Long live the heart

It has been a long freaking time since I’ve written anything in this series.

I promised myself when I started Women and Work that I wouldn’t let that buzzing little fly called muse dictate when I did or did not produce anything. In that respect, I’ve upheld my promise to myself—my delay isn’t because of lack of muse. What held me back, I think, was that there’s a greater part of me that was honestly just scared. I’m about to write about motherhood, for goodness’ sake. That, of anything I’m covering in my alt-feminism series, is a topic I know almost nothing about.

It seemed like a strange place to start, since I haven’t talked about marriage yet. And I say that not to kill time, but because most of my readership is Christian women, and most Christian womanhood books are written to mimic the woman’s life cycle. You know how it goes: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. But I started with work. Mentorship, success. I started from the standpoint of the young Christian single. I was married by that point, but in my mind, I don’t think I was yet.

Because the thing that trips a lot of Christian women up when they’re staring marriage in the face is this concept of submission, which is the wilful putting aside of yourself and your agenda in loving devotion to your husband, as he devotes himself to you and leads you by God’s design.

At the root of submission, then, is not weakness, but humility.

I spent the summer after I was married, before the move to North Carolina, being mentored and spending lots of time in the home of a mother of two beautiful adopted Korean boys. Before that, I was struck to realize that my only prior experience and understanding of motherhood was what I found in my own upbringing. It’s like trying to understand a book when you’ve only read the back cover. What became clear to me is that I can’t think of anything more humbling than looking at a child, a child who is yours whether by birth or choice, and realizing that it’s on you to raise this little human in the image of Christ.

My original intent for this entry was to write about some of the challenges women who choose to be mothers face in the context of work. And I will, but first I have to say something. My respect for mothers multiplied exponentially this summer when I realized that it is in a child that the problem of sin in the human race is laid out so cleanly. Especially before children have the cognitive capacity to lie, two things are so clear: one, that God designed human beings in His image, to be capable of the greatest, purest good, and also, that the sin nature takes hold from the very beginning, distorting that design so the person becomes selfish and self-seeking.

In the Christian community, women who choose to be mothers take on incredible responsibility. Beyond the “second shift” equal-pay feminists often talk about (which is totally true, but beside the point here), Christian mothers are in many ways “triply surrendered” when it comes to their own will. First, there is the surrender to God that accompanies any genuine conversion; submission to the husband would be the second. Both of those leave open a lot of time for her to “pursue herself,” meaning to cultivate her interests, whether they be spiritual, work-based, hobbies, or anything else. With a child, though, comes an incredibly comprehensive surrender of one’s own life to look after the little person one’s been entrusted with. That, more than any purported responsibility that is levied on Christian women by the church, is a challenge that will test her for everything.

Obviously, this picture is little more than an outline. Neglect, abuse, what have you are all very real things, as are Christian mothers who are not called to full-time parenting. I honestly don’t know whether or not I’m in the minority on this issue in the Christian community or not with my stance that working motherhood is totally acceptable, and I don’t particularly care. That’s not the issue. What may be more at point, here, is that women can be called both ways, and I’ve checked: there is no Biblical evidence suggesting that either is wrong.

The challenge I see that is particular to mothers is the many directions in which their time is contested. Fathers face the same challenge, especially the commendable kind that devote themselves to their families, but fathers also don’t breastfeed their children. This, to me, is where the so-called “different wiring” of the female thought processes has particular salience. In most cases I’ve seen, the natural sorting goes such that the mother does more direct caring for the child. And again, it’s not a question of “rightness,” but it’s a pattern—maybe it’s a cultural thing.

But that makes me want to say something else. I started this series when I had an epiphany over the summer that women who are not inclined to the “traditional” path of marriage and motherhood had a harder time finding mentors in the church than those who are. That remains true. Another thing that happened, though, is I did a detailed study of 2 Timothy. Without rabbit trailing too much into the particulars of what he meant, Paul describes himself in the opening chapter as Timothy’s spiritual father. The parallel is obvious, here: there’s more than one type of motherhood.

It’s possible for one’s own parents to be one’s spiritual parents as well. Paul describes Timothy’s mother and grandmother that way. But sometimes that isn’t the case. Sometimes the most formative spiritual time in someone’s life is when they’re mentored by someone else. I don’t completely understand the concept of spiritual parenting, but I do know Paul pretty adamantly insisted that he was the only spiritual father Timothy had. He could learn from others (and he did—he learned from his mother and grandmother), but that mentor figure, the one that really took time and invested in him, would stick out as his main example of spiritual manhood. This concept, then, is reflected in the Christian practice of discipleship, a practice to which every Christian is, I believe, called to (both roles) at some point in their life.

Perhaps this isn’t the most satisfying return to my series, but I digress. I may do a piece later on about working motherhood specifically, but the next instalment in this series is going to tackle a subject I’m a little more comfortable with. 🙂 Also, we’re moving past four parts to this series…right now I’m thinking at least five or six. They’ll probably be intermixed with other things, but that’s what tags are for.

Also, if you have any ideas, prompts, requests, or things to say, please leave a comment!

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