Sarah Mae is a woman who has always struggled with keeping up with her home. She likes to call herself a Type-B homemaker, a woman who believes in the mission and beauty of making a home, but who isn’t so great at the daily-ness of it. Oh, but she does care, because she believes that the home is where souls are nurtured and love is built in and hospitality becomes real. It’s worth the trouble, worth the struggle, worth knowing that being a gentle homemaker is better than being a good homemaker any day. And there’s the rub: good homemaking is less about a clean home and more about loving others, including ourselves, well. She gives herself to the work, so very imperfectly, and is keeping on because of the kindness and gentleness of the One who made her who she is. It’s grace to welcome Sarah to the farm’s front porch today…
It was dark and we were in the car outside of an ice cream shop.
Tears were fresh on my cheeks.
My sister-in-law, Renee, and I had set out to pick up some milk, but more was to come out of that trip than picking up a few gallons of dairy products.
I was crying because my heart hurt deeply; the feelings of not being a good enough wife were eating me up, and I didn’t know what to do.
I told my sister-in-law that I thought my husband, Jesse, would rather be married to someone else, someone better, who was good at cleaning.
“I have this friend,” I said through my tears, “who gets up early, is efficient, and is so good at cleaning and getting things done. I’m sure Jesse wishes I was like her. I’m such a failure.”
As Renee began to speak life-giving truth to me, my mind raced, trying to rewind the events that had brought me to this point of brokenness and disappointment in myself.
An Inclination toward Messy . . . Plus Babies and Aprons
Nearly all of my childhood, after my parents divorced, I lived with my dad and stepmom.
My stepmom cleaned everything except my room; I never even washed a dish. In fact, I didn’t do my own laundry until I was fourteen and living with my mom.
Under my dad’s roof, I was expected to keep my room fairly clean.
If I let it get too messy, I would find a note from him on my bed saying something like, “YOU MAY NOT GO TO YOUNG LIFE OR DO ANYTHING UNTIL THIS ROOM IS CLEAN. Love, Dad.”
He rarely came down hard on me, but he did want me to take care of my room.
When I moved in with my mom, it was a whole new ball game. I could keep my room in whatever state I liked; my mom didn’t care about it at all. I had freedom! I don’t think I was terribly messy, but I didn’t put much stock in tidy surroundings.
Once I got to college, my true colors really came out.
I roomed with a gal who was extremely neat, and it became clear immediately that I wasn’t.
I remember her actually taking tape and creating a line midway across the top of the vanity between her side and mine so my mess wouldn’t creep over to her organized side. She was mostly gracious, but I’m pretty sure I drove her crazy.
The next place I lived, I had another roommate who kept things spotless, and again, I had to work hard to do my part.
Finally, my junior year, I moved in with a gal who was just like me, if not worse. Our one-bedroom apartment always looked like a bomb had gone off in it.
One morning while we were still in our beds, we heard the front door to our apartment open. We looked at each other, and then my roomie threw the covers over her head thinking that it would be a cue for the unexpected visitor to go away.
I started to get my defensive hackles up when all of a sudden we heard, “Ahhh . . . ohhh . . . uhhh . . . groan.” What in the world?
I opened our bedroom door to find our landlady bleeding on the bathroom floor, in a pile of our mess.
She had tripped over our clutter in the hallway, veered off, and hit her head on the bathroom sink. Talk about embarrassing! She was there for some sort of routine maintenance check, which apparently we had been advised of in a mailed notice that was most certainly in the papers strewn all over the floor.
If I had known of the upcoming visit by actually reading the paper, I would have cleaned up a bit. Really.
Of course, the upside for my roomie and me was the assurance that if someone did decide to break into the apartment, the intruder would probably end up in a bloody heap before doing any harm.
Fast-forward to my first year of marriage.
Jesse and I lived in the small apartment that my messy roomie and I had shared—she had moved out and I stayed. I tried to keep it nice for my husband.
My biggest issue was papers and junk that all ended up on the dining room table. And I always had a messy kitchen.
But still, in my opinion, it wasn’t too terrible. My husband and I were stretching into our new lives together, learning about each other, and just enjoying the freedom that marriage brings.
It wasn’t until I got pregnant that things got ugly real fast.
Along with the surprising and exciting news that I was pregnant, I also got incredibly sick. I threw up from morning to night, had terrible headaches from not getting enough food, and one evening ended up becoming so dehydrated that I was taken to the hospital and hooked up to an IV.
