in praise of (ironed) shirts

Thank you, Katie

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
(Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV)

My shirts are all ironed. And that’s a good thing.

I didn’t need many shirts over the holidays and I wasn’t teaching in January. But it was down to the point I was afraid to put anything in the laundry, since I wasn’t sure I would have anything to wear.

So over the weekend Katie ironed about 20 shirts, and several pairs of pants. Just to be clear, I don’t insist that Katie iron my shirts. I’d be perfectly willing to wear them wrinkled, like I did as a kid. Isn’t that why they made sweaters?

My mom certainly didn’t iron any shirts. Nor do most women I know. But it’s on Katie’s list of important things. And I honor her by accepting it and appreciating it. She was the seventh of ten kids, and this was her job. So she is good at it. And she likes the feeling it brings—a short, manageable task with satisfaction and closure at the end.

I’m a little uncomfortable with it, and have offered to take things to the laundry. But she also seems to take pleasure in doing it for me, as a token of her care.

For my part, I’m happy (and likely) to cook or wash dishes. Cooking is something my dad taught me to do, and I enjoy it. It doesn’t seem helpful to divide our tasks into a list of things men or women do or don’t do because of their gender. Except for changing diapers, of course.

Clearly marriages are strengthened by the different gifts and experiences each of us brings to the table. I just wish one of us was a mechanic. But that doesn’t mean our roles are the same. Many Christians today can get to the “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” aspect of Ephesians 5:21, since it is culturally acceptable. Everyone gives 100% and all that.

But Paul goes on for twelve verses to provide a powerful picture of how we are to relate to each other in marriage, and its implications are much less culturally comfortable. And just as important as our mutual care for each other, whatever our gifts might be.

The man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church—in sacrificial, sanctifying service. He is also to lead his family, as Christ does the church, into an understanding of the Father’s purpose and will, protecting and providing for them both spiritually and physically. A man who won’t do this for his wife won’t do it for his children either.

It’s not a perfect picture, given that we are fallen. But it’s an important picture, and worthy of reflection. Paul has not made the case in cultural terms, but in theological ones. Marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church.

This is not about whether or not a wife works outside the home. The Proverbs 31 woman clearly did. And it’s not about being the man being the boss, if by that we mean he is neither accountable nor responsible for his actions. Conservative Christians spend a lot of unnecessary time focused on these externals.

But it is about a man accepting the responsibility to lead, both by example and precept, as Christ did. Young men today are often confused about this, and ill prepared to do it. They lack the theological grounding to protect their families from error and the biblical knowledge to provide wise counsel or direction. Because of this, they lack the courage and the confidence to accept this calling.

Nor can they expect that their wife will follow them; our cultural biases are very strong. But if we taught young men how to do this, their wives could more easily do their part: resting in and responding to their husband’s spiritual leadership, as the church does to Christ. Biblically constituted authority is always for our protection and our good. And is, in this case, for hers.

This doesn’t make it her job to iron.

Or keep her from it.

15 thoughts on “in praise of (ironed) shirts”

  1. Had to giggle at the wish that one of you was a mechanic 🙂
    Excellent post and I love the way you tie it together at the end.
    After over 30 years of marriage we’re starting to get the hang of this. Too bad it’s taken so long for me (especially) to get over the cultural biases and to the point I understood and could accept God’s design.

  2. hey,
    i’m not very religious (well, except that I have a philosophy of religion blog AND i’m taking a grad-level seminar in the continental philosophy of religion), but i thought this was just.. darling. you know, a lot of men don’t have that attitude. your appreciation for your wife ironing your shirts is sweet.
    “It doesn’t seem helpful to divide our tasks into a list of things men or women do or don’t do because of their gender. Except for changing diapers, of course.” that’s a great attitue. i come from a family where — unfortunately — most everything is divided… from a woman being called a bad wife because her culinary skills are not top – of -the – line to a man being called a bad husband because he doesn’t know how to fix a car engine. i’ve managed to slip out of this cultural niche. I was lucky enough to have found someone who shares my vision of marriage, men and women.

    and i see this happening a lot in my relationship. my boyfriend really does appreciate when i cook something, when i offer to pay the tab… in turn, i appreciate it when he does those things, too.

    1. thanks.

      i write a lot about religion actually. And probably from a more conservative perspective than you are used to. but i’d love to interact with you on these subjects.

      and i’m glad you feel like your understanding and appreciation for your partner is growing.

      it takes a life time sometimes to unlearn bad attitudes and practices. (I write about marriage a lot too.)

  3. Wonderful. I love your perspective, especially the comments about the difference between a man’s responsibility to lead and being the boss.

  4. As a newlywed, this was wonderful to read. I don’t love ironing, per se, but I love sending my husband to work wearing a perfectly crisp shirt. I also love that he doesn’t expect me to do it, and that, if I cook, he washes the dishes.

    Most of my marriage role models are, unfortunately, not in your generation so this is very encouraging for me to read. The tie-in with Ephesians reminds me that this isn’t just a cultural or generational thing (partnership and equality in the home and marriage,) but something God requires of us as Christians.

  5. Great post, as is “I’m not buying it.” Glad to have found you through Freshly Pressed (“Ironic,” no?) and will be baaaaack! Congratulations.

  6. I have to admit that the way I got here was by reading the hilarious post above, which I saw because it was “freshly pressed”. It was the pie chart with a large section of the day specified as “looking for things I just had a minute ago” that pulled me in (since I spend a large part of every day doing that…even though I am not baby boomer). I read it and laughed (thanks for the giggle!) and then scrolled down to find this gem of a post!

    I always like to know there are funny Christians out there. It comforts me. My husband is a servant-leader, a follower of Christ, and hilarious! The media depicts “religious types” as frumpy, persnickety, overly-serious, wierd folks, I am tired of it. Thank y0u for being funnny and a Christ-follower out loud!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I haven’t written much humor, actually. But this post seemed to be a winner. 🙂

      It seems important and I appreciate the needed balance it sounds like your husband brings to the work of Christ.

  7. I am compelled to tell you that there is at least one job men are required to do: any kind of gutting of any animal – fish, deer, fowl. Women are nurturers, not gutters! This is one of the clearly defined roles in our house. Charlie hunts, fishes, and guts. I’ll happily preserve and cook what’s left.

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