphere of Influence

One wonderful thing about being single is the different set of priorities you are able to enjoy. Being unmarried can free you to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Your first priority is the same—God. Next in priority is your job, and the next is other people. There is no spouse to consider, and you might not have children, either. Singles are relieved of a lot of the stresses and strains that married people have. They are freer to reach out to others in a way the married person cannot. They may have a ministry in your place of employment. Their integrity, excellence, and purity in relationships will support and confirm their testimony.

Don't look at yourself and think, I don't have a lot to offer. Instead, realize that there are other people out there in your sphere of influence who can benefit greatly from the gifts and talents God has given you. Married or single, if you get all wrapped up with your own needs and wants, unwilling to reach out to other people, you are missing some magnificent opportunities. I challenge you to look at your priorities. The ways you serve God and others are the only things that will count in eternity.

Scripture says that God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccles. 3:11). Every one of us has a hunger to be remembered and a yearning to accomplish things that will last. For the married Christian woman, the greatest contribution she can make will begin in her home. It will be acted out with God's priorities in mind. And it will be accomplished because God has given her the means and the authority with which to do it!

It is my prayer that you and the women to whom you are reaching out will not just nod and say, "What a lovely idea. What interesting words!" Unlike Ezekiel's careless and insincere listeners, I hope you will hear God's Word. Listen to His love song. Believe it. Then put it into practice in your life—starting today!

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