Imago Dei, housework, and writing

“There are value currencies we operate in most of the time. The leading ones for women are beauty, money, status/fame, and – in some circles – domesticity. What complicates our question of value even further is that we live under the belief that value is scarce. So it’s not enough to be beautiful, but for me to be most valuable, I have to be the most beautiful.”

Thus began a thought-provoking evening with Hannah Anderson last Friday at a local coffeehouse, sponsored by the women’s ministry of our church, Trinity Presbyterian. Hannah spoke with deep insight and intelligence, matched to accessibility and candor that I found myself nodding along with many times. Hannah is the author of the excellent book, Made for More, which was my September 2014 book of the month. I’ve also made her one of my long-distance writing mentors (she doesn’t know that) since I met her last summer when I was beginning to get serious about focusing on writing. She was tremendously encouraging then, telling me about her decision to stop running from her calling to write and to devote herself intentionally to writing for a few years and see where  it went. For her, that’s included her first book released last year, and a regular blog at sometimesalight.com. She’s had speaking engagements arise from her writing, and we who heard her were privileged to be part of her circuit. She talks about “stewarding her message” and invited each of us to walk according to our value that’s not scarce but abundant because it flows from an infinite God. 

The theological term is “imago Dei” – made in God’s likeness. And it all began in Genesis, at our creation when humans were breathed into existence by a God desiring to reflect his very nature. This gives every woman (and man) infinite worth and value. Yet it’s a value that’s been marred by sin, and so we are also all desperately in need of restoration. This value has also been given to us in Jesus Christ (not earned).

And therefore, we are to cultivate the earth – our corner of the kingdom entrusted to us by God, using the gifts he has bestowed upon us. The value is the same regardless of the task, because it’s done as a reflection of who we are. Janitorial work and housework are elevated beyond their menial status usually assigned from within the world’s values. “Big” work like being the President and researching cancer are grounded by the humility that these, too, are work assignments received as gifts from the God who created us. We all have different roles.

In answer to a question of how this could apply/transfer to parenting, Hannah answered with a smile that her favorite thing to do is bring each of her children to their room and give the command, “Cultivate!” We all laughed – and made mental notes to do the same. She asked the question of each of us – “What have you been entrusted with to cultivate? In what work are you called to bring forth fruit? Who are your nearest neighbors that you are to help flourish?” 

And personally, I’m realizing the way I’ve neglected “home and hearth” in order to focus on my “big writing project.” Both are equal. Both are needed. I needn’t be apologetic about my writing, but neither am I to overlook the toilet that needs to be scrubbed or the children who need to be bathed and fed. [Disclamor: they have been regularly bathed and fed – the neglect has not sunk to that level … but it sounds more poetic this way.] These are my immediate opportunities to live out of imago Dei – what are yours?

day 13: work

waitresstrashplumber mechanic

To the waitress tirelessly cleaning up after my messy kids

to the trash collectors lumbering through our neighborhood on Thursdays

for the plumber keeping our old pipes running

and the mechanic spending your days under cars’ hoods –

To all of you, I want to ask your forgiveness. I have labeled your work as “beneath me;” I have overlooked you and your value and dignity. I have proudly ignored you as I went about “my” busy, important work. I have not valued you or your work, yet without you – where would I be? Where would any of us be?

I can’t grow my own food or run a trash collection service or do anything besides complicate our home and auto repair projects. Yet because I have two diplomas on my wall, I can feel like I have the right to scorn you or dismiss you. Forgive me. Forgive us. White collar work is no better than blue collar work. It’s different, but you are just as called to your work as I am to mine. And none of us get to choose what we do anyway. None of us are God, and each of us have different gifts as he’s assigned it.

I fear I might be speaking a bit too honestly. I hope you are not offended by what I’m saying, but I think you’ve probably sensed it a thousand times over from me and those like me. Forgive us. And thank you. Thank you for doing the work that is too often undervalued and keeping our days and neighborhoods and cars and pipes running.

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Part of the 31 days of five minute writing series. Read all of them here.