Don’t Begrudge Your Cheerful Sister

The term “Stepford wife” refers to a docile woman who cooks, cleans, organizes her home, obeys her husband, and dresses nicely. She has it all together. But she doesn’t have personality.

Unfortunately this caricature can be attributed to any woman who appears to have it all together. We cry out against the woman who cooks a nice meal or talks kindly about her kids. Surely she is putting on a mask, we might assume. Yet have we ever stepped back to consider that some woman have been especially gifted by God as cheerful, thankful homemakers?

We are all given the same Spirit but different gifts. Paul teaches us about this variety of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. This is important for us to remember when we walk into a friend’s clean and organized home or enjoy her tasty cooking and cheerful spirit. God made us all in his image, but we are unique. He variously gifts us to serve for the benefit of others.

Yet we’re tempted to judge (we assume these women must be hypocrites) or become jealous and compare (we do not have so we covet). If this is your temptation, know that you are not alone. In fact, God’s Word addresses temptation as common to man. But we don’t have to give in to this temptation. What if instead we rejoiced? Perhaps if we see women who excel in areas we do not, it is an opportunity to thank God for his creative design.

All Good Gifts

It’s difficult to rejoice when you are struggling. I know. But if God calls us to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” he will give us the grace to do it. During those tough times of comparing and judging we must run fast to the throne of grace to receive help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). We can also run far away from temptation. We can avoid Instagram and Facebook, but we can’t always flee our cheerful friends. In other words, we need to ask God for help to change our hearts. I want to look at the log in our own eyes rather than focusing on the speck in our sisters. I believe we can, by the power of the Spirit, rejoice with those who rejoice. We can be excited for others and see God’s good work.

Ultimately we must all fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the only cure for our temptations. When you are looking at your friend and think Why can’t I do this? Why don’t I have her capacity? you can thank God that he never required you to have her capacity. You only need to be working in the strength God has supplied you. He is the source. He is the giver of all good things.

God may not have gifted you the same way as your neighbor or the woman online who decorates elaborate cakes every night or the mom who has young kids and a clean home (seems like an oxymoron, I know). Remember the source of her gifts and yours. This remembering will cause us to rejoice—not in the gift, but the Giver. God has truly made us all equal in value and worth but with varying gifts. And like salvation, none may boast, because all good gifts come from God.

  • Kirra Sue

    What an awesome article & perspective. Thanks so much!

  • Christina

    Trillia, this is so good. It’s important remember and rejoice in the fact that God has gifted us differently. Loved this!

  • Rachael Starke

    I’m hesitant to raise an objection to this, because I don’t want to detract from what is a very helpful exhortation to women like me who are sort of anti-gifted (in our flesh, which is part of the point I want to ask about) in this area.

    But is it possible that one of the reasons women like me wrestle with comparison and guilt over being so challenged at home is not because we don’t recognize more skilled women as gifted, but because those same women don’t recognize it as a gift? (contra 1 Cor. 4:7) My single hardest moments are when I post something on FB about the battle for joy I fight in motherhood, the soul-crushing weariness of it, and how often I really am clinging in pure intellectual faith to Jesus to get me through the next five minutes, and someone replies with how I’m complaining/whining/homemaking is an endless joy and not even a sacrifice at all. If it isn’t, then where’s the glory of God in that???

    I guess I just wonder if ever an article could be written in reverse – where we swapped out “cheerful homemaker” for “geriatric oncologist” or “architect” – someone who isn’t naturally gifted in parenting/homemaking (but who prays for grace, finds God’s strength in her weakness and doesn’t give up) – but who is gifted at thinking, learning, teaching, writing, engineering. Are those gifts/graces that are good for women to have, to be affirmed in?

    I really, truly am trying (probably failing) to write this in a spirit of inquiry, not bitterness. I think there’s some change happening where one day, that might be true. I just am not sure that it’s here yet.

