Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Motherhood and Vocation, Part 3 of 4
Have I mentioned I'm still in the middle of working this out in my own life? Ha, ha, and I was writing like I had all the answers, huh? Sorry. :)
But! I do have the beginning of an answer, I think. And this is just what I've gathered by observing the lives of the saints ahead of me - of the smart and loving women I know who are going through life using both their brains and their hearts.
The thing is, they do Have It All, sort of. They just do not Have It All All At Once.
(btw, one of the other answers I've seen lies in those exceptions I keep acknowledging: some women are called to the life of the mind and not the life of the home. Christianity has always held a high view of the celibate man or woman dedicated solely to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. St. Scholastica, pray for us.)
So, for those of us work-a-day sorts, for those of us called to the ordinary roles of wife-and-mother, what's the answer? What do you do, as Harriet Vane said, if you're blessed with both a brain and a heart?*
And now is when I'd invoke a different saint, if I did indeed pray to the saints, and say: St. Dorothy, pray for us. Because I think the answer lies in in the answer to Sayers' famous question: Are women human?
The answer is: yes. Yes, we are. And so, like men, we are called to worship God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind.
God didn't call just part of us, He called all of us.
Here's the thing, though, about virtues: they are immutable and immortal and unchangeable. But, in their application, they are as various as the flowers of the field. Modesty is an eternal virtue. But modesty in Regency England looks different than modesty in 2013 Los Angeles. The application of virtues looks different in different lives.
Serving God with all your mind won't just look different in you than in your next-door neighbor, it will look different in the 20-year-old you and in the 40-year-old you.
The first thing, always, is to pray and ask the Lord, "what is my duty right now? At this minute? How should I obey you today? What do you want of me this hour?" And then obey.
And often, obedience looks like cooking dinner or doing the dishes or reading to your kids. If that's today's duty, be content. Christians have always - always, always - been called to be content in their current circumstances. Were you a slave when Christ called you? Serve Him there. Get free if you can! says St. Paul, but if not, well, serve Him there.**
Wherever we are, we are called to contentment.
And so we're called to patience. We're called to peace.
But we're not called to complacence.
We're mothers: growth is our business. We know what it looks like; we watch it happen every day in our children.
And adults are supposed to grow and mature, too. Our growth isn't as dramatic, awkward, and startling as growth is in children, but stagnation is pretty ugly in grown-ups.
Children grow, and their growth makes room for us to take up our old pursuits and passions.
But to take them up peacefully, calmly, maturely. We're given the gift of finding ourselves again and finding that we're new people. The refining fire of motherhood has knocked off a lot of our hard edges. The long nights and days and toil in obscurity have taught us patience.
It's a gift. I'm saying: motherhood is a gift. And it's a gift in this completely unexpected way, because it gives you yourself back, after you'd given up completely any hope of finding that person again. You sort of wake up slowly, and it takes you awhile to realize that you're still there.
But you are. And you're whole. And you can do work, more work than you ever could when you were young and selfish and naive. You didn't know what work was then.
(In the first draft of this post, I had a screed here about dealing with male condescension. And, well, maybe there's a place for it somewhere, sometime. But not here, not now. Because the truth is: men have their own trials and temptations. And what they are isn't my business, any more than the single woman's trials and temptations are my business. Besides, that screed doesn't apply to good men and, frankly, good men are the ones I care about and who care about me, so for the jerks, who cares? God bless them; may they find their way home.)
But: work. Mothers know how to work. Oh, do we ever. And what a gift! Would you have ever learned the lesson of work quite so thoroughly if you hadn't been forced? I know I wouldn't. The tide of need that comes with children washes you over like a flood and you swim and you swim and swim so that you don't drown.
But then the tide goes out, and sometimes they still need you urgently and sometimes they still need you constantly, but they don't constantly need you urgently . . . and, those swimming muscles you built up? They're still there. And you're free to use them for something else. For something extra.
For your work. Your work. Your proper work. Your human work.
Because women are human. We're human first, and we're women second. The first thing you notice about a person may be their gender, but it's the first thing you notice about a person.
What screws us up here is that, in temporal terms, our gendered work comes first. Motherhood doesn't end till you die, I don't think, but biologically it's the job of youth. If you're going to have kids, you're likely going to have them in your twenties and thirties.
And because we often have to do it before our careers - or as an interruption to our careers - it feels like that's all we are. No. That's just what we are first. It's what we are always. But it's not all we are.
It's okay to be a mother and to take the time to be a good one. It's okay, it's good. It's okay to want to be more than a mother.
It's okay to live for a time - even a long time - with those two desires in tension. It's hard, but it's okay.
Desire delayed makes the heart sick . . . but there's still a place for patience. For resignation. For contentment.
And it's okay to reach beyond your first vocation when the time is right.
And it is always, always, always good to bring all these desires and conflicts before the Lord in prayer. Because this isn't going to look the same for every woman and He knows and loves you better than anyone.
Wait on the Lord. Take heart, and wait on the Lord. And He will give you the desires of your heart.
And desire fulfilled is the tree of life.
*Read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Read it now.
**1 Corinthians 7:21.