The word “homemaker” is a term that means entirely different things to different people. For some women, it is a title to be embraced and enjoyed. For other women, they want little or nothing to do with it. For me personally, I have not given much thought to homemaking. My husband and I are both in school with no children to tend to, so “homemaking” in the traditional sense is sort of a breeze. It’s really a non-issue.
Or at least it was, until last week. As part of some reading for a class, I came across an essay that has challenged me to reconsider the practice of homemaking. More specifically, I’ve been challenged with a new understanding of this word from a Christian perspective.
In a piece titled “Religious Instruction: Homemaking,” scholar Elizabeth Caldwell examines the metaphor of homemaking as it relates to education. Caldwell is an associate dean at McCormick Theological Seminary, which is why her essay has a particular focus on education. Even so, I found her insights to be applicable on a wider scale. Quoting author Sharon Daloz Parks, she defines “homemaking” as follows:
Homemaking is “a connective, creative act of the human imagination and a primary activity of Spirit. It is the creation of forms and patterns which cultivate and shelter life itself.”
Caldwell also adds that homemaking is an especially powerful idea given how many in our culture are plagued by a “homelessness of the mind” (here quoting Sarah Little). Caldwell writes, “Adults struggle to make meaning of their lives in a world that grows increasingly more complex and violent.”
Caldwell’s insights about homemaking have tremendous power for women in the church. Especially those of us without children or spouses, for whom traditional homemaking is relatively alien to our daily lives. Consider again these words: “the creation of forms and patterns which cultivate and shelter life itself.” I love that idea! It is so easy to interpret homemaking as the literal making of a physical home, but what would it look like to help cultivate and shelter the spiritual lives of those around us?
Over the years I have written some about the Christian work of hospitality, which shares a number of parallels with homemaking. In both instances, Christians are prone to focus on a very narrow application of these principles. Those narrow applications can also undermine the very spirit of both practices.
In the interest of avoiding those pitfalls, I wonder what it would look like to be a spiritual homemaker. Many of my neighbors and friends are wrestling with a homelessness of the mind, or a homelessness of the heart. What is the Christian response to their spiritual displacement?
While the ultimate spiritual home for every soul is to be found in Christ alone, the church and its members are certainly sign posts pointing in his direction. The Christian life and the Christian church should therefore function as echoes of the eternal home that awaits. As hard as we work on our homes, it’s important to consider whether our lives and our communities are spaces of rest, security, and belonging. Do our attitudes and our relationships have the character of our heavenly abode?
I love to think about those questions. Not only do they broaden the scope of homemaking to Kingdom proportions, but they call each one of us, male and female, parents and those without children, to consider our own role in the task of homemaking. As we help lost individuals find their way home, it is not enough merely to tell people about the character of their eternal home. We must also embody it for them.