When Homemaking Becomes Idolatrous

prostrationBack when I was learning how to drive, my dad used to say, “You drive the car.  Don’t let the car drive you.”  He said it whenever I was going too fast and starting to lose control. I thought about that expression a lot last week.  It was one of those stomach-virus, up-all-night-with-vomiting-children kind of weeks.  Toss home renovation chaos and 32 weeks of pregnancy into the mix, and I was left with a simple choice: either escape to Starbucks the moment my husband got home, or risk internal combustion.  “In other words,” I explained to Clint one afternoon, “this cup of coffee—and more importantly the silence surrounding it—is a matter of life or death.”  He let me go.

The moment the scent of macchiatos wafted through my hair, my mind started to clear.  I thought about all that I was “escaping”—five loads of post-vomit laundry waiting to be folded (for the past three days now), endless bickering over an Elsa doll I would’ve paid a thousand dollars to multiply into two, enough toys on the living room floor to start my own business, enough crumbs on the carpet to feed a village of mice…

“You manage the home.  Don’t let the home manage you.”  Hmmm…  Suddenly, I was fifteen years old again, trying to drive a car that was completely out of control.  It’s so ironic that something as worthy as the calling to manage a home can become one of the greatest sources of idolatry and sin in my life.  It’s been this way for me for a long time now.  I’m the kind of person who would rather clean my whole house, then race to pick up the kids from school looking like I just escaped from a refugee camp, rather than risk returning to a home that looks like a refugee camp.  It’s just my thingthe idol I am always drawn to.  And you want to know the truth?  It really has nothing to do with the house at all.

When everything is clean and orderly around me, I feel like my heart is clean and orderly.  I feel like I’m in control.  Like I’m successful.  And that is what drives me.  It’s that God-like feeling (delusion really) that I can manage the messes in my heart by managing the messes in my home.  But as all neat-freaks know, it’s as fleeting as a clean countertop.  And here’s the really ironic part: all the time I’m parading around like a goddess in control of her universe, the house is actually controlling me.  It’s governing my emotions and reactions.  Dictating my choices and attitudes.  It’s not my minion, it’s my master.  Why else would I feel the need to escape?

And it’s not just limited to cleaning either.  As I prepare to have another baby, my nesting instincts are on over-drive, staggering beneath a mountain of paint samples and Pottery Barn catalogues.  Is it so bad that I want my whole house to look beautiful?  To be a warm and inviting (…and maybe slightly envy-evoking) place?  Ach, the balancing act!  I wish I could sort through the attitudes in my heart like I sort through the kids’ toys:  “Desire to bless my family with a beautiful home?”  Fantastic, we’ll keep that.  “Egotistical drive to feel good about myself?”  Yuck, into the garbage.  “Longing to serve others?  To enjoy and embrace my calling as a homemaker?”  Awesome, we’ll keep those, too.  “Competitive, materialistic spirit, consumed with earthly things?”  Trash!  But the bad motivations in my heart aren’t like the onions I can just pluck out of my toddler’s dinner.  They’re woven in deeply, like a virus.  What I need is the antidote.  I need the true answer for the aches and desires of my heart.

I need to remember that this longing to “nest” is really a longing for security and stability.  It is my heart’s cry for a place of belonging.  And into this deep heartache, Jesus offers security, identity, and purpose.  He looks at me (and you) and says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).  He looks at me (and you) scrubbing vomit out of the carpet at 2am and He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  He looks at me (and you) racing through dishes and diapers, carpools and catalogues, trying our very best to just be good enough, and He says, “You have been crucified with Me, and you no longer live, but I live in you.  So live this life on earth by faith in Me, because I love you and I gave myself up for you” (Gal 2:20, paraphrased).

Security, identity, purpose.  Hope, strength, grace.  How foolish to believe we could find these things in a can of paint or an organized playroom.  Does this mean we toss in the towel and sign up for a guest appearance on Hoarders: Buried Alive?  No…tempting as that may sound.  You and I have been called to a race (Heb 12:1).   It started the moment we surrendered to Christ, and it will culminate the day we cross the finish line and land in His arms.  We must keep running, but just as importantly, we must ask ourselves why we are running.  Are we running to be accepted, or are we running because we already are?  Are we running for the heavenly prize, or an earthly one?  Oh how tragic it would be to cross the finish line with a “perfect” home and a lifetime of aimless running (I Cor 9:24-27).