    • Sensible

      Hello Rachel,
      I think your response is an excellent, thoughtful inquiry…I detected no bitterness at all. :) I had many similar questions in mind as well. Thanks for posting!

    • T.Newbell

      Hey Rachael!

      Thank you for your honesty. I’m sorry that your battles for joy have been met with what might be challenges. I’d have to say though, we can’t assume that all cheerful women don’t recognize their giftings as such. As for the third paragraph, God’s “gift lists” are truly endless. We want to encourage, affirm and rejoice that God has creativity equipped women in a variety of ways in different seasons. What I see often, however, is that women who are particularly gifted in the home are at times seen as stepford wives and such. But Rachael, I sure do pray God would give you joy that transcends all understanding as you walk out your faith with Him! Your comment was in no way offensive!

    • Vy Howard

      Hi there Rachael!

      I truly appreciate your honesty and transparency. Just to give you a little background about me so that it might serve you better as you read my response. I was attending a prestigious university, on a path to becoming a doctor and had many accolades before the Lord saved me, and now I am a young stay-at-home mom/homemaker, with a four-year-old girl and an 18-month old boy. My husband is in seminary and I, like you, am clinging on to God’s grace to carry out this high and holy calling of motherhood and homemaking.

      I do not think there is necessarily bitterness in your post but definitely a keen sense of discouragement and perhaps, even exasperation. Which is precisely why I felt led to respond to your reply. I want to encourage you (this would be the first blog comment I have ever posted online!). First off, you are completely right when you say that if motherhood and homemaking are so easy and so delightful, then where is the glory of God in that. Motherhood and homemaking are hard, no ifs and buts about it. However, our understanding of God’s perspective of these roles profoundly affect how we deal with the difficulties. Our communion with the Lord also tremendously affects how we deal with the difficulties, as well. Here are two resources that I highly, HIGHLY recommend for you to read if you have not already done so: Martha Peace’s The Excellent Wife and Carolyn Mahaney’s Feminine Appeal.

      Secondly, when you encounter women who perhaps don’t realize their giftedness in the home, instead of resenting them, I would encourage you to genuinely pray for them that they would recognize God’s grace in their lives. The reason being that, those women are actually stealing glory from God, and that is sin. If those women are Christians, they are your sisters, and we are called to pray for one another and if necessary, even, humbly approach one another to point out sin in each other’s lives. Now, of course, we must first truly “discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts” (Heb. 4:12) by searching the Scriptures and confiding to our husbands/older godly women in the church, to “first take out the log in your own eye” (Matt. 7:5). Other people’s actions do not negate our responsibility to fight against comparison, covetousness, and envy.

      And finally, to respond to your comment, “someone who isn’t naturally gifted in parenting/homemaking (but who is gifted at thinking, learning, teaching, writing, engineering. Are those gifts/graces that are good for women to have, to be affirmed in?” I say, “Yes! Those are awesome gifts/graces to praise the Lord for and to encourage you and affirm you for. However, the commendation of those gifts depend on how you use those gifts, whether you use it for the glory of God and the benefit of others, namely your family or whether you use those gifts to bring glory to yourself and to the neglect of your loved ones. If, in God’s providence, you are a wife and mother, then you are to utilize all your gifts to benefit your family. With a willing and humble heart, use your thinking, learning, teaching, writing, and even engineering to create a better home for your family. Yes, it may require more time and effort on your part to learn to meal plan, to clean the home, to cook, to decorate, etc., but God’s grace is available to equip you for the calling He has for you. The means of grace God has provided for you also includes those women who you think are “naturally gifted” in the home. That’s why Titus 2:3-5 says, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self- controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Older women are to “train” the young women to be “working at home.” Take your example of “geriatric oncologist” or “architect” and consider this: you were trained for these and yes, you may have had some natural talents that made studying and training easier but that does not necessarily make you a better oncologist than the other students who had to work harder and study longer. I think the key is willingness and, especially as Christians, humility to ask for “grace to help in our time of need.” All that to say, don’t be discouraged and continue to fight for joy, for grace! Ask God to reveal sin in your life and repent where necessary and remember “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” I really pray that this helped.

