I read an account in our local paper a while back of a woman who had been robbed by the person she employed as domestic helper. The help had made off with thousands of emalangeni worth of jewellery, and I have no doubt, a lot more that the employer will discover over the months to come. The article talked of the abuse that is meted out by these helpers as they lie, cheat and steal from those who employ them.
I wonder why this is? What makes this particular strata of society feel it is their right to help themselves to whatever they fancy in the homes they are paid to clean and take care of?
My first bad experience of this was after the death of my mother. As an only child whose father died when I was nine, and was now a relatively young twenty one, the trauma of losing my only parent was huge. When the funeral and various formalities were over, I turned my attention to the home we had lived in for the past however many years. The house belonged to the Swaziland Government and I had a limited time before I needed to vacate it.
I started in my Mother’s bedroom, because that was the most painful, and slowly moved through the rest of the house. All went relatively well, until I opened the linen cupboard. What had once housed been shelves brimming over with table cloths, matching napkins, sheets, pillowcases was now a cupboard with bare shelves.
I called to the woman who had shared most of my life with me.
“Where are all the table clothes, the napkins, all the things that were here?”
She shook her head. No idea what I was talking about. There had never been anything in that cupboard, all my imagination. It got worse. When I got to the dining room plates of all description, together with most of the cutlery, was gone. She’d moved fast.
What hurt was not so much the value of the items taken, although there obviously was a cost involved: silver forks and spoons with the Warburton and Leary family crests might have some commercial value but that was not what mattered right then. It was not only the loss of that tenuous link to my past, but the feeling of betrayal, that trust that was shattered. Items that I could have held as I remembered precious moments, gentle words spoken beneath my father’s piercing blue eyes, my Mum’s green eyes flashing merrily as we laughed at some piece of fun – that aura of comfort so necessary in a world suddenly lonely.
That was the first time, sadly not the last. It is a way of life, the sudden discovery that something is missing. You learn to accept that it is going to happen, your only decision is how much you allow to disappear before you act and diplomatically remove the offender. It isn’t always stealing. Sometimes it is simply carelessness and glasses, cups, even furniture is broken. Responsibility for repairing or replacing these items is eschewed with a shrug of the shoulders.
I have been pondering all this for a while, trying to decide whether employing someone to assist me with housework is a help or a hindrance, how much more damage and loss can I afford. As always, God has a happy knack of showing up with a reasoning argument just before I descend into active dislike and resentment.
Our Ladies’ Bible Study started up last week after the Christmas break, with a study on the book of the prophet Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. All my complaints and mutterings seemed to be duplicated in the first chapter! God is talking about the behaviour and attitude of the children of Israel, who had come to such a parting of the ways between themselves that they were now two kingdoms, quite apart from deserting God, and insulting Him by consorting with other gods, and deliberately flouting every one of His injunctions!
To demonstrate His point, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute, which he does. Thereafter follows a tale of love and despair, of faithlessness and forgiveness, the story of a God, tried to the utmost by the actions of His chosen people, yet determined to claim them as His own, to bless them and honour them as His adored creation.
I think I have a small glimmer of how He feels, because I have treated Him in much the same way as domestic assistants down the years have treated me. In spite of all my wrongdoing, He still proclaims in ringing tones:
‘Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth,
And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy;
Then I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’’
There are many gems throughout this book:
‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’
‘My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge’ Hosea 4:6
– we presume to judge God, to insist He should act as we would have Him act, and when He doesn’t we thump our chests and say ‘See, what kind of God is He?’
As in all things, we have a choice. What I do about my domestic situation is in my hands, I have the authority to decide how much ‘abuse’ I am prepared to take, if any at all. There will be a cost, and again I get to decide how much I am prepared to give.
Does our Father not get the same right? To decide how much He will take from us, give us warning when we go too far. The difference is God’s love is so much greater than mine, and if He can forgive me all that I get up to, how do I deny forgiveness to others?