Scholar’s Compass: Housework is Anything but Ordinary


As we celebrate joyfully in this season, we often tidy frequently. Mark Eckel describes how the act of housekeeping fits into our spiritual lives, letting us enter into many of the same modes of experience Christian scholars often seek in humanities study. 


“I understood with a clarity that I have experienced at few other times in my life, that getting to the grocery store was one of the things that Really Mattered. The dissertation could wait; dinner could not…I measured my days by whether, at the end of them, the members of my household had been dressed and fed and bathed and put to bed. If we had been, then that was a good day. I had done what mattered most. Everything else was gravy….housekeeping—cooking, cleaning, laundry, all the large and small tasks that go into keeping a household humming along—was not a trivial matter but a serious one. People need to eat, to sleep, to have clothes to wear; they need a place to read, a place to play, a place into which to welcome guests and from which to welcome guests and from which to go forth into the world. These are the needs that housework exists to meet.…housekeeping is not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that—in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everyday needs of others, whether those others be our fellow household members, our near neighbors, or people more sociologically or geographically distant from ourselves.”[1] – Margaret Kim Peterson Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life


Keeping a house, caring for its members is a vocational ministry. A poet says that poetry matters.[2] College liberal arts curriculum is important for the Christian life says a college president.[3] A mother and professor suggests that the care of children is a spiritual practice, encouraging “integration of faith into daily life.”[4]

“Sanctifying the ordinary” is the title for chapter two in Bonnie Miller-McLemore’s book In the Midst of Chaos. Her comments make us rethink whether or not one needs to withdraw alone to monasteries to do one’s thinking and writing. Miller-McLenore’s question “What about the rest of us who invest in the daily life of family?” motivates her belief that her parental vocation informs everything else, what we call “the ordinary.”

Parenting, housekeeping, poetry, or humanities study teaches us the ordinary is infused with the extraordinary. Ordinary is extraordinary. We live in God’s world. Thinking that “spiritual life” is somehow divested from the rest of life, we miss God’s view of His world. Joseph understood this. After drawing out his brothers’ confession for their past offense (Gen 44:18-34) he makes the generous statement in Genesis 45:5-8,

“Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth…it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Ordinarily, does one person matter in this life? Ordinarily, does one event make a difference in the flow of history? Ordinarily, does place or time or change or relationship have a bearing on anything? Yes. Yes. Yes.

The extraordinary is all around us. It is woven through the fabric of all of life. Who we are, what we do, where we live, how we work is infused with the imprint of The Triune Personal Eternal Creator.[5]

“Why does God have to be brought into everything?” the question is raised. The answer is simple: He doesn’t, He’s already there. From sub-atomic particles to expansive galaxies, God created it all. From Hammurabi’s law code to the American Constitution, God’s influence affects the minds of all people. From the death of the first grader’s fish to the news story of murder, God’s care remains.

Biblical synthesis is the extraordinary fused with the ordinary. What was once a routine is now transformed into a project of grace. The insignificant becomes significant through heavenly perspective. The usual, the normal, the regular, the customary, the scheduled must be revisited through the eyes of believers: especially housework.


[1] Margaret Kim Peterson Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life (Jossey-Bass, 2007), 2-3.

[2] Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter?

[3] Jeffrey C. Davis & Philip G. Ryken, Liberal Arts for the Christian Life (Wheaton, Crossway, 2011).

[4] In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Jossey-Bass, 2007), 7.

[5] Three persons in one essence explain how all of life is interrelated. Everything in life has meaning because of God’s simultaneous multiplicity and unity. Christians understand the interconnectedness of everything because they worship The One in Three. Understanding the diversity of life is bonded by The Trinity’s work in life.



  1. Why do we separate work into categories?
  2. How do we displace the extraordinary from the ordinary in our lives?
  3. What should we say or do to elevate daily tasks to their rightful place in life?
  4. Who in our homes should we thank for their consistent practice of the ordinary?
  5. When do we honor the daily tasks of life?


Dear Lord. May we remember all things are sacred because all things have their source and sustenance from You. May we remember that we are created to reflect Your Glory in everything we do. May we remember that our words to others should edify their lives no matter who they are, no matter what they do. May we live extraordinarily in the ordinary. Amen.

Further Reading

Margaret Kim Peterson. Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life (Jossey-Bass, 2007).

Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore. In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice (Jossey-Bass, 2006).

Dana Gioia, “Can Poetry Matter?” The Atlantic Online (May 1991).

Jeffrey C. Davis & Philip G. Ryken, Liberal Arts for the Christian Life (Wheaton, Crossway, 2011).


“Housework” was a teaching delivered at Crossroads Community Church, Fishers, Indiana, 2 November 2014.

Image: “Clean Table” by Liz West (Muffet) at Flickr:

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Mark Eckel

Dr. Mark Eckel is adjunct professor for various institutions, President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), teaches weekly at his church (video) and writes weekly at his website

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