Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Management of the Household
No, there is not alone sicknessor health. There is still a thirdsomething. Something that lies in between “health” and “sickness,” and that sometimes, already at an early age, follows us after as decline of strength:weakness.
“Nerves” it is called with one, “poverty of blood” with a second, with a third “exhaustion.” But, by whatever it is caused, or to whatever cause it is attributed, the result is one. There lacks strength where strength ought to be. And the anxious feeling of not being able where one wants to do, comes back every morning, and to the exhausted man or woman continues as a plague until evening.
Especially woman, and not least married woman, suffers under this plague.
She became mother. What inGenesis 3 God laid upon Eve, that she should bring forth with sorrow, is also fulfilled in her. Thereby her constitution, not over strong already, suffered the more. And now the activities of life became too much for her. It went more and more above her strength. And while she tried to row against the stream, she became more and more worn out, till at length the weary head became so heavy, and the arm she would stretch out fell almost helpless in her lap.
And though in this measure it is, thank God, the case with but a few, it is an almost universalphenomenon that our housewives and housemothers, who are at the head of a somewhat busy household, frequently have no more strength of head and limbs for their difficult task of life, and that they themselves first, but also the family, and especially the children, suffer under this.
This distressing condition is even frequently aggravated by the fact that her daughters also lack freshness of vigor. So that, instead of supporting their weak mother, they themselves rather lean upon her.
And when the sons of the house also look pale, and need tonics and, instead of giving the impression of healthful virile strength, already at an early age begin to show shadows alongside of the unevennesses of the face; and also the man of the house complains; and as a climax of trial the very servants almost make you say that, as regards weakness of health, they are part of the family, in the end it becomes too much for “mother,” as on her rests the heaviest part of the burden of family cares, and many a housewife is at length carried out to the grave, because her busy household, in addition to her weak constitution, it is not to hard to say, had literally killed her.
To the danger that threatens the housewife from this side, the Proverb-poet also had an open eye, and therefore of the virtuous housewife he writes, that: “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms” (Prov. 31:17).
Just what the psalmist sang of Jehovah, sang of the Lord of hosts, when he jubilated that our God had clothed Himself with majesty and strength, and presently focused it all in this one note of joy: He hath girded Himself.
And because the Lord Himself “girdeth His loins,” therefore it is He also who is able to stand by His beloved in their weakness, even as, in the very words of Solomon in Psalm 89:21, it is said to David: “With whom my hand shall be established; mine arm also shall strengthen him.”
To gird the loins is the perception, the feeling, the sensation of increase of strength, till you say to yourself:Now I am able again. And to strengthen the arms is to bring this restored strength into the arms, not now to be idle but to apply this regained strength after the Lord’s ordinance.
This virtuous housewife herself girds the loins, not merely when with advancing years she becomes conscious of failing strength, but while as the picture of health she still directs the affairs of her household.
Of course this is figurative speech, and has nothing to do with putting on of a corset to feel oneself more firmly attired.
This girding is not done with a girdle which externally is fastened around the waist, but with a girdle of will-power andself-control and prudent exertion, which is woven in the inner chambers of the heart upon one’s knees before God.
An imagery, which tells you that this woman did not let herself will-lessly drift with the stream, did not let go of herself, and did not succumb under her task, but consciously controlled the task, took hold of herself, exerted herself, and regulated the expenditure of her strength. Also that she took care in time, that when the lamp had burned many hours, fresh oil kept the flame burning, before it would die out.
Not complain and sigh, but prayand give thanks, and with courage in the eye face the life of each new day, is the precious effect upon the busy housemother of quiet trustful faith.
For faith is to live, not from what one sees before one’s eyes, but from what one does not seem. Hence, after the rule that not thebody must govern the soul, but the soul the body, and that in cautious wisdom of theunderstanding and in steel strength of will the weak woman has been equipped of God with two mighty weapons wherewith to do battle against weakness.
Reports of healings by prayer are abroad again, especially in America. And the fact cannot be denied that by spiritual operations of faith, among Protestants as well as among Roman Catholics, remember Lourdes, healings have taken place that make you think of miracles.
And yet these healings are nothing but the effect of will-power inspired by faith, concentrated upon one single point, which will-power, with higher strength, reacts against the appearance that over against the body the soul stands impotent.
With cases of weakness one generally summons a physician, and who would despise the blessing of medicine. But it is a subversion of the divinely appointed order when the soul in you imagines that it stands impotent over against the body.
By all sorts of sins, also by unbelief, to a dreadful degree you can weaken your body and especially your nerves. But also by faith and a holier sense you can to so uncommon a degree strengthen this same body and these same nerves.
This is girding your loins with strength.
And the young married woman who begins this early; who, with the increase of her family, uninterruptedly goes on with this, and never for a moment allows her family to run away with her, but calm and “strong in prayer” prepares herself for her task, will obtain the glorious experience that in the midst of the distractions of a busy family-life, godliness has a blessing also for her physical powers.
She who has neglected this and for years has brought her will into bondage to her nerves, and thus in old age reaps the bitter fruit of this, is of course not able to restore this wasted power by a single act of will.
But even then, it still holds true that girding the loins with strength, by serious, prayerful exertion of faith, is the only means to come away from under it. Even in such almost hopeless conditions, faith neverrefuses its strength-restoring operation.
Does this mean to say that now the weak housemother may withdraw herself in the mystery, and neglect the outward means of support?
Of course not, for then it were purely the operation of the feeling and no health, working faith.
No, faith knows how to apply means.
It knows that God Himself has not merely foreordained salvation for His elect, but at the same time and in that same counsel has ordered the means of grace to bring about the salvation.
With mystery it must begin, but it must not stop therewith.
Faith fosters wisdom, which is something altogether different from school learning found in books.
You can so plan your household and so direct it, as to show lack of wisdom. But you can also do all this in such a way that wisdom shines out from it.
There can be exhausting activity and confusion and disorder. But there can also be good rules, fixed procedure, steady direction, and thereby beneficent order.
And in the measure in which this prevails in your household shall the use of your strength be either a wasting of the same, or a harnessing and effective application thereof.
Your strength is a gift of God, atalent entrusted to you.
This strength, this talent, must not remain what it is. It must be put to usury. Gains must be won by it. It must increase. And before God you must be able to say: “Three talents hast Thou given me. See, Lord, three other talents have I gained therewith.” And though as regards strength you received but one talent, yet this one talent must not be buried but must be doubled.
But whether it is only just received, or whether it is already doubled by faithful discharge of duty, you must be sparing in the use of it.
It must not be played with. It must not be wasted. Self-control must direct all your doings.
There is division of time. There is division of the daily task. There is division of what you charge others to do. Not the woman who rushes along with things all day long and wears herself out, but the woman who, calmly seated in her armchair, plans the daily run of the household and tactfully directs its course serves her God in her carefulness and radiates blessing in all her environment.
Even the matter of sleep, which increases strength, and regular meals, which feed the body, are to the believing woman parts of serious and regular performance of duty. She knows that the lamp which receives no oil gives out, and the hearth that is not continuously replenished. And therefore also sleep and feeding are no play with her, but a part of performance of duty and of obedience to her God.
To surrender a part of her housekeeping cares, that the whole slip not out of her hand, may at times be a demand of faith.
Nothing by way of material aid is to be despised, provided it renders her service, and she does not lean on it.
Upon God alone she must lean, and upon that spiritual strengthof soul which God has granted her.
She alone who believes, notsentimentally, but practically, shall in this also be more than conqueror.
So in this struggle let the girdle of faith be the mystery of your strength.