Betsy ten Boom always had a special gift for creating beauty. Her family did not have much money, but somehow through the years Betsy always managed to add a sparkle of loveliness and warmth to each room in their house. Friends and strangers alike felt a calming sense of order and peace whenever they visited the ten Boom home.
That changed abruptly on the day that Betsy and several of her family members were arrested by the Gestapo for helping Jews. Betsy and her sister Corrie were placed into a dank Nazi prison for several months before being transferred to a German concentration camp. The ten Boom house sat cold and empty, devoid of the hospitality and welcome that Betsy had so lovingly created there.
Corrie and Betsy were separated in prison, and for many weeks Corrie wondered how her sister—who had always loved color and flowers and beautiful things—was handling the lifeless, gray prison cell to which she was now confined. One day Corrie was taken through a hallway of the prison and happened to catch a brief glimpse of the cell where Betsy was staying. She was amazed by what she saw.
“Unbelievably, against all logic, the cell was charming,” Corrie wrote. “The straw pallets were rolled instead of piled in a heap, standing like little pillars among the walls, each with a lady’s hat atop it. A headscarf had somehow been hung on the wall. The contents of several food packages were arranged on a small shelf. Even the coats hanging on their hooks were part of the welcome of that room, each sleeve draped over the shoulder of the coat next to it like a row of dancing children”.
Betsy’s example of creating beauty and order in a drab prison cell is a powerful reminder that when our soul is rightly ordered, our outward life reflects the same—no matter what our circumstances. Whether we are in a cold, dark cell, a crowded dorm room, a dingy apartment, or a comfortable home—any place we find ourselves can become a sanctuary of peace when the Spirit of Christ is there.
I have heard some women argue that the idea of creating order is merely for those who happen to have the knack for organizing and decorating—and that the rest of us should just accept chaos in our lives. But I disagree.
I believe that Elisabeth Elliot expressed it perfectly when she wrote, “The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on, all speak loudly about what you believe. The beauty of thy peace shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul.”
Not everyone appreciates this principle. I remember posting this quote on our ministry Facebook page and receiving some angry backlash. One woman responded, “These words only put unhealthy pressure on women and make them feel like they aren’t good enough!”
With the social media craze in full swing, it’s all too easy to start comparing ourselves to others and feel like we’re always falling short in one area or another. Whether it’s viewing spectacular creativity on Pinterest, observing domestic divas whose homes seem to run flawlessly, or measuring our decorating abilities against a Martha Stewart Living magazine, the temptation to become insecure about our own skills is never ending.
We’ve all seen examples of women who make an idol out of organization, personal style, or homemaking—finding their identity in perfectionism and making everyone around them feel inferior. As a result, it can be tempting to forsake the idea of adding any kind of order and beauty to our home or lifestyle, and instead embrace the “just be real” slogan and let slobbish behavior reign.
But God’s pattern for womanhood is one of excellence and diligence, not sloppiness and chaos. A study of Proverbs 31 reveals a woman who is vigilant and watchful over the ways of her home, attentive to the needs of those under her care, energetic and hard-working, and purposeful about creating a beautiful and orderly life.
In recent years, I’ve noticed more and more Christian women snubbing the idea of becoming a Proverbs 31 woman—especially in the area of building an orderly life. One time a woman sarcastically told me, “I’ll become the Proverbs 31 woman just as soon as I get all those Proverbs 31 maids!”
A popular Christian book for women seeks to “release” us from the notion that we are called to rise up to the standards of the Proverbs 31 woman. The author writes, “We are all living in the shadow of that infamous icon, ‘The Proverbs 31 Woman’ whose life is so busy I wonder, when does she have time for friendships, for taking walks, or reading good books? Her light never goes out at night?...Somehow she has sanctified the shame most women live under, biblical proof that yet again we don’t measure up.”
Because of these prevalent ideas, countless women are swinging to the opposite extreme of what is portrayed in Proverbs 31—embracing and even celebrating chaos in every area of our their lives. For example, young moms are being led to believe that having a messy home is what leads to well-adjusted kids. While shopping for Christmas gifts online, I came across a decorative sign that read, “Good moms have sticky floors, laundry piles, and happy kids!” A popular international ministry for young moms recently developed the motto “A Beautiful Mess” for their year’s theme.
But it’s not just young moms who are being targeted with the message that “chaos is good!” Many churches are promoting the idea that chaos in our spiritual lives is healthy and normal. Rather than expecting order and peace in our inner life, we are told that defeat, mediocrity, doubt, and depression are par for the course in every Christian’s life. Instead of being exhorted to bring our emotions under the control of God’s Spirit, we are taught that anger, fear, jealousy, and cynicism should be expressed and even given a stage.
“Spiritualized chaos” is what defines much of modern Christianity. Whether in our spiritual lives, our emotional lives, or our physical lives, disorder is being accepted, welcomed, and applauded.
What a different picture from the joyful serenity and heavenly loveliness reflected in Betsy ten Boom’s prison cell. Betsy had every reason—circumstantially speaking—to let frustration, anger, defeat, depression, and chaos rule in her soul and in her outward environment. Yet she chose a different pattern—God’s pattern. Betsy allowed the light, joy, peace, and order of Jesus Christ to transform her from the inside out, and it affected everything about her life—from her countenance, to her words, to the very atmosphere of beauty she created in the prison cell.
This is the kind of well-ordered life to which we are called as daughters of the King. It’s not a worldly, self-focused perfectionism where we stress about how organized our closet is or how perfectly coordinated our outfits are. Rather, it’s a joyful yielding to God’s Spirit—allowing His order and peace to come cascading through our lives, even when our circumstances are difficult or frustrating. When we surrender our lives completely to Him, every aspect of our lifestyle will begin to reflect His nature, just as Betsy’s did.