The Working Woman

or “How to be a Successful Christian Wife”

What is the woman’s work in the home?

Titus 2:4,5 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

In Fred Harvey’s work, his desire was always to place the comfort and pleasure of his guests first. “Everything about the place must reflect decency, order, thrift, cleanliness, good cheer, system.”

The Harvey Girls (1890’s and beyond) served customers in Fred Harvey’s restaurants all across the west when the railroad was the only way to travel. Previous to his innovation, people traveling on the trains received greasy meat, unclean facilities, canned beans, rancid bacon, and coffee made fresh only once a week. Stops were short; only twenty minutes. The meals were paid for ahead of time and sometimes never delivered. Educated travelers brought their own food on the train.

After Fred Harvey and the Atchison, Topeka, and the Sante Fe railroad reached an agreement this is what you could find: filtered spring water, ice, fresh fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, clean linens, polished silver, friendly waitresses and staff, and consistently great meals never duplicated even if your trip took two or three days. By the late 1880’s there was a Fred Harvey restaurant every 100 miles along the railroad. He could bring in fresh fish in the ice cars, California cantaloupes, quail and beef. Good water was brought in for fresh coffee. They had their own dairies and even made ice cream for the guests. Pies were sliced into quarter’s not the usual sixths. A meal was 75 cents. Satisfaction was guaranteed!

Harvey Girls were well educated, clean, business like, efficient. They had dress codes to follow and must be girls of good character. Their starched uniforms must always be spotless. If they got a stain on their apron, it was changed immediately. They wore plain, starched black and white skirts, bibs, aprons, high collared shirts, black shoes, black stockings, and hairnets. Skirts were never more than 8″ above the floor even in the 1920’s. They wore no jewelry or makeup and could not chew gum.

When the gong rang, they sprang into action. The girls stood at their stations. The first course was on the table already. One waitress asked each person what he or she wished to drink. Another server arranged the cup at a precise position which told the next waitress who was pouring drinks what the customer had ordered. The Harvey girls knew they made the Harvey Houses what they were: the finest eating establishments in the West, probably the best in the country. They were proud of their skills and profession.

Did the Harvey restaurants have to bring in fresh fruit? No! Did they have to run their own dairies so they could make their own high quality ice cream? No! They raised a standard of service to their customers that was far superior to anyone else. Was it too much? No! Was it “do-able?” Absolutely yes! How did their customers feel about being treated the way they were? Loved, appreciated, revered.

Jesus has shown us a standard in love, service, and ministry. Is it high? You betcha! Is it possible to master it? Probably not, but it is “do-able”. It is definitely something to strive for. It is as Romans 12:1,2 says “our reasonable service.”

Now translate this kind of thinking into being a wife. You do things for your husband out of love for him not duty. You have his best interests at heart and do everything in your power to take the best care of him. Who would not respond to such loving attention?

Did the customers of the Harvey restaurants think it was too much? No! Did they say, “Oh, stop! You’re being too good to me!” No way! Can you ever love your husband so much that he can’t stand it and he tells you to stop? No way! You have to go a long long way before someone will tell you to stop loving them and serving their needs.

When you become a Christian you don’t have to figure out whom or what you will serve for God has given us the answer. It’s in His instruction manual for daily life – the Bible. It’s in Matthew 20:26-28.

But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.

We shall look at three real women and how each uniquely supported her husband — in ministry, play, and work. As you read, think of each scenario in terms of the concept of servanthood. Believe me, a servant for Christ is definitely not a second class citizen. She is a child of the King, fulfilling His will for her life.

Ann Judson

“On February 5, 1812, a hushed little handful of people collected in the west room of the Hasseltine home. . .Kindly old Pastor Allen, of the Bradford Church, was there too, a little impatient to be on with the ceremony. . .Through the doorway stepped Ann, lithe, lovely in her long white wedding gown, to be married in the very room where she had first met Adoniram [Judson] at the ministers’ dinner.”

Little did they realize as they later stood in the burning heat of Burma that terrible discouragement and trials awaited them. Adoniram Judson would work for fifteen hours a day for six full years before he would win a single convert; four years would pass before anyone would even stop to ask about this strange Christianity; that the dismal stench and rotten air of the tropic would break Ann’s health. He would know physical pain as he had never known it before. His second child would die, the first had been stillborn on the ship over.

They both settled in to work. Language study came first. Ann had to leave for 3 months to recuperate her health. Little Roger Williams was born and they slowly watched him die by the time he was 8 months old. Through separations, their love and devotion to each other and to the work endured.

Adoniram began translating the Bible into the Burmese language. They started a little school and both taught classes to introduce the Burmese people to Jesus.

The British invaded the country. Believing that the American Adoniram Judson had leaked secrets to the British, the Burmese government arrested him for crimes he never committed. Ann could only stand and watch as a thick heavy cord was wrapped around his neck and he was hauled off to one of the most foul prisons one could imagine.