  • Annie

    Rachael, thank you for being so honest. When I read your comment about “soul-crushing” challenges as a parent, it made me so sad. If I had a job that I found soul-crushing, I would be looking for a different one! I guess that’s one of the hardest things as a parent; you can’t go on vacation or really get away. When I hear friends describe stay-at-home motherhood in similar ways, it makes me wonder if being home alone with their children all day is the wisest choice for them. I don’t say that at all to minimize the real difficulties you face or to diminish you as a mother. I just think that if a mom is miserable, her kids will be too. Perhaps families in this situation could make a different arrangement that would be better for everyone

  • Dave

    There’s some wise advice in your article – for brothers as well as sisters, as Romans 12:15 is not gender-specific :)

    But don’t forget **the other half** of 12:15 – we are equally commanded to ‘weep with those who weep’. This addresses the ‘cheerful sister’ – or brother – just as much as the instruction to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ addresses the one who finds it “difficult to rejoice when you are struggling”.

    It’s really all about empathy, and getting alongside the other person in whatever joys or sorrows they are experiencing.

    Contrary to some people’s beliefs, empathy is not the invention of secular psychotherapists such as the humanist Carl Rogers. (Whose framework of ‘Client Centered Therapy’ has pretty much died out in North America, but still thrives under the name ‘Person Centred Therapy’ in other parts of the world such as the UK and Europe).

    Whilst a Biblical and Christian way of interacting with others -including counselling – will not have the unconditional aspect of Rogerian UPR (“unconditional positive regard” – urrrgghhh!), it will most certainly include empathy, as Romans 12:15 makes very clear.

    One of the most common (and sinful) barriers to empathising with others is that all too often we are too self-absorbed to be really interested in how the *other person* is feeling. Our own joys or sorrows get in the way of listening to and understanding the other person.

    We are supposed to love God with our entire being, and love others, in that order of priority, and the “second greatest commandment” requires that we are focussed on others, not ourselves.

    Empathy, whether it is rejoicing with those who rejoice, or weeping with those who weep, is focussed on how the *other person* is feeling. Empathy is other-centred, not self-centred.

    A necessary pre-requisite for empathy is that we are willing to listen, which means a conversational style leaning more towards listening carefully rather than constantly talking, e.g. James 1.19, Proverbs 10.19, 17.27, 18.2, 18.13, 29.20. If we don’t stop talking long enough to really listen we will never know what the other person’s joys or sorrows are.

    A while ago I stumbled upon a really helpful 20 minute audio clip of David Powlison and others at CCEF discussing the question ‘How can I be a good listener?’.

    I thought it was excellent, so go listen to it. There, I’m being directive, which proves I am not a Rogerian :)

  • Sara F.

    Thank you for this! I was just thinking today how I’ve felt pressure to hide how much I enjoy being a mom because I don’t want to be seen as “fake.” For the record, I’m not great at housekeeping (okay, I’m probably not even mediocre), I don’t do little crafts with my kids, and I don’t take them on as many fun outings as I should. And sometimes, those things get me down, so I see both sides, and this article is a good reminder to not judge the “home-makey” moms. But I don’t want to be ashamed of loving to spend time with my children (I was previously a teacher, so I think it does have to do with my area of giftedness as another commenter mentioned). Just wanted to say thank you!

  • Sensible

    Rachel raises an important question in asking whether an “article could be written in the reverse” as a sort of encomium to the woman who happens to be gifted in “something else” but still tries to cultivate the gifts of mothering and homemaking. I would complicate the question even further: could we write this hypothetical ecomium for the woman who elects (emphasis on “elects”) to not pursue marriage, sex, and motherhood at all…but instead to devote her vocation to cultivating another gift, be it architecture, oncology, or anything else (be creative :).
    I would be interested in what sort of opinions exist about this.

