Confronting the Tension Between Housework and Self-Care

Two important truths about family homes are:

  1. Home management is important work, but it’s work that will never be done; and
  2. The state of your heart is equally, or even more, important than the state of your home.

Considering the two statements above, how can you find the right balance between the energy you spend cleaning messes and the energy you spend caring for your heart?

I love the changes I’ve made to my home, and I believe in the cleaning tips I’ve shared over the past months in the Help for Frustrated House Cleaners series. My house is now frequently clean and tidy, which means that my cleaning frustrations have greatly decreased. In the process, I’ve also found freedom from many lies I was believing about my house, my family, and myself.

And yet…

When I neglect my heart by spending too much energy on my house, my body grows weary, and my spirit pines for Jesus.

How To Find Balance Between Heart and Home

Finding a healthy balance between housework and self-care requires divine help.

God knows when and where you might need to let go of expectations and standards. He also knows what needs to be higher on your priority list.

There is no formula for finding balance between housework and self-care; therefore, we must trust God to guide us.

The following is a short story – a glimpse into my life – that testifies to how Jesus helps me find balance, day by day. (It’s a true story, by the way, although I did dress it up a bit and add a few extra details so it reads like fiction.) I hope it will encourage you to trust the Holy Spirit’s gentle guidance in your own life.


Cleaning Messes and Missing Jesus

The mother plodded into the doorway of her daughter’s bedroom where a glowing bedside lamp shooed away the dark of night. It was bedtime. That tired hour of each evening filled with the usual routine.

When the mother glanced across the room, however, she discovered that her daughter was already waiting in bed, having taken the initiative to ready herself ahead of schedule.

The little girl had dressed in flannel pajamas and then tucked her legs snug beneath the comforter. She was sitting up with a large pillow wedged between her back and the wall. A small fortress of stuffed animals encircled her waist.

“All ready, Mommy,” the girl grinned. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes, expectant. “Tell me a story?”

The mother’s shoulders slouched as she crossed the room and sat on the edge of her daughter’s single bed. The mattress sighed beneath her weight. Placing one hand on the bed, the mother shook her head.

“I’m tired, dearie. And I still need to finish dishes. And sweep. And plan tomorrow’s chores…”

The girl’s face fell for a second, then lifted again. “A snuggle?” she said, patting the mattress to beckon her mother closer.

The mother shook her head again. “Let’s just pray. And then you can go to sleep.”

“But I’m not tired.” The girl reached across the blanket and tugged her mom’s hand. “Just one story?”

The mother sighed reluctantly. At this, the little girl burst into a wide grin and slid sideways to make room. The stuffed animals tumbled across her lap. One dropped to the floor.

“Just one story,” the mother said. She stretched out on her daughter’s bed and stared at the ceiling. “Let me see, I’m not very good at making up stories on the spot…”

The girl was quiet, waiting.

“Okay, I’ve got one. But it’s not made-up. This one’s from the Bible. It’s about two women. Mary and Martha. They’re sisters. Mary and Martha also have a brother named Lazarus, and the three of them are best friends with Jesus—”

“Wait,” the little girl interrupted, tilting her head. Blonde hair fell across her rosy cheeks. “Besties? Doesn’t Jesus love everyone the same?”

“Two sentences in, and already questions?” The mother scowled but her eyes smiled. “Yes, God loves everyone the same. But Jesus is God and a man, all at once, remember? As a man, he has a personality. So, I think maybe that would’ve affected how he got along with other personalities, don’t you? Then, again, maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe he just had certain friends he could trust the most. I don’t really know. But I do know that he had a few disciples he confided in more than the others, and I know he was extra close to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.”

“Oh. Okay.” The girl settled back against her pillow.

“Alright. So, Jesus and his disciples are passing through the countryside one day and they end up in a town called Bethany, and that’s where Mary and Martha happen to live. When Martha finds out Jesus is in town, she invites him over.”

Here, the mother stopped. She propped herself on one elbow to face her daughter. “Do you think there were phones back then?”

The girl pursed her lips. “…No?”

“Nope. So, his visit is like a surprise. Martha didn’t have time to prepare for company. She just heard he was in town, found him, and said, ‘Come on down!’ And Jesus had his disciples with him, too. So, there were at least fifteen people in the house. Maybe more. Right away—”

“Just wait,” the girl interrupted again. “I’m boiled!” She plucked stuffed animals off the bed one by one and threw them across the room. Then she flailed her legs until she was free of her comforter and lay back down. “Okay. Now.”

“So, right away, Martha starts freaking out. It’s not like she has a freezer. She can’t just pull out a pizza and pop it in the oven. At first, Martha’s like, ‘Oh, yippee! Jesus, come on in and make yourself at home.’ And then, the next second, she’s like, ‘Ack! What am I gonna feed these guys?’”

