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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Letters from mother to mother

A post over at Holy Experience made my heart swell and brought tears to my eyes. I hope you see nothing but Jesus as you read it. It's lengthy but well worth the time to read.

Dear Mother,

It’s noon here.

That Hope-girl looks up from her plate, big grin spilling across the table, and I mop it up.

Tastes good, Mom.” Her mouth’s still full and rice spills. We laugh and I nod and her sea eyes roll.

Mmmm Mmmmm…..” Fork heaped high, Joshua’s filling that hollow leg of his… both of them. He doesn’t look up, eyes fixed on his rice drenched in chicken sauce.

Shalom, carefree mess of curls beside me, leans over the armrest of wooden highchair, lisps in loud whisper, “M’ere, Mama, com’ere. I gotta whisper you sumping.”

I let her pull me close and she pushes strands away from my ear, then brushes hair out of her own eyes, then again little fingers tuck hair behind my ear, and finally she presses in, lips tickling my ear with warm, breathy words, “Your food is a good job, Mama!”

Under falling locks we find each other, rub noses, giggle.

I just made bonus.

Isn’t this, a mother’s work, the apex of work? The work prototype the world strives for?

The radical model for work our economy and world at large desperately seeks, that productivity gurus develop into billion-dollar industries and seminar-worthy motivational systems, happens everyday in every home on every street corner.

This thing that mothers have always done.

Mothers work for no pay. Reimbursement for services rendered is inconsequential. And we'll do it again tomorrow.

I can’t help but think this is work in its purest, most Edenic form, work that is an unadulterated expression of love and creativity, work free of monetary stain or manufacturing triteness.

If the world ever urgently needed a Christian model of work, work done without force, without manipulation or bartering for finances, isn’t a mother’s work that elusive ideal?

It leers at me on medical forms, government forms, that space labeled “Occupation.” Inky point of my Bic pen always hangs. What exactly is my occupation, this work that I do raising six children? Sadly, I imagine how I might be regarded if I scratch it out in block letters, “Housewife” or “Stay-at-Home-Mom.” Because our society flaunts the fallacy that the only valid work is that which brings in a paycheck, buys us niceties.

“The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to thinking about it instead in terms of the work done,” writes Dorothy Sayers, Oxford graduate and member of the informal group of writers that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

“To do so would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – the things we make and do for pleasure…. and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people.”

It’s true. We can hardly imagine how counter-culture it would be to make unpaid work, the work we do for love, like mothering and its bearing and feeding and giving and teaching and laughing and crying and caring for children, and made it the standard for our assessment of work.

Sayers explores the possibilities, “We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”;… of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?”

When that word “Occupation” sneers at a mother, we could ask Sayers’ incisive, true-north questions of work,

  • Is this good work?” (Could there be more meaningful work than co-laboring with God in the sculpting of souls?)

  • What is this work worth?” (Could this sacred undertaking be belittled with a mere number?)

  • “Does it exercise my faculties to the utmost?" (What could be more engaging than discovering the breadth and depth and wonder of the world with a child, painting and reading, building and exploring, learning and making, discovering how a soul and mind and human being unfurls into wholeness?)
Tonight the house will fall quiet. I will be exhausted by then.

There will be stacks of books on the couch, remnants of marvelously long reading sessions. I’ll gather up the balls of yarns from her knitting project, his crochet creation. I’ll scoop up the crayons and markers and scissors strewn about, pause and achingly smile over this funny man drawing, that crazy fish sketch. I’ll stand in the lamp light and listen to their long slow breaths rising and falling in the dark down the hall.

I’ll clean and I’ll listen. And all will settle into its place (I’ve come to accept that this house only calms into deep order during the sleeping hours. Come daylight, it whirls and swirls and dances with creativity and laughter and the happiness of a structured chaos all its own.) And I’ll know the exact rightness of this work, this occupation that stands apart as the model of what work was truly meant to be, this vocation set far above the grime and grip of an economic system.

In those hours of margin, I’ll have a sliver of time for leisure. I’ll take mine tapping keys, reading. Others might sew, knit, paint. But it’s not as though I simply plow through the day’s work in order to get to what I really want to do. But rather, the leisure projects of a mother’s fringe hours, or of anyone engaged in a Christian model of genuine work, these hobbies aren’t the desired end of our work or escape from it, but are simply a change in pace, a recharging rhythm, refreshing us to return with renewed passion and vigor to our ultimate callings, our purposeful work.

Because all work is sacred work, worthy of the diligence, the effort. I pick up lost legos, dry the pots, whish the toilets and this serves God. For if I can’t meet God in my work, where do I meet Him? If I don’t serve Him here, where do I serve Him? Are we not called to serve God in the work – not merely in some imagined, mirage place outside of work?

In a model of Christian work, we live one-piece lives, all weaving together into a sacred cloth as unto the Lord with no false seams between God and our days.

And in our work, sacred work because there is no such thing as secular work, we first serve God. I’ll put away the laundry, sweep the crumbs, polish the windows not to serve my family primarily, but to serve God. Because, “whenever man is made the centre of things, he becomes the storm center of trouble,” writes Dorothy Sayers. “The moment you think of serving people, you begin to have a notion that other people owe you something for your pains…. You will begin to bargain for reward, to angle for applause.”

Funny, sad, how that works. If I clean out the fridge as an act of service to my family, it’s true, an unconscious part of me thinks the least they can now do is try to keep it clean… or be appreciative. It’s not even an intentional thought on my part. But when I turn the work on its head, and work for God alone, serving Him as I scrub the gunk from the mudroom sink, tidy the pile of boots at the back door, the work returns to its purest state: God-Worship. Love. A song of Praise.

Tonight, I’ll finally linger at the last light switch. I’ll have worked today but no one will have paid me a cent. Real work rises above the necessity of mere money. Tonight, I'll have more than money. I’ll have a bouquet of words, mumbled words from around the table from mouths too full. Words He too will say at the end of time to the faithful servants. Like the words He said in the beginning, when He began His work, when He finished each task.

And I’ll look at an order-restored house, hear those heavy sleep breaths, and I too will say it. Because those words are the most meaningful reward for true, pure work, work that works like God does. I will look upon what has been made with this day, and enter into the apex of what God meant for good and true work... I'll turn out the light and whisper those reward words…

“It is all very good. So very good.”

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