“Distaff” (rhymes with giraffe) is a traditional tool used in spinning thread. It holds a mess of unspun fibers like wool or flax. Women would use a spindle to draw the fibers from the distaff so that they would have nice, clean, spun thread on their spindles to make fabric.
Since spinning thread has almost universally been a feminine duty in societies past, “distaff” can also refer to the female gender and women’s work.
So, why “Holding the Distaff”? I pulled it from Proverbs 31, a chapter in the Bible containing a poem entitled “The Wife of Noble Character” (see my devotional for a fresh, in-depth look on this topic). In the middle of a description about a heroic wife and mother, verse 19 says, “In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.”
The phrase “holding the distaff” represents several concepts:
- I can’t think of many things that sound more mundane than spinning thread. Yet historically across cultures it has been vitally important work. For many of us it can feel like our days are full of meaningless tasks: changing diapers, washing dishes, paying bills. Yet these tasks add up—and they matter tremendously. These everyday tasks are inspiring.
- The “wife of noble character” works hard to keep her family healthy, happy and secure. Spinning thread by hand is extremely time-consuming and takes unyielding dedication. While the tasks in my modern home are different, I have the same objectives and want to exhibit the same dedication and patience.
- Traditional women’s values like home and family are honorable. I am thankful that women’s rights and freedoms have progressed tremendously in the Western world, but I used to struggle with some doubt and shame about leaving a career outside the home (read about that decision here). No more. The type of work we choose doesn’t define us; the way we work (how and why) does.
- A traditional distaff literally holds a tangled mess. A hard-working woman then turns that mess into something functional and beautiful. I love that imagery. There’s a lot of mess in this world that could use some spinning.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, single, married, working at an office, or not even a mom—you are working hard at loving those you care about and working through your life’s messes. Your everyday life is inspiring and I hope you never forget it.
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