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[Book Review:] Glory in the Ordinary by Courtney Reissig

“We are living in a time when being ordinary is the worst thing that can happen to a person, and nothing screams ordinary like at-home work.” (p.41)

Thus says Courtney Reissig in her new book, Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God. Targeting women, especially mothers, but also applying more broadly to anyone who contributes to the work of the home, Reissig’s work is an engaging and helpful read meant to help us recalibrate our unhealthy understandings about the mundane yet glorious work of the home. I believe it succeeds in this effort and is a delightful companion to the weary laborer.

Reissig addresses this topic in a variety of ways, introducing the reader to several families in different stages of life and with varying work/life roles. She also provides a brief historical context of our bias. Reissig writes: “The ancient Greeks placed great value on the mind, while the body and material world were for people of lesser value.” (p.37) She then poses a series of questions many of us ask ourselves often: “What am I doing with my life? Does this matter? Can I have purpose if I’m not doing something great for God? Can I find meaning in the most mundane tasks? Can my work really be good if I don’t always see it as good work?” If you are asking these questions, you are in good company; unbiblical views of mundane yet necessary work have been something Christians have been wrestling with for centuries. “While it might seem that we are in a new frontier regarding how we value (and devalue) work, we are simply continuing the cycle that has been spinning for centuries. It just has new packaging.” (p.37)

Several more modern ideas that Reissig addresses are the emphasis on at-home work being about the children over and above the physical work of the home, our culture’s emphasis on “knowledge” jobs, and our bringing a business mindset into the work of the home. Her discussion of the impact of each of these is very insightful and hits close to home. Here are a few quotes to ponder:

(Jennifer) Senior says that the worst thing a mom can be defined as today is not a bad housewife, but a bad mom. You and I aren’t housewives anymore; instead we are stay-at-home moms. (p.65)

While being called a housewife might not be popular now (unless you are part of a reality television show), our culture doesn’t view housekeeping as a valuable profession either. You don’t go to school to learn how to clean the house. You don’t take classes in ironing or folding clothes. Cooking classes are designed for those who want to start a restaurant, not those who want to feed a family. (p.49)

…there is a temptation to correlate the monetary compensation of a job to the dignity or worth of the job…at the end of the day, the prominence of such services in our culture has shaped the way we think about at-home work and made it less valuable in our eyes. (p.35)

Depressed yet? Sadly, these quotes reflect the American mindset of today and, even worse, these lies easily sink into our hearts and minds without constant discernment and reflection. With all of these worldly pressures in mind, Reissig’s insights stand out as especially counter-cultural, and her goal is to help us see how God is glorified in the mundane moments as much as the magnificent. We need Jesus to see the truth: “…in our sin we don’t always have eyes to see how our work is doing God’s work of bringing order out of chaos or caring for his creation. Frankly, it just feels too mundane most days to be that grandiose. In a lot of ways these feelings of insignificance over the ordinary chores is the most devastating effect of sin on our work.” (p.53)

Working for God’s glory, both in and out of the home, is a topic that Martin Luther has addressed extensively. His words are some of the most penetrating of the book. He writes:

If you find yourself in a work by which you accomplish something good for God, or the holy, or yourself, but not for your neighbor alone, then you should know that that work is not a good work. For each one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for one another, even for one’s enemies, a husband for his wife and children, a wife for her husband, children for their parents, servants for their masters, masters for their servants, rulers for their subjects and subjects for their rulers, so that one’s hand, mouth, eye, foot, heart and desire is for others; these are Christian works, good in nature. (p.68)

Reissig echoes Luther when she directs our gaze outward: “Work is not for us. It is not for our own fulfillment. It is not for our own glorification or status in the world. It is for our neighbor.” (p.69) Work done for others, giving glory to God, is a true act of love. Some quotes from Michael Horton are especially thoughtful, looking at the unique challenges and blessings that spring from the sacrifice of mothers. Finally, Reissig highlights the beautiful witness a “vibrant, village-like community” of believers is to the watching world, a community where women are not only able to give help, but ask for and receive it as well. Working in isolation does not need to be the case for the family of God!

One chapter to note was on the topic of the Sabbath. Reissig includes a disclaimer paragraph on her view:

Before I move on, I want to acknowledge that there is disagreement among Christians over what observing the Sabbath means for us in the new covenant. I take the position that the Sabbath requirements of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Christ, which means that we are not bound to observe the actual Sabbath day in the way Old Testament Israel did. However, many Christians believe the Bible teaches otherwise. But when I speak of the Sabbath, I speak from my own position on it—that the Sabbath requirement was fulfilled in Christ, and he is now our true rest. As human beings we still have a need for rest, but we are no longer morally obligated to observe the Sabbath in the same way. (p.100)

I don’t fully understand what she means by these statements, so I found them somewhat distracting because of her lack of clarification. She seems to be selling the commandment short, but since she doesn’t explain herself, I was left wondering what she really means by her words.

That said, her candidness on the difficulty of resting on the Sabbath was refreshing. Reissig confesses her struggles in this area:

When my to-do list is left undone at the end of another day, I take it out on everyone in my home. This hit me square in the face when I began noticing that I would not take a Sabbath rest on Sunday. Because my husband was home from work, I took that as more time for me to work on things I wanted to work on. He could help with the kids and I could check more things off my to-do list. One morning while listening to a message by D. A. Carson on the book of Nehemiah, I was humbled by my idolatry over my work. He said: ‘If you can make a little extra money on the Sabbath then why rest on the Sabbath?’ I can rephrase that as, If you can knock a few things off the to-do list, then why rest on the Sabbath? I was directly ignoring God’s faithful provision for me as a finite being because I valued my to-do list over his Word. (p.103)

She notes that Kevin DeYoung calls this “working hard at rest.” Her reflections on how our Sabbath rest points to Christ were insightful: “The prevailing theme regarding rest in Scripture is that rest is a creation ordinance. Because God rested, so should we. But like I already said, God rested as a sign of completion. We don’t get that luxury. We still are required to rest even when the work is not all done. This is where understanding the rest that Jesus provides us is so helpful. It carries life-giving hope for the parent who is prone to idleness in work and the one prone to idolatry. For the couch potato and the supermom.” (p.112)

Ending with a look at the redemptive nature of our work, readers will be reoriented and energized. I love her focus on God’s glory and her recognition of our humble servant state:

We know that we aren’t the ones redeeming the culture through our work. Only God can do that. But we are given the privilege to work alongside of him. We are part of his cosmic plan to save a people for himself and make all things new. Our mundane, self-sacrificing work is part of that effort. It’s about people. It’s about seeing beyond the walls of our homes and seeing how what we do on any given day is not just blessing the people in the home, but also blessing the world that he has made. And it’s all bringing him glory. (p.141)

We’re freed to love God through the life and death of Christ, and we’re freed to work for His glory and our neighbor’s good through the same. Glory in the Ordinary is a great primer on these glorious truths, and her inclusion of other wonderful theologians makes this work a delight to read. Read it to be encouraged, for as Reissig reminds us, “…faithfulness in the ordinary, even when it is hard, is true greatness.” (p.130)

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