If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my year of biblical womanhood, it’s not to place limits on God’s presence.
Over the past nine months, I’ve bumped into Him in the most surprising places—at a Passover Seder, through a head covering, in centering prayer, at the kitchen sink, in the scent of fresh vegetables, in the act of submission, beneath the “red tent,” through moments of voluntary silence, and through moments behind a speaker’s podium. And I’ve seen his presence in the lives of women I’ve met— from stay-at-home moms, to the women of Amish country, to an Orthodox Jew, to an evangelical pastor.
I’ve also noticed that women are especially prone to discounting the presence of God in one another’s lives. Perhaps because those of us in the West have more options available to us than at any time in history, we easily slip into self-doubt and insecurity when we look at the lifestyles of other women who have made different decisions in their lives.
As a defense mechanism, we tend to elevate our own lifestyles as God’s will for all women everywhere. If God’s presence is here, we reason, it must not be there.
Before I took on this project, I confess that I nursed a subtle condescension toward women who make homemaking their profession. Probably because I suck at cooking and cleaning, I told myself that such a life must be filled with boredom, repression, and legalism.
That all changed in November, when I devoted the month to homemaking and found my tasks not only challenging and creatively stimulating, but also packed with opportunities for spiritual growth. I studied The Quotidian Mysteries and prayed the prayers of Brother Lawrence, who famously declared that “the time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen…I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” Each day I reflected upon the prayer:
Lord of all pots and pans and things…
Make me a saint by getting meals
And washing up the plates!
Even though I destroyed an apple pie and a few stews in the process, I learned a lot about myself and about God while focusing on the duties of the home. Now I find myself defending homemaking as a holy calling in a culture that too quickly dismisses it as irrelevant. I respect women who pursue this lifestyle, even though I do not claim it as my own.
Unfortunately, I have also bumped into folks who teach that for women, God’s presence is limited to the home. God may be the God of pots and pans, they say, but he is not the God of computers or board rooms or classrooms or assembly lines….at least not for women.
Whether it’s family size, career decisions, dress, or worship preferences, idols come in a variety of shapes and sizes. As Tim Keller has said, “The human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”
Seeking God’s presence means recognizing that while God might inhabit a certain sphere, He is not contained to it. Though he may be found in pots and pans and communion wafers and poetry, He also transcends them. What works for a housewife in North Georgia might not work for a widow in Sub-Saharan Africa. How God is glorified in a single Lutheran girl from New York City might look a little different than how God is glorified in sprawling Catholic family in Mexico.
The project has taught me to confront the fact that when I categorically dismiss another woman’s lifestyle as irrelevant or unworthy in order to elevate my own, I am in effect, placing limits on God. I am imitating Martha, who was so scandalized by Mary’s absence from the kitchen that she failed to see that her sister was reveling in the presence of a Savior.
Some of my favorite lines of poetry come from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and go like this:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
God’s presence is everywhere.
Faith isn’t about finding the right bush; it’s about taking off your shoes.
Do you find yourself writing other people off based on their family size, career decisions, worship preferences, or dress? Have you ever had an experience that forced you to encounter God’s presence where you least expected it?