Ann kept her head through all of the confusion. A magistrate arrived to confiscate their goods. She treated him well and was allowed to keep Adoniram’s books, her medicines, and her work table. Minutes before the authorities arrived to comb the house, she ran out to the garden with Adoniram’s most precious possession — the unfinished manuscript of the Burmese Bible. He had worked on it for ten years, and there was only one copy anywhere on earth. It must not be lost! She buried it in the ground for safekeeping.

Ann wrote letters and visited everyone she could think of to get Adoniram released. She did at least convince the governor to stay Adoniram’s execution. He fretted about his Bible and kept imagining worms and mold destroying it as it rested buried in the ground.

One day, Ann smuggled a pillow into the prison. It was so very lumpy! Adoniram felt it and looked up at her curiously. “Ann, darling couldn’t you have found a softer . . .” But Ann shook her head, a mysterious gleam in her eyes. She whispered in his ear. She had dug up the precious manuscript and camofluaged it into a pillow. He could sleep on it at night and be comforted by its nearness.

Ann bore their third child while Adoniram was locked up. She came to the door of the prison where he could see her and baby Maria.

Her husband’s health declining, Ann persuaded the governor to allow her to build a little shack on the government enclosure close to the prison. She could bring Adoniram his meals and nurse him part of every day. In a scrawny little bamboo shack, they could spend two or three precious hours together every day.

Then one day all of the white prisoners were marched to the courthouse and later taken to another place, the death house prison at Aungbinle. Some time later, he heard a soft voice calling him in English. “Don! Don!” It was Ann! She was alive! “You can’t live here! You will surely be killed!” he exclaimed. But Ann had her way. She found a room for herself and little Maria and stayed.

Six months dragged by. In November, 1825, a courier knocked at Ann’s door. In his hand was a letter from the governor. Adoniram Judson was a free man. But the jailer had other plans. There had been a slight mistake. Mr. Judson was not to go free but was to be shipped upstream to act as interpreter in the British peace negotiations. He would remain in chains until his duties were over. He was shipped back to Aungbinle but finally released in the morning.

He hurried back to Ann. She was horribly thin and ill. She tried to speak but was very weak. She pointed to a bundle on the table. It was a bundle of old parchment — his Bible! He finally pieced the story together:

The jailer had ripped open the pillow the day the prisoners were marched from Ava. He tore the outer matting off and flung it to the ground. The pillow was hard and uncomfortable so down in the mud went the lumpy bundle containing the precious translation. The next day, Moung Ing (their faithful Burmese convert) was snooping around the crushed bamboo hut Ann and Adoniram had shared and came across the pillow. Not knowing what was inside, he carried it to Ann. The Burmese Bible was saved!

Adoniram was again asked to be an interpreter for the British. The two parted once more. “You will keep busy, Ann?” She smiled, “Let’s see, there’s my school to start and my Sunday services to hold, and two schoolhouses to build. And oh, yes, there is our house to build too!”

The government work was tedious and frustrating. He longed to be back home finishing his Bible translation. In November a black — sealed letter was cautiously laid in his hand.

“My dear Sir: to one who has suffered so much, and with such exemplary fortitude, there needs but little preface to tell a tale of distress. It were cruel indeed to torture you with doubt and suspense. To sum up the unhappy tidings in a few words, Mrs. Judson is no more!” [1826]

Judson went on to preach through his written tracts to over 10,000 Burmese. He founded a Burmese church, established schools, and trained preachers. From his efforts there eventually arose a Baptist Christian community of over 500,000. In October 1840, he finished his translation of the whole Bible into Burmese. He began a Burmese-English dictionary. Even 100 years and more after his death it remains the core of all Burman language study and a help for missionaries who followed him. He died on April 12, 1850 and was buried at sea. Mrs. Judson’s heroism during his imprisonment became a legend.

What if Adoniram Judson had quit when he couldn’t get into India? What if he had said,”This isn’t worth it!” when he was hauled off to prison? Was the standard high for him? Very! What if Ann had not hidden his manuscript? What if she had not bribed officials so that she could tend to Adoniram’s health? If at any point either of them said, “Lord, this is too much. What you are asking is too hard,” and then given up, where would those 500,000 Christians in Burma be? Who would have shown Christ to them? Was it difficult? Oh, Yes! But it was possible and look at the result. Ann Judson went far beyond what we might think is reasonable. Her faith in Christ and love for Adoniram kept her reaching farther and farther and accomplishing a great work for Christ.

Maria Von Trapp

Maria had a turbulent childhood in Austria. Her mother died when she was young and her father turned her over to a cousin to raise. Her contacts with her father as a young girl were difficult. She seemed always to be a disappointment to him. When Maria was 9 years old, her father died. Her guardianship was transferred to another relative who was stern and often punished her for things she did not do.

