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    A Mother’s Rule of Life {Post 3}

    November 22, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Why do we sometimes want to put off our duties? Why does culture send us the message that what we are doing is mundane and fit for dullards? Can we find holiness, beauty, sanctification, and reward in our calling?

    Pierlot thinks we can. Once, she found despair and chaos in her calling. Her world sounded, for lack of a better term, ugly. I’m sure there were bright spots–she loved her God and husband and children, after all. But she was crushed under the weight of her own lack of structure. That is what the Rule is all about, right? Bringing structure to the day, that the vocation might be lived out.

    I found the post Idealized Domesticity to be a conundrum. On the theological level, I understand the concern. One of the big differences between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants believe there are only two sacraments {baptism and communion} while Catholics believe there are…well, more. I forgot to ask my tutor how many there are.

    But I don’t see how that keeps a Protestant wife and mother from viewing her calling as a vocation and learning to love what she does, even when a lot of it is routine. I actually think that the Idealized Domesticity post has much in common with A Mother’s Rule of Life in a lot of ways, but this paragraph got to me:

    This new mommy literature ignores the fact that all of the toil and repetition and weariness and hurry that come with stay-at-home motherhood are normal. Getting out of bed early, changing a diaper, getting breakfast on the table and packing a lunch for your husband, day in and day out, is not sacramental. It’s not even ritual. It’s routine. It’s normal. If you look at the women in the Bible and church history who model godly womanhood, you will see that they did not see anything unusually holy or earth-changing in their humble service. In fact, hard work, multi-tasking, child-bearing in difficult circumstances, loneliness, giving while financially tight, slow spiritual growth, weariness, helping a busy husband, practicing inconvenient hospitality, while doing daily devotions and attending weekly prayer meetings and Lord’s Day worship (with the occasional date night) is all very normal for the Christian woman. There is nothing extraordinary in giving up a career to stay at home and educate your children; it should be normal. The Bible shows that ease and comfort are generally attributes of unbelievers’ lives. Self-sacrifice is normal for the believer. Our Saviour lived an earthly life of poverty and suffering—we mothers should expect a life of much difficult work for the Kingdom and pray for grace to do it cheerfully and quietly.

     I contrast this with one of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quotes on motherhood:

    But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean.

    Being a wife and mother may be normal, yes, but it is also a calling–a vocation. And just like any calling, it is imperative that it be lived out as fully as possible. I cannot help but think that, in the Garden, Adam and Eve took great joy in their vocation as Tenders of the Garden–that they gloried in the work God had given them. When Adam picked an apple or dug a hole or whatever he needed to do, it is true that this was all very normal. But as his life was a gift, I am sure he was able to find great joy in it.

    I think that one of the secrets of taking joy is knowing that the circumstance is a gift of God. My concern with the paragraph was that it seemed to preclude any sort of poetic understanding of life. Just because something is normal doesn’t mean it isn’t special or precious or important. Every single day a million glorious things happen because our God is glorious. We can learn to see the beauty in each day.

    And in Pierlot’s mind, finding the beauty in the day must start with order, because chaos is ugly and stressful and overwhelming.

    I am still learning not to avoid the tasks I find distasteful. They are becoming more habitual over time, but except for mopping {I adore my mop}, I just do them. I can’t say that I fight it as much as I used to, but I also can’t say that I’m about to start a homemaking blog.

    I have two thoughts on this.

    First, whenever something is good and true and beautiful, and yet I find it distasteful, the problem lies with me. I have said this many times in relation to education, but it goes for all areas of life, does it not? God created motherhood and wifehood, and He Himself defined {and designed} many of its tasks. We know that all of God’s creation is good. Therefore, when I don’t like something He made, it is really because I am fallen. In that moment when I find myself out of agreement with Him, I have identified an area of my heart that is lacking–I am in need of something like repentance.

    My other thought {or, rather, set of connected thoughts} comes courtesy of Andrew Pudewa’s 2011 CiRCE talk called Reflections on Redeeming Repetition. Here is a quick rundown of some ideas from his talk that I think can also be applied to our situation as homemakers and home educators:

    • Repetition is required for mastery, but it appears to be uncreative.
    • There is a saying in Japanese {Pudewa used to live in Japan}: “Ten thousand times, then begins understanding.” We have no English equivalent.
    • Extraordinary skill requires an extraordinary capacity for repetition in order to finally break past the mundane.
    • “The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.”
    The context for these quotes was education. Most of them dealt with musical education {specifically the Suzuki music training method}, but they were then applied to various topics, such as memory work.
    But let’s see if we can apply this to our jobs. There are a million repetitive aspects of what we do. Repetition can be said to be the nature of what we do. We do dishes. And then we do them again. And again. Same with laundry. Changing diapers {I changed diapers for over nine years straight}. Giving reading lessons. Scolding three-year-olds. Wiping noses. Making meals. Finding lost socks. Cleaning up. Whatever comes to mind.
    I find it interesting that the Japanese believe that it is repetition which gives insight. Maybe that is why we are drawn to experienced moms, and why Titus is commanded to have the older women teach the younger. It is through years of repetition that they have gained understanding, right?
    Moreover, this idea of a progression from hard, to habit, to easy, to beautiful is intriguing. As you know, Charlotte Mason was very firm in her mind when it came to habit. We must, she said, train our children in good habits. She herself said that in doing this, we take what is hard and make it easy for them. It was “laying down the rails,” that they might run easily along the lines when they were grown. This was a help to them.
    We all have areas of our lives where we are stuck on “hard.” We make momentary efforts at habits, but we never push past far enough to get to easy.
    To say nothing of beautiful.
    And we are baffled when people say that homemaking can be beautiful, or when they find beauty in the ordinary.
    Maybe, just maybe, it is because beauty is the reward we find at the end of the progression.
    I can’t say I learned to love my mop out of habit-training myself. That, my friends, was a gift of grace from God Almighty, for I hated cleaning my floors until recently. But I think I’ll find a lot more beauty on the other side of habit, and so I’m working with a will to conquer, a little bit at a time.
    Being a wife and mother is perfectly normal, yes. Laying down our lives, in a way that no one ever notices {as in The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, I might add}, should be a usual course of events, it is true. But let us not forget that goodness and truth are beautiful, that real womanly beauty is found in living our lives unto the Lord–meaning living out the vocation that He Himself called us to. And I don’t think we need to fear having an Edenic moment or two, when everything comes together just right, or when suddenly we see truth for what it is.

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    5 Comments

  • Reply Kansas Mom November 29, 2011 at 5:36 am

    This came to mind again yesterday and I blogged about it tonight: Our Home on the Range: Book Discussion: Chapter 8 in One Thousand Gifts

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 28, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Mystie, I think we cannot overemphasize the importance of prayer and grace in these things. Even though I am trying to “push past the hard” in my own life, many of “my” successes are actually graces–God gave me a leap. I, my friend, will pray for *you*. 🙂

    Sara, You are always so kind. Thank you.

    KM, Thank you for the clarification on sacraments! Seven is a perfect number, so they say…

    You make such a good point about vocation, and sometimes I wonder if we didn’t get away from motherhood in our culture as a direct result of dispensing with the idea of vocation and settling for “jobs” instead…

  • Reply Kansas Mom November 24, 2011 at 3:21 am

    For those that are curious, there are seven sacraments for Catholics: Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders (priesthood) and Anointing of the Sick.

    Catholics do have a rich tradition from which to draw a sense of the small as vocation. St. Teresa of Lisieux comes to mind – believing she could never do anything great to become a saint, she determined to follow her “Little Way,” finding small things she could do every day, all day, for the glory of God. St. Martin de Porres is another. He refused even to become a monk or priest, convinced he was only worthy to serve them. So he was a lay brother at the monastery and responded to every request with instant and cheerful obedience (though he sometimes found a way to be both obedient and follow his own desire).

    It’s hard for me to imagine being a mother without the concept of this vocation. If all I did was wash dishes and change diapers (going on eight years myself) and clean the bathroom…well, I could easily fall into despair that it was worth anything, that it would change anything. But I know my Lord has placed me here to do exactly this and every time I choose to do one of my “chores” instead of following my own will, I am serving Him, not just my children.

    Not that I’m a particularly good housekeeper. Brandy, bring your mop over here anytime you like. I hate mopping more than just about anything else. In fact, Kansas Dad mopped for me tonight. 🙂

  • Reply sara November 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Brandy, I just want you to know that I have nothing intelligent to add right now, but I appreciate this series – and you for doing it.

  • Reply Mystie November 22, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    “We all have areas of our lives where we are stuck on “hard.” We make momentary efforts at habits, but we never push past far enough to get to easy.”

    And sometimes I don’t see where I have pushed past the hard; all I see is the hard, the momentary efforts, and the seeming endless cycle of boom and bust that doesn’t resolve.

    The Keeping House assigned reading for this week applies to this topic, as well.

    There does have to be significance in the repetitious nature of not only housework and daily life, but of the world (as another famous Chesterton quote points out). I can get glimpses, but I can’t yet pin it down and tackle it and own it.

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