I couldn’t go to work, and I was in bed most of the day hitting myself in the head with the palms of my hands (like that helped), wishing for a narcotic to knock me out for three months. No such narcotic arrived. When I would feel hungry or get a craving, I had just enough strength to half-crawl to the kitchen, eat a few bites, throw up, and go back to bed.
Jesse was a senior in college at the time, and when he would come home from class, the apartment was littered with bowls and cups that I had brought out but not put back in the kitchen.
The place was a wreck, and I’m sure the smell wasn’t too pleasant. My husband was carrying a full course load plus an internship with a police department so he not only had to study for his classes, but many times he was pulling overnight third-shift hours required for the internship. He was exhausted and overloaded, and I was exhausted and sick.
He resented me for not taking the dishes to the kitchen, and I resented him for not understanding how terrible I felt with my pregnancy.
Just the thought of moving made me queasy. He thought I was exaggerating, and I thought he was not supportive. Our marriage went through a really rough time during the initial months of my first pregnancy.
Unfortunately, my next two pregnancies weren’t any better. I was nauseous all the time, the house was a wreck, and the bitterness between us was becoming worse. It was awful.
I would try to establish a routine, but of course as soon as I did, I would have another baby, or one of my children would go through a change (teething, crawling, etc.) that wrecked my routine. Or I was just exhausted from getting up at night, nursing, and caring for three little ones.
I struggled with motivation, fatigue, laziness, lack of self-discipline, and constant feelings of failure and guilt.
I sincerely wanted to be a good wife and homemaker, but I felt that I was failing miserably.
So I tried harder.
I read everything on cleaning and being a good wife and mother. I perused the Internet for tips and tricks, and read all about biblical womanhood. Oh yes, I would be that woman, that biblical, godly woman who cared for her home, her husband, and her children no matter what; all my energies would go toward the goal of making my home a haven. I even invested in pretty aprons.
But then I ended up in the car outside the ice cream shop.
What Went Wrong?
My heart was in the right place, and I had good ideals. I wanted to care for my home and my family, but those ideals weren’t translating into my everyday life. I knew I needed God to intervene.
But there was pain before there was peace.
That night in the car with my sister-in-law, I just felt weighed down. I had convinced myself I couldn’t change, so why bother? I bared my soul to my sister-in-law: “Jesse would be happier with someone other than me. My kids deserve a better mother, one who can at least keep the house clean.”
I began to feel that my worth as a person was reflected in windows that sparkled and floors that glistened.
“Has Jesse ever said that he wants a different wife?” my sister-in-law asked.
“Well, no,” I admitted.
She looked me right in the eyes and said, “No one has the authority to tell you who you are. Not your husband, not anyone. Only God has the authority to tell you who you are.”
And just like a hammer crashing into a glass window, she shattered the lie that my worth was determined by my cleaning abilities.
It slowly sank in.
I don’t define who I am, cleaning doesn’t define who I am, my husband doesn’t define who I am, certain ideas of biblical womanhood don’t define who I am [although I didn’t realize that last one until later];
only God can tell me who I am.
I wasn’t exactly sure who that was yet (that’s been a process), but I knew that I would no longer equate my identity with cleaning.
If you struggle with keeping and maintaining a home, I want you to know today that you are loved regardless of your cleaning ability or lack thereof.
God knows exactly who you are; He made you. He knows every weakness, every strength, and He loves you the same.
If you know Him, you are being gently molded into maturity and Christlikeness. He will do the work in you.
You surrender and trust that work. He is kind and gentle and will complete what He began in you.
Cease striving. Know that He is God.
You are loved.
And remember; only God has the authority to tell you who you are.
And friend, you are loved.
Sarah Mae has a past that would be her present if it weren’t for Jesus. His wild saving grace and gentle leading keep her in awe. She is the author of the new book, Having a Martha Home the Mary Way: 31 Days to a Clean House and a Satisfied Soul.
If you believe in the noble mission of making a home, but you struggle with and are overwhelmed with all to keep up with in a home, this book is for you, friend.
Written with vulnerability, humor, and understanding, Sarah Mae speaks to the heart of the woman who struggles under the weight of home work, but who wants to create a place where love is sown in and grace takes root…and where there is space to walk without tripping over things. Included in the book are 31 days of challenges: Mary challenges, which encourage the heart using Scripture and questions that uncover the soul, and Martha challenges, which help you to get some actual cleaning done in a fun way. Her profoundly encouraging words will inspire you to find a happier, healthier . . . cleaner way to live. If I could hand this every woman who’s just trying to make a home — with all her brave heart .
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale Publishers for their partnership in today’s devotion ]