    • Sensible

      While awaiting moderation, I would like to attach another thought to my response above. I realize that my question was a provocative one. It is a vital one nonetheless because our answer to it will inform how we instruct Christians (particularly, but not limited to, my generation about to depart college for the unknown beyond :) how to regard their search for a vocation…and how to avoid an unnecessary situation in which one must play two roles at once (a quandary that both men and women routinely find themselves in).

  • WWAH

    I appreciate this article because I have met and befriended many stay at home mothers who seem genuinely happy at home with the kids and do feel like they are truly experiencing their own individual calling. That said however for me the issue is that the shoe is on the other foot. I say this because I am currently a married working woman in my early thirties who is a business owner that absolutely loves what I do. On top of that I really struggles with the thought of ever experiencing pregnanancy and cringes at the thought of ever being a stay at home mother. So for me the issue is feeling judged and pitied for not fulfilling my “true calling as a woman” because I am don’t have children at my age yet. So many Christian stay at home mothers that I know have had a very difficult time believing that I could ever truly and authentically be happy by not being a mother or let alone being a stay at home mother. Also for the record my husband is perfectly fine with my decesion and is not champing at the bit for us to get pregnant. So for me the issue isn’t that I don’t believe that these women that you talk about in your article aren’t genuinely happy as stay at home mothers, I actually do believe that they are happy.For me the issues is whether or not stay at home mothers (happy or not) can find it in their power to believe that a working woman without children can be just as happy working full-time as someone who is a full-time a stay at home mother.

    • Sensible

      Good afternoon WWAH,
      You have found satisfying work–the best medium for ministry–that is all that is required to fulfill your “true calling” as a Christian. I could not agree more with your remarks; it is encouraging, wonderful, yet unusual, to come across people who are completely confident, happy, and “childless” (biologically, at least) in the Church. If we truly desire to practice “covenant theology” we should take heed which covenant we are living under the promise of. In establishing a New Covenant, Christ transformed the primary medium through which we “increase” as a “people.” He gave us the Great Commision–not to make children–but to make disciples. Needless to say, many Christians still do beget biological children and are free to do so :), but this act should not usurp or replace the new Commision to teach and baptize (Matt. 28:18-20). In a similar manner, the “promise” must take precedence over the “law” in the Christian life.

  • Betsy Markman

    Good article, and I really appreciated Rachel’s response. I am a full-time stay-at-home mom, but I don’t dare call myself a homemaker. I believe in the value of it…theoretically. I’m just a very poor fit for it, and though I’m growing, I’ll never be Martha Stewart.
    Though I have to confess that my first thought about the article came from the photo. If I ever found a big, juicy steak like that for less than $4, I’d have a huge grin on my face, too!

  • jj

    This was a good exhortation. Before my daughter was born I worked full time as a nurse. I have a passion for healthcare, but knew that I wanted to be home more so I cut my hours in half and now only work one or two shifts a week (at night). It was a hard transition because I don’t really enjoy domestic tasks and it wasn’t long before I felt resentful towards all the ‘cheerful homemakers’ I knew.

    That being said, I’ve found great freedom in focusing on my own strengths and gifts, which are far more relational than task oriented. Also, I have to remind myself that I don’t enjoy every aspect of my professional job. For example, I don’t like cleaning wounds but I do it because I want to love the people who have those wounds. Likewise, I may not enjoy cleaning my house but I do it because I love my family and want them to have a pleasant space to live in.

    What Trillia says is so true. Focusing on the Giver allows us to celebrate His grace in all of us. I’m getting to the point where I can rejoice in my friends’ abilities to bake a sew without feeling insecure because I know God has gifted me in other ways. I eat the cakes my friends make and they call me for medical advice. It’s a win-win.

