So your wife suggests to you that you should maybe help with stacking the dishwasher or vacuuming the floor and you tell her you will.
Hours later you’re watching one of your favorite shows, having completely forgotten your promise to contribute to the household chores and you hear the ominous sound of the vacuum cleaner turning on. You also hear the theme song from Jaws at the same time—but that might just be in your head.
You jump up and head for the dishwasher… at least if you stack that quickly, you will have kept 50% of your promise. But, alas, she has stacked it already. Oh yeah; she’s that good.
You know that there will be some tension now because of this. “You aren’t helping”… whatever that means.
But then again, is that really your job? Your dad didn’t go around doing a ton of housework… why should you? And anyhow… you’re not home most of the day, and you only dirty a few dishes.
Why is it your responsibility to sweep the floor everyone walks on and wash everybody’s dishes? And anyhow… isn’t this your down time? You go to work, you come home, you relax… isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?
Rather than answer those questions myself, why don’t we let Jesus settle it for us?
John 13:3-5 (NIV)
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
This is of course, a text about much deeper concepts than housework, but it will do just fine for our purposes in this post. Jesus set an example that cannot be disputed.
Regardless of how you read this text it’s absolutely clear that:
1. Jesus wasn’t afraid to tackle a job that was beneath His position.
I’m not about to argue that any job around the house is beneath me; I’m not nearly that important. But even if certain jobs were beneath me, Jesus has shattered that excuse.
The job of washing the feet of dinner guests was reserved for a low-level servant. No self-respected Jewish teacher would have stooped to such a menial domestic task. They would not have seen it as their “role,” just as some individuals may not feel it’s their role in the family to clean bathrooms, take out garbage, or wash dishes.
But Jesus didn’t seem preoccupied with roles or position. He was more concerned with what could be gained by serving. It proved He was a genuine servant leader.
True servant leadership means refusing to be preoccupied with title or position. Jonathan HooverClick to tweet
This is, by the way, very consistent with the message Jesus had been working diligently to convey that the way to be first in the kingdom is to be last on earth.
Mark 10:43–44 (NLT)
43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.
2. Things didn’t have to be fair for Jesus to go to work.
One of the most common excuses that surfaces for not doing housework is this: “It isn’t my mess… why should I have to clean it up?”
Several Bible scholars believe that when Jesus and the disciples were preparing for supper, there was no servant to wash the men’s feet. Normally, then, the men there would have evaluated their status within the group, and whomever considered himself low man on the totem pole would then wash the others’ feet.
But there was another option… Jesus could have decided to take an equitable approach to the situation by saying something like this:
“Guys, we should each be responsible for our own feet. I’ll wash mine… you wash yours… and it’ll be fair for everybody.”
But that’s not what Jesus said/did. He taught us something here… that being a servant means embracing an unfair life.
Most of us love our families dearly, and we want to feel close to them. And Jesus is teaching us here that closeness comes at a price. Intimacy always requires sacrifice.
And living a sacrificial life means letting go of your expectations of fairness. If you try to figure out how to make sure that everyone in your household does their fair share, cleaning up after themselves, and pulling their own weight, you may find yourself repeatedly disappointed.
Jesus taught us that sometimes love means putting on a towel and washing everybody’s feet.
3. Jesus didn’t complain that He had better things to do.
Jesus had several important things on his task list, not the least of which was saving a lost world. If anyone ever had a reasonable right to skip housework because he was too busy, it was Jesus. He still managed to make time. Enough said.
What if you’re the one doing all the work?
Maybe you’re reading this post and thinking… “Jonathan… you’re preaching to the choir. I know all this. How do I get the other human beings in my house to see it this way?”
Briefly let me recap a story for you from the Bible where a woman asked Jesus almost the exact same question.
Luke 10:38b–42 (NLT)
…a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, 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.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Here’s what I think you can take away from this story if you’re about to lose it because you’re having to manage a household completely on your own.
1. It’s much easier to change your own mindset than it is to modify someone else’s behavior.
Notice that Martha’s expectation is that Jesus will get in there and tell Mary what she’s doing wrong. Martha wants Jesus to make Mary get with the program.
But instead of calling Mary on the carpet, Jesus tells Martha she has some self-examination to do. She has a few internal issues to address. She has a habit of expecting too much of herself, which sometimes spills over into expecting too much of others.
She also tends to lose track of what’s most important when there are a lot of important details that require her attention.
Don’t get me wrong. If your spouse isn’t helping you around the house, that’s not cool. They should help. My point is that, to what extent you can, you may need to look inside and make whatever internal adjustments are possible (see points 2 and 3) before trying to modify your spouse’s behavior.
2. If you’re holding yourself to an impossible standard… cut yourself a break.
Jesus told Martha she was worried and upset over the details of the dinner. I’m sure Martha knew the dinner couldn’t be perfect, just as you know your house can’t be kept perfect. But I believe Martha was going to hold herself accountable to get it as close as humanly possible.
Jesus was inviting Martha to realize what her impossible standard was costing her. It was robbing her of the ability to enjoy beautiful life experiences.
You’ll never get the most out of life if you push yourself to the breaking point.
You never get the most out of life if you push yourself to the breaking point. Jonathan HooverClick to tweet
3. Decide what things are worth.
I recognize that this story can seem somewhat far removed from our circumstances… after all, your spouse sitting in an easy chair watching TV is not the same as Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.
And it is true, Martha could have abandoned meal preparation and everything would have been alright because Jesus was able to feed five thousand from a sack lunch. He could have taken care of dinner. But, then again, Jesus isn’t your house guest… so it is necessary to make dinner or people will go hungry.
Yet, there is a lesson to learn here. Jesus was trying to get Martha to do a value comparison. He wanted her to place a value on cooking a meal and a value on sitting at the feet of Jesus… which was worth more?
It’s important to ask the question, which is worth more—an hour at the park with your kids, or having every dish in the house clean? Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of what’s most important. Jesus called it “distraction.”
It makes sense to capitalize on the things in life that are worth the most.
So… if you’re one of those people out there who’s doing it all on your own… hang in there, cut yourself a break, and try to focus on the things that really matter.
And if you’re one of those people who (like me sometimes) finds yourself sitting in the easy chair while your spouse does all the work, it’s time to follow Jesus’ lead. Pitch in, serve sacrificially, and don’t be surprised when your married life takes an extreme turn for the better!
OK… that’s the insight I have to share. I can’t wait to read your comments and learn what you have to say about this topic!