Friday, November 19, 2004

Of mugs and tea cups

Frequently, in Christian circles, I run across the "tea cup versus hammer" analogy, as in "The Bible teaches that men are to honor their wives as weaker vessels, so women are like china tea cups, while men are like hammers." Many teachers of this analogy, and those who hold to it, love to wax eloquent over the value and wonderful design of lovely, fragile, decorative tea cups, whose place it is to be protected in china cabinets until carefully removed on special ocassions, to serve tea to honored guests. "You can't serve tea with a hammer and you can't pound a nail with a tea cup! Isn't God's design beautiful?" someone enthused to me.

I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but God never said that women are like tea cups. I see no reason to identify myself with something I'll never be nor aspire to: decorative enough that anyone would want to display me, fragile, and designed for one purpose, while ill-suited for most other purposes.

In a recent online discussion, a woman wrote, "At a women or family seminar I'll take two cups with me. A big, clunky mug that my husband uses for coffee and a beautiful piece of china that I use for tea. The illustration is very well received!! It's not a illustration of a woman's uselessness. It's an illustration of her SPECIALNESS!!!"

As I relected on this, I felt inspired to respond with the following:

OK, as I'm sitting here drinking coffee (oh the horror---to admit this
on this list!) out of one of my favorite mugs, I can't help but relate
far more to this particular mug rather than to a tea cup.

I think this mug is kinda special. I bought it, like several of my
mugs, as a memento. It's not delicate; it's not pretty; but it's not
clunky either. It's practical. It has served me coffee, tea, hot
chocolate, even soup. It has, to my eyes, a pleasant look. It fits
nicely in my hands. It's comfortable.

When guests come to my home, I've noticed that some of the men feel
nervous when served out of delicate tea cups. My older brother, who
loved china and elegant dining, admitted that such cups were awkward to
drink out of if one had large hands. I've noticed that most men tend to
feel more at ease with mugs.

I've also noticed that all my friends have mugs. To my surprise, many
of my friends either don't own china or they have it safely stored
away, almost never to be used. It doesn't seem to fit in with the
modern lifestyles of most people. Recently a woman invited several of
us to tea and then realized she didn't own a single tea cup!

My husband, when we were getting ready to get married, didn't want us
to "pick a china pattern". He saw no use for china. His mother owns
what I jokingly refer to as the "sacred china", a set that has only
been used once in the past few decades.

When my husband heard that I'd eaten off china every Sunday while
growing up, he reluctantly relented. We use our china. But, then again,
I was practical even in my selection of china. Ours is an ancient,
enduring pattern, easily replaceable. Our set is not as fragile as
many. It's not particularly expensive as china goes.

However, I don't relate to my china tea cups. I'm more of an every day
sort of person. I'm not kept in a china cabinet, on display. I'm more
likely to be in the midst of life, the first one grabbed out of the
cupboard in the morning, the last one put in the dishwasher at night.

I'm glad my husband feels comfortable with me. I'm sturdy enough so he
doesn't feel awkward around me, afraid that the slightest clumsy move
on his part might lead to my destruction. I'm practical, useful. That's
part of my value. Everybody I know sees a need for mugs. Not everyone
sees a need for china cups. They are a luxury.

I have nothing against the sort of women a friend of mine calls "china
dolls". Many men actually prefer such delicate, fragile beauties, just
as some women prefer sensitive artist types over more rugged men. Some
women love being delicate and weak and decorative, believing that is
what makes them special. That could very well be God's unique calling
on their lives.

God has, I believe, made each one of us special and unique. My value
does not rest in my being decorative and delicate; God has not gifted
me in that area. His calling on my life has been one that has demanded
more sturdiness and practicality. There have been times when I've
wished for an easier tea cup existence, a life of being pampered, a
life of being beautiful. Earlier in our marriage, my husband struggled
with resentment towards God for not giving him a more beautiful wife.
Now he's discovered an appreciation for the subtle, unconventional
beauty of mugs. He's realized that a tea cup wife wasn't what he
needed after all---God knew what he was doing when He brought us

Once, when my husband saw me all sweaty and disheveled, he commented on a woman we know who always looks perfect---flawless make-up, hair that seems incapable of being messy, clothes that are modest yet add to her feminine beauty at the same time. "No matter what," he said, "She always looks perfect." He paused and said, "It's sort of disgusting." This woman is the perfect tea cup. It turns out that neither I nor my
husband want that any more. (Sorry if I am insulting those of you who are perfect tea cups. I don't mean to do so. God gives us all special callings and makes us the way we are for a reason.)

When my husband is grubby from yard work or chores, I've brought him
cool water in a mug. He is really a mug kinda guy---he even prefers
eating his ice cream out of a mug. I'd never bring him cool, refreshing
water in a china tea cup. When my husband was recovering from surgery,
I brought him mugs of good broth. Never did it dawn on me to bring him
a china tea cup; china would have been ill-suited for such a situation.

A mug. It's a good thing. It's useful and comfortable and practical and
sturdy (within limits; drop my mugs on the hard floor and they will
break) and everyone likes a good mug of something. Everyone I know has
mugs. Mugs don't put on airs; they aren't fancy; they might be cute but
tyically aren't especially beautiful and are just as useful if plain;
they aren't just for special times and celebrations; they aren't
luxuries. I'm perfectly content to be a mug, uniquely equipped and
specially suited for all sorts of service. (And, yes, we've even used
mugs for holding things other than food or drink! And I'm truly
multi-functional as well, thank God!)

So, for the women on the list who don't relate to being delicately
fragile and decorative, rejoice! Be a mug! Embrace your life of
practical service! A mug is a wonderful, wonderful thing to be!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for much needed encouragement this morning! I have been amazed at my lack of moodiness with this pregnancy, but it all hit today. Although you weren't directly speaking about the pain we put ourselves through when we compare ourselves with others, that is the lesson I needed to be reminded about. Put succinctly, my friends may do this better or that better, or achieve more success that I, but I am me. Many times I don't see the things that I do well, only what still needs to be done. I need to give myself the same acceptance and appreciation I would give to a friend. And realize that if others choose to judge me harshly, then that is out of my control. I pray that God will remind me of this throughout this day whenever I am tempted to criticize myself and replace those thoughts with thoughts of his love. God bless!