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Posts Tagged ‘women’s issues’

I have gracious friends, who graciously invited me to join a book discussion / accountability group centered (initially) around an old book on Christian living (for women) called Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman. My friends have been so gracious, in fact, that they have not kicked me out of this little group, even when my reactions to this book have been less than enthusiastic.

The book is just chock full of motherly advice about how to simplify and organize your life, from wardrobe to bedside table to daytimer. Sounds healthy, right? And of course, the task can be overwhelming, so here’s a sympathetic encouragement from the end of the book, where author Anne Ortlund imagines what her overwhelmed reader might be thinking about all the organization systems she has presented. Read it in your best Sue Ann Nivens voice:

“But here I sit,” you say, “with a girdle in the middle of the floor, dishes in the sink, and unanswered mail strewn on the bed. Where do I start?” (p. 123)

Did you catch that? There’s a girdle on this poor reader’s floor.

See now, I too would be truly bothered by the presence of a girdle on my floor, but not for the reasons Ortlund may be thinking.

Before I go off on why this book is not for me, let me recommend it to SOME of you. If you can get past the dated examples she gives (it was published in the 70’s, after all) and the privileged life she leads (at the time of writing, she had a housekeeper three days a week, and traveled all over the world sitting in hotel lobbies and on cruise ship decks writing books while her husband had speaking engagements), you might find the organization systems in this book useful. You will especially warm to it if:

  • you feel your home and your schedule is messy and out of control and this bothers you, because
  • you accept the premise that your outward self ought to be organized, neat, and attractive because this is becoming to a woman of God, and
  • you are the kind of woman who cares a great deal about appearance (of your outward self, of your home and “personal space”) and
  • you are looking for a some ways (and a pep talk) to simplify and organize your life so that you can devote yourself more fully to personal devotion and to discipling more women.

While I found some of the ideas in this book useful and have even implemented some of them (albeit in my own non-fussy, artsy style), I have to give this book only two stars because there is a tone and undercurrent to the book that disturbs me—so much so that while I wanted to learn from her ideas, reading the book was for me a prolonged exercise in eye-rolling and repeating to myself “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free … it is for freedom that…”.  There are an awful lot of “oughts” and “shoulds” in this book that don’t seem to have any basis in scripture.  Having been raised in churches with lots of oughts and shoulds, and having long since diligently and joyfully shed the underlying legalisms of all those voices in my head, I just balk at this kind of tone.  When someone writes that dirty laundry is “unworthy of lying around, untended to, in the life of a child of God!” (both quotes, p. 75), I have to ask the question, “why is this presented as a moral issue?”

So unless you’re up for being tisk-tisked into the virtues of tidiness, fastidious organization, and charm-school appearance and manners, you may, like me, take umbrage at the Sue Ann Nivens-ness of it all.

In the chapter on cleaning up and organizing your immediate surroundings, for example, she begins with the assertion that your closet, your bathroom counter, your bedside table “should reflect the order and peace of your inner life with God” (75).  It should?  Why?  Are people assessing my inner life by the orderliness of my bedside table?   And if it’s messy, just what are they assuming this announces about me and my God?  A cluttered table equals a cluttered soul?  How about I just don’t value tidy housekeeping as much as I value the books that are stacked on that table, and given a spare half hour I will almost always choose reading over dusting?  How about if my husband and my boys find me way more interesting that way?

In her defense, I have to say that the chapters on kingdom priorities and discipling show me that this woman’s heart is in the right place.  For her, the outward appearances are important, probably because of the way she was raised and the people she’s around, and I really believe that she devised her organizational systems and wardrobe planning (“eliminate and concentrate”) in an effort not to be bogged down by what she sees as the demands of good housekeeping and feminine grooming.  I just am glad that my in my generation, women don’t fuss over these outward things as much as hers apparently did – at least not the women I enjoy being around.

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