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14 thoughts on “When Homemaking Becomes Idolatrous

  1. This issue is such a HUGE struggle for me. Every time that I read a blog that encourages me to “let the dishes/laundry/vacuuming etc. go and spend time with your babies before they grow up” I cringe a bit inside. I’m grateful that you are actually trying to wrestle with the question that I feel those type of posts don’t – where is the line between a God honoring management of my home and an idolatrous management by my home? I feel like I’m constantly asking that question and not knowing the answer.

    I have a history of depression and one of my triggers is external chaos. When the home/office is cluttered or sloppy, I start to slide into places I don’t want to go. And then I go on a rampage to tidy up my external life in the hopes of chasing the pending darkness away. So then it’s easy, the home is managing me, it’s my idol. So, I try to keep up a reasonably organized home because that allows me to have a clearer head which then in turn helps me to speak truth to the darkness. But knowing when I’ve crossed that line is so incredibly difficult.

    Thank you for acknowledging the struggle and the difficulty in picking and choosing our heart attitudes. It’s a post I will come back to again and again.

    1. So glad this spoke to you, Michelle. I really can relate–love this line: “I try to keep up a reasonably organized home because that allows me to have a clearer head which then in turn helps me to speak truth to the darkness.” That resonates with me. Thank you for understanding & for sharing!

  2. This is bullseye ! You have put into words the struggles of women and clearly connected it with the idolatry of our hearts. I like your antidote versus sorting metaphor . Thank you Jean for this ministry, pointing people to Jesus and The salvation He offers.
    Mabuhay ka kapatid!

  3. Just tonight past midnight I am overwhelmed in home of clutter. Its been a busy day with kids over playing and an evening at some friends. From fall leaves all over our front yard my floor is now covered in dried leaves and dog hairs. My kids cant seem to remember where there toys belong. My Saturday looks like a cleaning house day. I want to cry. So thank you for your post because I’ve been set straight. I run this messy race because I love my family and I been called by God to be a homemaker. He does give me the grace each day to carry on.

  4. Thank you for sharing so honestly in a teaching way that inspires deep self-reflection. I relate to this post 100% and find myself in the same situation of go-do it-conquer it that it drives me crazy. I lose sight of my vocations and run too fast in the world for nothing that matters in the end. Thank you for these thoughts!

  5. So thankful for this post!
    I am also a stay-at-home Mom and it really is a daily fight to do all things to the glory of God- and not in an obsessive/idolatrous way. It’s so sad that satan will use even the good motives we have (clean home, etc) to cause our focus to slowly move away from Kingdom things to earthly things. I really struggle with this! I am very OCD about cleanliness and when I was reading through Proverbs awhile back I came across this verse: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4.
    Without little ones running all over, we could definitely keep a much tidier home…but SO thankful for the abundant blessings that come in having children! What a gracious gift they are and this verse was such an encouragement to me 🙂

  6. Like so many, I want to thank you for allowing God to use your real life and struggles to encourage, edify, and strengthen others. What a gift and a grace. And the way He speaks truth through you is revealing and encouraging at the same time- which is totally the way of the Lord. Thank you Jean, and God bless you and your growing family.

  7. I’ll join the others in saying “thank you” for this encouragement! As a stay-at-home-mom that thrives on productivity and is very task-oriented, I can so relate to the idolatry of a clean and well-cared for home! With baby number two on the way, I find that my nesting and therefore homemaking is in overdrive and I’m starting too many projects that it’s 1) stressing me out and 2) becoming an idol. Thank you for words that center me back on what matters: God’s grace. Always love your encouragement, but this one really hit home, so I had to comment.

  8. Just found this well-timed article through a google search of “how not to make your home an idol” . Yes, this is such a struggle for me. Your thoughts resonated with where my heart is at. I want my home to be clean and put together, safe and secure because that is what I want internally! But ONLY GOD can provide those things, and only in eternity will we know the full extent of that. Thank you for this post =)

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