After attending school through what would be our 8th grade, children had a choice of continuing on in some trade school or university if they could afford it or get accepted. Maria desired to become a teacher. She worked for a summer and earned enough to get into school. Then, being an orphan, she received scholarships to stay and eventually graduated. Just after finishing training, she felt she should do something for God and so she entered an abbey to become a nun. There she taught the fifth graders and learned some valuable life lessons.

There were two especially important principles that impressed her. “Sacrifice is usually irksome, but love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy”. The other was “we cannot love God whom we do not see if we do not love our neighbor whom we do see”.

There came a day when she was called in to see the head of the convent. She was asked this question, “Maria, . . . what is the most important thing in life?” Maria replied, “To find out what is the will of God and then to go and do it.” “Even if is hard?” queried her superior. “Of course, even if it is hard,” agreed Maria.

She was then asked to become a tutor for the child of a sea captain, Baron Von Trapp. One daughter was recovering from scarlet fever and needed to be taught at home. Since the Baron was a widower, he had asked the convent to supply a teacher.

Very reluctantly, Maria agreed to obey. Well, to make a long story short, she fell in love with the captain’s seven children. Later, when he asked her to marry him, it was because she wanted to mother the children and so she said yes. In fact, the night before the wedding she said to the captain, “Georg, I still think it wouldn’t be quite necessary to get married only in order to bring up your children.” She says, “I still remember how he looked at me so very lovingly and put his hand on mine and squeezed it a little bit. That was his answer except I didn’t understand it.”

The captain’s first marriage had been a very happy one. One day a few months after their own marriage, Maria asked Georg how she could make him happiest. He said, “By being exactly like Agatha.”

Well, Maria in her zeal to please him went around to all of the cousins asking questions about Agatha and filling a little notebook with all of the things she learned. She found that Agatha had been quiet, kind, loved having babies, and knitted. She did not like to hike or participate in other sports.

Maria was filled with good intentions. She and Agatha were like night and day but Maria felt she could become like her. She found a woman who taught her how to knit and decided to make a pair of socks for her husband. Georg saw her and said, ” What are you doing?” “I am knitting, Georg, like Agatha.” He shook his head and said, “Let’s go bicycling.” “But, Georg, Agatha did not go bicycling with you. Please sit down with me and let’s talk.” He sat down and Maria waited for him to talk. She had heard that he sat for hours with Agatha and told her stories from the navy. She kept on knitting and waiting for Georg to see her great love for him, thinking that she was becoming exactly like Agatha.

This behavior lasted about ten days. Then Georg came into her room again, pulled his chair up very close to hers until their knees touched, put his hand on hers to stop her from knitting and said, “Now tell me, what is bothering you? We’re not going for hikes anymore. We’re not playing volleyball together, we’re not making music together, not bicycling anymore — Why?”

Tears started rolling down Maria’s face and she cried aloud, “Because I want to become like Agatha!”

Georg took her knitting and threw it in the corner. He pulled her out of her chair and held her tight and said, “I didn’t mean it that way. If you are as kind as she, that is good enough for me. Otherwise, please be yourself.”

From that moment on she was really in love — the real Maria with her Georg. As time passed, she understood more and more her husband’s love. By and by she learned to love him more than she has ever loved before or after.

Maria’s intentions were good. Outwardly, she was conforming to the ideal of Agatha while inwardly she was still the same Maria. But Georg did not need a wife to sit quietly at home in this stage of his life. What attracted him to Maria was her fun loving, outdoorsy personality. When she learned what he really needed — a wife who could support him in his play and his leisure time interests — the marriage flourished. She had to learn what he needed from her, not what she thought was best for him.

It may sound like Maria’s case is easy. We don’t always have to accomplish amazing things. The key in her situation was to find out what Georg needed most. As she came to love him more, her interior motivations changed to meet his needs. When they were forced to leave Austria and come to America, Maria was the enthusiastic, loving strength Georg needed to make the adjustment.

Nancy Reagan

It wasn’t until I began to read about Nancy Reagan that I realized what a committed wife she was and how much she loved taking care of her husband. She once told a reporter, “You can only be yourself. If you try to do anything else, it’s phony.”

Margaret Truman says that in private Nancy Reagan was relaxed, full of fun, intelligent, and down-to-earth. How unfortunate it is that the media could not portray this side of her to the rest of us.

In a radio broadcast of 1985, Ronald Reagan said, “Nancy is my everything. When I look back on these days, I’ll remember your support and for taking part in the business of the nation. Thank you, partner, thanks for everything.”

In his diary he wrote, “I pray I’ll never face the day when she isn’t there. Of all the ways God has blessed me, giving her to me was the greatest.”