The little girl giggled. Her mom sat up now, face animated.

“Here’s Martha, watching all the guys pile into the living room; and right away, she’s bustling through the house, snapping a chicken’s neck, plucking its feathers—

“Eww…” The girl scrunched her face and covered her eyes.

Her mom laughed. “Actually, I don’t know if they ate a chicken that day, but you get the point. Martha mixes dough to bake bread and pulls out extra dishes. There’s tons of work to do. And the whole time she’s working, she’s scurrying around like a squirrel who can’t find her stash of nuts.” She was getting into the story now, imitating Martha with flapping hands.

“And while she’s floundering to and fro, Martha’s getting madder and madder. She’s like a balloon you blow too much air into, and if you give it even one more puff, it’s gonna blow! And you know why she’s so frustrated?”

The girl shook her head side-to-side, eyes wide.

“Because not only was her brother not helping—” Her mom paused. “Well, actually, none of the men would’ve helped. Because the women did most of the kitchen work back then. Anyway, not only was Lazarus not helping, but her sister was just lazing around chatting with the guys while Martha did all the work.”

“Yeah…” the little girl added, “but Mary was with Jesus.”

“Oooh… So, you remember this story.”

The girl nodded. “Keep going though.”

“Okay, so Mary hasn’t lifted a finger to help. She’s just lounging around with the guests. In fact, she’s camped on the floor especially close to their bestie, Jesus, totally caught up in what he’s saying.

“And Martha…” The mother paused for effect. “…is…grouchy. When she’s had quite enough of being the only one working, she marches toward Jesus in the living room and demands: ‘Aren’t you going to tell Mary to help me?’

The girl’s mom stopped the story and asked, “Now, what do you think? Was Martha bad for being grouchy, or was Mary bad for not helping? Shouldn’t Martha have fed her friends and been a good host? And what about Mary? Wasn’t it also good of her to listen to Jesus’s stories?”

“That’s tricky,” the little girl yawned. She was no longer flushed but appeared comfortable and calm. She wiggled her way down the pillow that was still propped behind her back and shifted into a lying position beside her mom.

“You’re right,” her mom continued. “Sometimes the answer isn’t so clear. I mean, it’s not bad for me to make supper for you, is it? Work is good, and I’m supposed to take care of you. And if work is good, then it seems like Jesus should take Martha’s side, but he didn’t.

“Jesus shakes his head and says, ‘Martha, Martha.’ But he’s saying it nicely, not in a ‘tsk, tsk’ kind of way. Because he loves her, and he doesn’t want her to be stressed out.

“He says, ‘Martha, Martha. From the minute I stepped into your house, you’ve been chittering and worrying about getting everything right. Did you even ask if we were hungry? Anyway, how often do I visit? Mary’s enjoying my company. I’m not going to send her away. Why don’t you join us? Be here. The food can wait.’”

“I don’t get it.” The girl rubbed her eyes. “If work is good, why was Mary better?”

“Mary wasn’t better. And Martha wasn’t bad. It’s just that Mary’s choice – in that moment – was better because she didn’t let the cares of life take away her time with Jesus. Meanwhile, Martha was so busy she was missing him altogether.”

The girl’s mom sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. “Alright, time to sleep. My dishes await.”

The little girl rolled over, settling her head into her pillow. “You must miss Jesus lots, Mommy,” she whispered.

“Oh? How come?”

“Cause you’re so busy.”

The girl’s mom frowned. “Necessarily busy. Feeding everyone, and buying groceries, and folding laundry, and—”

She stopped short and stared at her little girl, who now lay cool and peaceful and about to drift off to sleep. The girl’s mom smiled, sighed, and lay back down. She draped one arm over her little girl’s torso and took hold of her small hand.

“Thanks for the story,” the girl breathed.

Her mom smiled. “Yeah. Guess I needed it, too. Good night.”

“’Night.”


As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister Mary sat on the floor, listening to Jesus as he talked. But Martha was the jittery type and was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her!”

Luke 10:38-42 TLB

A Prayer of Blessing for Your Heart and Home

Ever since that night in my daughter’s room, I’ve been asking God to help me find balance.

  • Balance to live in the moment while still planning for the future.
  • Balance to “keep up” with housework, but not at the expense of my relationships.
  • Balance between mom life and my heart.

By God’s grace, I’m learning. Slowly. I’m confident that if you ask for His help, God will also lead you toward balance.

In the meantime, I’d love to pray this blessing over you:

May God bless your home and heart with peace as you learn balance through the Holy Spirit.

May you have the energy to get done what needs to be done, and the wisdom to let go of what can wait.

May you enjoy love in your family and closeness to Jesus.

Amen.

May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace.

Numbers 6:24-26 TLB

With love,

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