  • Karen Butler

    I admit I am severely tested in my ability to rejoice with those who rejoice, every year with the annual Christmas letter ordeal. It is always the measure of if the lines are in a pleasant place for me! This year, much better contentment I think! But I want to grow in this grace for sure. That’s why I am so grateful to be in a regular Bible Study with a lot of Cheerful Sisters. They are so good for my spirit.

    Thank you, Trillia, for the necessary rebuke.

  • Julie Fuller

    I’m very concerned about how this post and some of the following comments might be interpreted and potentially even used to justify complaining, neglecting children, doing a poor job with housework, laziness, etc. — all these things are sin issues. And our job is to mortify sin, not to feel better about falling into it.

    When I had my first child, I could really echo a lot of the comments. I felt totally overwhelmed, wondered where any of my time went, our house was a wreck, I was a bad cook, and I really liked my old outside-the-house job much better. It was easy to complain, except that my husband consistently reminded me that complaining was a sin, which annoyed me at the time ;) but I am very thankful for his faithfulness now.

    Four children and four years later, I think you might find me one of the annoying “cheerful sisters.” But it isn’t any natural inclination on my part, something I’m cut out for and others aren’t, and ultimately the assumption that it is something particular to me denies the grace and blessings of God. By His grace I have not caved in to the sins of selfishness and laziness and complaining and things have gotten better, and as they have gotten better, they have also gotten less stressful and I am more joyful. But it was sin, not a lack of a spiritual gift, that hindered my joy before — and continues to hinder it from complete fullness. I am not yet perfect! But joy greatly increases when sin is forsaken.

    It’s really dangerous to call something a “spiritual gift” when it really is simple holiness that God calls everyone to. The pursuit of holiness and mortification of sin is what leads us into joy.

    • Annie

      Julie, I’m very glad that you’re enjoying your time at home with your kids. Please tell me, though, that you don’t really consider doing a “poor” job with housework a sin. That seems to indicate more of a Martha set of values than the ones Mary had and Jesus upheld. It just seems like too subjective a thing to label as sin, and it could be especially dangerous/discouraging for those who suffer from depression or OCD.

      • Julie Fuller

        Sorry I didn’t see this earlier. I think Sarah Mae addressed this really well here:

        I think the Proverbs 31 woman is a really good example of how holiness is worked out in housework. She worked her butt off. Way more than I do! I read that passage and I want to be that diligent and that dedicated, and I know that if I am honest with myself, that the need to have “me time” or sit a read a book or a blog is a selfish desire that I have, and if I have things I need to do to be a good helpmeet and a good mother instead, then, yes, it’s sin. Mary’s values were to know Christ, and Martha’s values on display, Jesus said, were “anxiety” and “troubled about many things,” not that she was trying to do a good job at housekeeping. Jesus was right there and she was getting distracted. I agree with that absolutely.

        But for the sake of qualification, I think in certain situations one could be very unskilled at housework (or physically unable, etc.) and that the result could be very poor indeed. But the job would still be a “good job”, not a “poor job”, if it was done as to the Lord with all one’s might. :) I should have been clearer on that, thank you!

  • Sensible

    The Proverbs 31 woman is an interesting case…she did quite a bit of work outside the home as well, if my memory serves me. In the pre-industrial society she dwelt in, her work was not merely housework or a even a hobby…neither was the work unique to men or women…it was business. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote an essay (really a transcribed speech) that I highly recommend, “Are Women Human?” She makes an amusing point that, before the advent of the machine, one could make the case that women were in charge of most industries; in other words, they were not pursuing “housework” for the sake of “housework,” they were pursuing the few forms of work actually available.
    I agree that ideally one spouse should devote their time to caring for their children, and this spouse should not necessarily be the wife…there are many wonderful stay-at-home fathers who are truly gifted for that form of service. I also believe that to prevent these sorts of “dilemmas of duty” from arising, we need to remind our sisters and brothers that marriage, sex, and child-bearing are not mandates…according to Paul, at least, there is a better option (regrettably, many in the church have contrary opinions about this matter).

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