Larry Speakes, Reagan’s press secretary said, “The Reagans have one of the greatest love affairs I have ever seen, in or out of politics. They are truly best friends, as well as husband and wife.”

Nancy herself says, “My life really began when I met my husband.” She happily gave up an acting career for a permanent role as the wife of Ronald Reagan and mother to their children.

When her husband would give a speech, she would sit in the front row and watch him with total rapture on her face. Her presence had a very positive effect on him.

Aides thought a particularly loud (bright) plaid suit that the President wore was not in the best of taste. They began to figure out how they could make it disappear until they found out that Nancy had selected the fabric. It was the President’s way of taking her along with him to the press conferences.

My favorite story is when they visited Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle in 1982. You will recall that when the Queen’s husband walks with her he must stroll two paces behind her in deference to her royal rank. When the Reagan’s visited, the President and the Queen left the ceremonial hall together. Ronnie turned and motioned Nancy to join them. “That’s a breach of protocol!” spluttered a stuffy British reporter. Larry Speakes thought quickly and convinced him that it was an ancient Reagan family tradition for husbands and wives to walk side by side! Good for Larry!

Her husband’s brush with death really brought out her protective instincts. On a downtown Washington street outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, a gunman took a shot at the President. Nancy was at a luncheon with Barbara Bush in a building a few blocks away. She felt something was wrong intuitively and went home early. Then the news came that the President had been shot and she rushed to his side at the hospital. Her presence certainly gave him incentive to stay alive. It took a lot of courage to support him in a second run for the presidency after such a harrowing experience.

Through all of the joys and sorrows of the White House days, Nancy held fast to her belief in supporting her husband. She has said, “. . .a woman’s real happiness and real fulfillment come from within the home with her husband and children.” The ideals of love, honesty, and selflessness “have endured because they are right and are no less right today than yesterday.”

Nancy cared for Ronald Reagan through many years of Alzheimer’s until he passed away. How difficult it must be to see a loved one go through such a trial! She loved him through thick and thin, sickness and health, trial and joy. Would that we would be as dedicated to our husband as she was to Ronald!

What About You?

All of the days that Jesus walked this earth, He worked in servant mode. He was concerned about the spiritual condition of every person with whom He came in contact. At the age of 12 He told his parents He must be about His father’s business and He didn’t mean Joseph. Does He expect less of you? Shouldn’t you be about your heavenly Father’s business also?

If you have chosen a spouse, you are to be his greatest support. That is your primary business for God. If you do nothing else in this life but love your husband and work with him side by side, you will have run your race well.

The Scripture says a nagging wife is like a constant dripping: like a faucet that annoys you when you are trying to go to sleep. It also says that a virtuous wife will do her husband good all of his days and his heart may safely trust in her. Do we want to be contentious wives or one whose price is far above rubies? I know that I want to stand before Christ and have him say, “Many daughters have done virtuously but you have excelled them all.” Support him, compliment him, build him up. The principle “it is more blessed to give than to receive” is in the Bible because it is very important. Lift him up, keep him comfortable, make him strong.

How do you accomplish this? Spend some time with the Lord in prayer and not in asking but in listening mode. Analyze your motives for doing things for your husband. Is it duty? Ask God to help you change your mind and heart to see that what you do to be the helpmeet your husband needs, is what you do to serve the Lord. Jesus gave more to you than you can ever give to anyone else. He said to be great is to serve, minister, care for, and help people. Look at His examples. Learn helpful scriptures. If you don’t know which ones, get a good concordance and search them out. Write them on little cards and carry them with you. While you are waiting in lines or at the doctor’s office, pull them out and work at memorizing them.

Now, listen carefully. When you give up your personal rights and turn them over to the Lord, you gain ultimate freedom. No longer will you have to always be in charge. You will not be manipulated by how others respond to you because you have a special peace about life that only Jesus can give. Others will not trample over you or take advantage of you because you have given all your rights to be trampled or manipulated to God. You won’t have to stew over long lines, interruptions to your schedule, or attempting to attain success by worldly standards because you have turned your time and your life over to the Lord.

Barbara Bush said this in her graduation address at Wellesley College:

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spend with a husband, a child, a friend, a parent . . . Your success as a family, our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house.”

Yours is a noble calling. The world will not tell you so. The world is wrong! So run your course well, ladies. Lift up your husband, support his work, let his work and ministry become yours. Be a good listener, a good lover, a good labourer with him. Cherish your husband, serve him, serve God.

In the play Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, two couples finally marry. Much of the matchmaking was done by the count Claudio. Benedict, one of the new grooms and a happily married man sees the count’s downcast face during the merrymaking and says to him, “Prince, thou art sad — get thee a wife, get thee a wife!”

I say to you, “Art thou unhappy? Art thou dissatisfied? Get thee a ministry. Get thee a ministry! And begin at home with your own husband.” You can never love and serve him too much!


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