a guest post by Ezra, somewhat of a follow-on to my post about our daily routine
What should a husband’s responsibilities be in the home? One popular answer is that men and women should have (on average) equally difficult and equally lucrative jobs, and thus their responsibilities in the home should be equally divided. An opposite answer, which also comes from the world, involves the husband exercising selfish authority over his family, viewing his wife as the servant, and never considering assisting her in her domestic duties. Both of these are far from biblical. The second one involves the stronger selfishly abusing his power over the weaker in pursuit of worldly gain; the first merely insists on equality between them in the same selfish pursuit.
But assuming that a couple recognizes this, and wants to honor Jesus with how they manage domestic responsibilities, sorting out who does what in the home may still be difficult. In divine wisdom, God does not typically give us exact regulations for our particular life situation; rather, he gives us the precepts of holy living and the wisdom to work them out in a particular culture and family. This process of working out how to follow God’s law in a particular context glorifies God because it deepens our understanding of his law and thus him. This process should sanctify us, increase our worship, and bless those around us if we approach it rightly. Following are some biblical truths which have helped me sort out my domestic place as a husband:
1. The Bible gives no direct commands on this issue. It does not say, “Husbands, assume one third of the domestic duties in your home,” or anything close to this. It does not endorse a Leave it to Beaver style of family, or an ancient agrarian style, or any other particular brand. However, it does speak loudly about honoring the created differences between husband and wife in the practice of family.
2. Wives are to be workers at home (Titus 2:5). As with many verses, this one wisely gives a general principle instead of a specific application. Rather than try to define how much a woman can be away from her family, it simply gives her what is to be her primary role in the family economy: running the home. From this I understand that I don’t need to feel guilty when I come home and find that my wife has had a tough day with the kids. Sometimes I have the harder part, and sometimes she does.
3. Men are to lay down their lives for their wives like Jesus did (Ephesians 5). So what do I do when I come home and find that she had a hard day? The exact application varies, but generally, my heart toward her burden should be the same as Jesus’ heart toward mine. Can I take the kids for a while? Can I change a diaper? Can I wash the dishes? What does she hate doing most? What helps her to re-charge? Do I know her well enough to know how to help her rest? We don’t wash feet anymore in our culture. We “wash dishes and clean toilets” (John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus). And we as Christian husbands should be quicker to do this than anyone else, considering the One we are supposed to be acting out.
Note also that what helps your wife most will vary with their personality and situation. Some will be best helped by you affirming how valiantly they have fought the good fight that day. Others would just be relieved if you take the kids outside while they are cooking dinner. Knowing your wife is key.
4.This kind of knowing happens about 1/4 by observation and 3/4 by communication. This means that in order to effectively practice loving your wife, you need to regularly ask her what would best help her. Everyone’s situation is different. I view dish washing as a Task. However, my wife is quicker at it than I am, and having been with the kids all day, would sometimes rather that I give them the bath or get them ready for bed while she cleans up from dinner.
5. Screen time can be unprofitable (1 Corinthians 6:12). It has become a “thing” in our culture for the man to have a designated time of day, typically right after work or right after dinner in which he focuses on TV, gaming, or the internet. While this is not explicitly sinful, it is usually not profitable either. Screen time is an escape, but it is not real rest, and it does not prepare a husband mentally or spiritually to serve his family. We need to deal honestly with screens and other escapes which may be robbing time from the families God gave us, and thus from God himself.
6. However, it is essential for both the husband and the wife to have time for prayer and the Word, and it may also be necessary for one or both to have additional time for themselves.These times are things that a husband and wife should plan with each other, being anxious to ensure that their spouse has the time and space for practicing spiritual disciplines and maintaining sanity. Until recently, for me this meant that I would disappear shortly after getting home from work, and then emerge for dinner. Now, I try to spend that time in the morning before breakfast. For Kyleigh, this has meant both time in the morning before she wakes up the girls, and also time during their afternoon naps. In addition, sometimes Kyleigh has needed to have a morning or afternoon to herself once or twice a month. These things will look different for each couple, and may change often. Again, loving communication is essential.
Now, a word of encouragement. I am really just learning all of this. I have been very convicted several times in the past two years about how selfish I have been in the economy of my family. I did not support my wife, especially in her postpartum depression, with anything like a consistent, Christ-like practice of love. I was often very selfish in my attitude toward her when her struggle sapped the energy from her which she would have used to be my wife. Yet, God used those times to teach me about serving my wife and about putting her needs first, including in helping with domestic work.
Then, at one point, while we were visiting one of Kyleigh’s relatives, that relative remarked very seriously on how good it was to see a husband involved with his family and not leaving the responsibility of the children all on his wife. I remarked that this was Christ’s work in me. A little sliver of the gospel.
But understand, it was a short visit and I hadn’t done anything big. I hadn’t broken up a big fight or heroically tackled a leaking diaper. I think the biggest thing I did was help my older daughter, a toddler, eat a small bowl of ice cream. But I was present, engaged, and mildly helpful, and this seemed remarkable to our host.
Brothers, the “traditional” model of family is often used as a cover-up by unbelieving husbands who would rather not serve their families much beyond delivering a pay check. Likewise, the secular egalitarian model is often lived out by men who, at best, grudgingly take up their 50.0000% of the domestic responsibilities (not a cent more!), and do not show their wives honor. And beyond this, our society is filled with families where the division of domestic responsibilities is a matter of selfishness rather than servanthood. Serve your wife from your heart, and the world will often take notice, to God’s glory.
Post Script: the principle here is that a husband should be involved in his family as both a leader and a servant. However, the risk is that in laying out this principle I may incur a false sense of guilt in some men. Consider: a man who works long, exhausting hours to put bread on the table for his family need not feel guilty when he has little energy or opportunity to serve them domestically. A man in graduate school (like me) need not feel guilty when his wife picks up chores that were his in order to give him more study time. Conversely, however, a man whose wife is sick or depressed, or for some other reason is particularly burdened or afflicted, may find that he needs to lay his life down for her in extra measure by taking all of the domestic responsibilities possible onto his plate.