When I was a senior in high school taking advanced placement courses, working part-time, and waging my own Cold War with a demanding Russian violin teacher, my dad came in one night and told me to wash my brother's dishes.
I was furious. How could he expect me to do dishes, much less my brother's, when I had homework and tests and an upcoming recital?
"This is the real world," he said. "We still have to eat."
In other words, wash the dishes. He wasn't ever one to let me "spiritualize" my way out of a dirty job.
According to Wendy Mogul, author of The Blessing of the B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers, my father was right (darn it).
She writes that parents who do a child's chores for him so he can study for a test or do other "higher level" work like, say, practicing the violin, are setting them up for failure. Because, by doing so, we send them the message that tests and music trump plain old mundane duties like cleaning their rooms and taking out the trash. "We treat them like handicapped royalty," she writes.
When parents act as though the "spiritual" (studying for tests) is more important than the material (cleaning their bedrooms), we are presenting a false view of reality (and, I would argue, a false view of theology) to our kids. Last time I checked, a looming deadline doesn't excuse me from the dinners that need to be made, the bodies that need washing, or the amount of laundry reproaching me on the laundry room floor.
Which is why I don't buy it when one of my kids says, "Oh Mom, I know it's my dish/laundry/car cleaning day, but I am too busy writing a song/crafting a poem/thinking great thoughts to do it."
But if Mogul's premise is right (which I think it is), how do we square it with Scripture, specifically the Mary/Martha debate? If we, like the Reformers before us, believe there is no hierarchy between the "secular" and the "sacred," why did Jesus Himself say that Mary (the "spiritual" one basking at his feet) had "chosen the good portion" while Martha (the one cooking up the flatbread and grilling the lamb kebabs) hadn't? In other words, should we be raisings Marys or Marthas?
I'm not sure, but I'd rather err on the side of raising Marthas, because they aren't typically living with their heads in the clouds "being so spiritually minded that they're no earthly good." Perhaps the better option is to raise kids who have Martha's work ethic and Mary's attitude.
Until I can stand face-to-face with Jesus and ask Him exactly what He meant when He said that to Martha, that's just what I'm going to try to do.