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Sometime in about 2017, another newlywed I knew from college shared a blog post on Facebook. This piece, which her caption indicated she had found “helpful,” suggested that good Christian wives should remind themselves– while collecting their husband’s discarded laundry, or wiping toothpaste globs he left on the sink, or washing all the unnecessary dishes he created and abandoned on the counter– that “I am doing this for me.”

I am doing it because I want to live in a clean home, and I can free myself from resentment by remembering that focusing on how cleaning up after this fully grown man in fact helps me achieve my goals.

I cannot tell you how much I hate that, an absolute load of horse manure.

Maybe this erstwhile Facebook post stuck with me because I had just moved in with my spouse and we were doing a lot of negotiation (read: bickering) about our standards of cleanliness, especially– especially– when we were having people over. And we had a lot of people over to that weird, drafty loft apartment in Lynn, including one truly legendary Christmastide party with six dozen homemade donuts that ended with our neighbors singing “Feliz Navidad” on the futon into the wee hours. (I found Uno cards under the furniture for weeks afterward.) But instituting a habit of hospitality and celebration required a lot of fraught conversation about the what and how of preparing for guests. 

What do we need in order to celebrate?

“We think we need clean houses and well-planned parties but we should all relax and be chill in the Lord” is not at all where this is going. I, for one, have not learned to “be chill” about mess, and I don’t intend to. 

The response I want to raise here is labor. Hospitality is not just a spiritual gift! It’s a lot of grunt work.

That sad lady from the blog is not “doing it for herself.” She is– and I am, and my spouse is, and we all are– doing that work to make sure we have enough clean silverware for all the people on their way over, to clear a spot for guests’ shoes and coats and bags when they enter our home, to free up space to put the next load of dishes from the lovely dinner we just hosted into an empty sink. We are doing it to benefit the household and make a welcome space for guests. We are doing it to make the celebration possible.

I don’t think complaining about the unpleasantness of this labor or shaming men for not pulling their weight is likely to change things; a lot of men I know agree in theory that household labor should be equally divided and I still see them posted up on the couch while their mothers and sisters and girlfriends are in the kitchen packing up the leftovers from Easter dinner. And I don’t think the answer is spiritualizing stuff like vacuuming the dog hair off the couch before the neighbors arrive. Lord knows a lot of women’s media has attempted to do so, see above example, and I’ve already said how I feel about that.

But I am here to say that celebration– the kind that involves food and physical space, which I hazard to guess is the majority– takes real work. And the unequal distribution of that work, so often gendered, leaves some people too exhausted to enjoy the party, and other people totally without the skills and foresight they need to host a good one. So here we all are, celebration stymied by the way things are and the work it would take to change them.

The woman who wrote that blog post is doing it for her family and friends, and she is doing it for herself too; there are no pure motivations for social creatures like ourselves. But think what a better party it would be for all of us– how many more parties there would be!– if that work was highly prized and widely shared; if every one of us learned and practiced the trained attention to the needs of others that makes care, community, and celebration possible.

Header photo by Kelly Moon on Unsplash
Uno card photo by Del on Unsplash
Vacuum photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

Katie Van Zanen

Katie Van Zanen is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Program in English & Education at the University of Michigan, where she studies the rhetorical and ethical decision-making of raised evangelical social media writers. She has been a writer for the post calvin since 2014.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    There’s a lot here!

  • Lynn Japinga says:

    The lectionary texts for today include two references to laying down your life for your friends. I am not preaching on those but trying to avoid them and find another path has been exhausting! 🙂 Yes, Jesus did lay down his life for others. Yes, care for others is good. But these texts have been so misinterpreted that I cannot find much to say about them, especially since my last sermon was on kenosis in Phil. 2 for Palm Sunday. Thanks for raising this in such an intriguing way.

  • Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell says:

    We know the “theological” reasons for infrequent celebration if the Lord’s Supper. But you may have you touched on a less recognized, more practical reason. It is a lot of work to celebrate! Factor in that in many churches it has been men who have been in charge of the prep work, and …

    • Daniel Meeter says:

      Actually preparation for the Supper need not be a lot of work, depending on how you administer it. A loaf of challah, a plate or two, a pitcher of wine, a cup or two.

  • Phyllis Roelofs says:

    Thanks Katie, One item suggested in the Seminary Dames Club over fifty years ago was that minister’s wives should seek to enjoy entertaining in the parsonage.(The way I heard it anyway) I did find entertaining work, and sometimes could not figure out how to enjoy it after a busy Sunday of two worship services and many other weekly activities. As our two sons became old enough they were taught to help with housework. One day one of our sons told me that housework was women’s work. My response, “Well, you got to say that once, however, since you have hands and feet, can read, and follow instructions I will teach you all that women do in a home so you will know how to do it if you do not marry, or love someone who is not willing to do it all.” Results: My husband and both sons are very helpful around their houses and know how to plan and enjoy entertaining as well as cleaning up after. I do not know of a scripture passage to underscore the need for families to work together specifically with entertaining but it certainly falls under the banner of loving and respecting one another.

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