I went on our church’s weekend away last weekend. It’s only the second one we’ve ever had, and it was absolutely smashing. Not flawless, but certainly a little foretaste of the new creation. God’s community; God’s word; beautiful weather.
We were learning about God from Genesis, Chapters 1 to 3. I expect you’ve read those chapters, or at least have an idea what they’re about. You may feel you’ve ‘done them to death’ (not the ideal expression), but we can always learn more from God’s word. And as my circumstances change, I find God graciously teaching me new things from familiar bits of Scripture.
As you’ll know if you’re a parent (or ever speak to one), much of what you do when you’re caring for children is repetitive. Phyllis Diller said ‘Cleaning your house while children are growing is like shovelling your driveway while it’s still snowing.’ My children follow me around the flat, undoing the work I’ve done. Yesterday I did some cleaning, and for a few minutes the kids’ bedroom and the living room were clean and tidy, so I took photos. I sent the photos to my husband to show him what I’d achieved, because I knew that by the time he got home the work would have been largely undone.
Other times, you do manage to create order in a little part of your home, but it goes pretty much unnoticed. You tidy a shelf in a cupboard, or you sort out your husband’s sock drawer. You may (as I do) feel you’ve won a little victory, but that moment of triumph makes no difference to the pile of washing up there is still to do in the kitchen. Sometimes you can feel that your hard work just seems to have been wasted.
So what does Genesis 1 have to say about all of this?
‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.’ Genesis 1, 1-4.
Before God spoke the light into being (feel free to ponder that mind-blowing fact for a moment or two!), the world was formless. Like a lump of clay that hasn’t been yet fashioned into anything, it wasn’t any use. Not only that, but the ‘darkness’ and ‘the deep’ are symbolic of chaos. Chaos is not funny in the Bible; it’s not a word used to describe messy play or pancake day. It’s dangerous.
So what does God do? He creates order. He separates. Creating order and structure are good things to do; they’re godly things to do.
Depending on your personality and gifts, you might love order and structure, or you might not. God has made each of us different, and that should be celebrated. I have friends who run their homes with military precision, and I have friends who just ‘go with the flow.’ And don’t worry, I’m not saying that Genesis 1 commands you to go now and organise your child’s bookshelf or make a cleaning rota for yourself. What encouraged me was that God separated the night from the day. So even when we separate our day up, we are doing a good thing. “It’s breakfast time!” “It’s bath time!” “It’s quite play time!” (Worth a try?) So if you’re a bit of a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type parent, then please be encouraged that as you structure your day you are behaving a bit like God, in whose image you’ve been created. And if you spend a lot of time organising things and creating order in your home, but nobody really notices, please remember that God appreciates order.
I probably should mention, that there is a challenge or here to us, too.
Some of us might be tempted to find our refuge in organisation. These are the mums who, on maternity leave, felt their world was falling apart because they no longer had any structure to their day. Structure feels safe; structure makes us feel we’ve achieved something. This is my tendency, although by organised I do not mean tidy. I like to have my admin sorted, but picking stuff up off the floor is a different kettle of fish. So I need to remember that whether my day has structure or not, God is my refuge; God gives me significance; God satisfies me.
Others of us might rather not have order. We feel stifled by structure. We love spontaneity and we don’t like to plan. I suppose for those parents, it’s good to remember that God actually is a God of order, so it’s not something to avoid as though it’s going to trap us and make us feel powerless. I recently heard someone say that she felt that planning was a bad thing, because if you don’t plan you rely on God more. I will now resist the temptation to write 2000 words on why I disagree, and instead will just say that in order to be good stewards of the time and money God has given us, we probably do need to have some structure and planning in our lives. Even if that just means writing a shopping list today for tonight’s tea.
(An aside: my husband is from an impulsive, spontaneous family and I am from a plan-ahead family, and thanks be to God he has kept us happily married for eight and a half years! We are learning, by God’s grace, the benefits of each other’s way of doing things!)
Have you noticed that your kids love structure too? My children certainly know when it’s breakfast time! Whether you’re a demand feeder or a Gina-Ford-Handbook wielder, your day will have structure. And in my days as a secondary school teacher, I saw how much the children I taught felt safe in a structured environment. For some of them, school was the only place where they knew where they stood and what was happening next. So the next time you tell your children that it’s lunchtime soon, or bedtime was half an hour ago, or that we don’t get undressed at the dinner table, I hope you’ll remember that you’re blessing your children, and you can thank God for that.