“But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (II Corinthians 10:12b NLT)
A few years ago when I had a toddler and a newborn, I spoke to two friends from church about balancing life and housework.
“Woman A” was a homeschooling mom with two elementary-aged kids who also worked part time outside the home. Her children were intelligent and well-mannered. Her marriage, loving and strong. Her house, spotless.
“Woman B” ran a day care from her home in addition to raising her own two elementary-aged children. She too had a loving marriage, loved to cook for her friends and kept spotless house.
To me, these women were real life examples of the Proverbs 31 woman. While I felt hopelessly stressed and frazzled, Woman A and Woman B walked with confidence and grace. I wanted what they had. So I set out to learn a thing or two by picking their brains for tips and tricks to holding it all together AND keeping a spotless house.
Woman A explained the key to her success: she got up every day at 5 am so she could do all her housework before her children woke up. This way she could focus completely on her family without having to take time away from them to clean the house. She could home school, pray and work because she completed her housework in the wee hours of the morning.
Woman B explained the key to her success: she would never allow herself to leave the house unless it was clean. Period. This forced her to get all her housework done early so she could get on with other things in life that were really important—like loving people.
Okay! Got it!
I went home and internalized all I had learned at the feet of these two Masters of Balance. I was encouraged that I left with something tangible I could immediately apply to my schedule. I, too, would arise at 5 am. I, too, would never again leave my house unless it was clean.
That night, my newborn woke me up for his nightly feedings—as newborns often do. Unable to drag my sleep deprived self out of bed at 5 am, I slept in until 8, when my 2-year-old called for me from her crib.
Ugggghhh…I just got up and I’m already behind. How can that be?
I felt terrible that I had not been able to complete my housework before my children woke up like Woman A, so I set out to have it done before we left the house, like Woman B.
Baby napped while toddler played, and I worked like crazy to get my house in order. But then baby woke up and needed to be changed and fed. Then toddler needed me to wipe her bottom. Then baby needed to be held. Then toddler walked behind me and un-cleaned all the cleaning I had done earlier. Then baby needed to be fed and held again. Then toddler needed a nap. Then baby needed to be changed again. And suddenly it was 5 pm and I realized I had neither showered nor started dinner.
At this rate, I would never leave my house again. Never. Ever. Again.
Day in and day out, I tried to apply these tips to my life. Day in and day out, no matter what time my kids woke up, a twinge of guilt hit me for not completing my housework by that time. Day in and day out, if I managed to exit the house with my two small children in tow—even though they were dressed, fed and well-loved—a twinge of guilt hit me for leaving something in my house messy.
These two God-fearing women became my standard. Though most days I didn’t consciously recognize the source of my guilt, I measured my ability to balance God, family and housework against these two women and their methods. And every single day, I came up short.
Then one day a few years (yes, YEARS!) later, I looked at the clock as it read 8:00 am. I had barely begun to make a dent in my daily housework when my little pajama-clad preschoolers scurried from their rooms and into my arms. A feeling of failure swept over me again that I had not measured up to the standard of perfection I had set for myself.
And that’s when it hit me.
These two women—though beautiful, godly, and efficient—were not me. They were not God’s will for me or my schedule. Their methods for maintaining a clean house were just that…their methods. There was nothing sacred about them. Nothing that demanded that either I comply or forever be destined for failure. They were simply tips and strategies that worked for them in their particular seasons of life. I had the freedom to take them or leave them. And had they known how much I allowed their advice to torment me all those years, they would be horrified.
And therein lies the moral to the story: Efficiency isn’t the be-all-end-all goal to a well-balanced life. Staying connected to The Vine is. So if figuring out a more efficient way to do the laundry or squeeze in some exercise frees you up to love God and others better—go for it! But if it buries you under a load of shame for not measuring up to your perception of someone else’s perfectly balanced life, then reject it.
That’s not God talking to you.
And by the way, no one has a perfectly balanced life all the time.
Throughout this series, I’m going to share tips and strategies for balancing different areas of life that work well for me or for others. If you see something that strikes you as do-able, give it a try. If it works, fabulous! If it doesn’t, cut it from your life and move forward. No condemnation.
It has been 8 years since that conversation with those women. Do you want to know the number of times in the last 8 years I woke up at 5 am to do housework? Zero.
Do you want to know the number of times in the last 8 years I managed to complete my housework before I left the house for the day? Exactly 11 times, when we were showing our house to prospective buyers in 2004. I counted because it was so traumatic for me and the children. I’m not kidding.
With that said, I’m diving into tips for balancing God and housework on Wednesday. Tips that incidentally will not include getting it all done before your kids wake up or never leaving the house unless it’s clean. If that works for you, yay. Clearly, it’s doesn’t work for me.