“Why did you put your career on the shelf for a decade to focus on marriage, family, and ministry?”
With the instinct of a newshound, my editor unknowingly asks the one question that cuts to the very core of my identity. It threatens my sense of coherence and it has the power to send me into an emotional tailspin.
If I had the Creator’s omniscience, I would be able to see beyond the haze through which I now see. But through this present haze, I begin to sense that God had to deal with my issues now and my issues then.
My issues then
Fresh out of my B.A. in English Literature, everything had to be equal. If I did housework, then my husband Andrew had to do housework. If I did childcare, then Andrew had to do childcare. It was going to be split neatly down the middle. We were, after all, both full-time students. I detested cooking and perhaps was proud of the fact that I shunned domesticity. I vowed to always hire a maid. I always ate out.
I knew I was smarter than my new husband (book smart at least). He was a mediocre student at best and had no idea how to string together grammatical sentences. I deserved to be in the workforce just as much as he did, if not more. I was the academic golden girl. I had scored straight A’s in every single subject that I had taken throughout College. My only B appeared in my Science Fiction class — and that was because I didn’t actually show up for class the entire semester.
So back then, I was in control and happy to exert it on my husband. I think God tempered my love of achievement by giving me a “bundle of joy” whom I could not joyfully control.
The lack of sleep and physical toll of caring for an infant overwhelmed me. So I lay down the career and the academia, and to my surprise, God used the decade of child rearing to begin to tease out my deep-rooted addiction to control.
I began learning to enjoy the domestic arts — and to find solace and peace in performing humble, thankless jobs. Christ was a carpenter for His first 30 years. How, I reasoned, could following in His footsteps be demeaning or subjugating? Living almost completely out of the public sphere was surprisingly not the drudgery that I feared and detested. It was refreshing. I discovered the magic of solitude and of giving.
An article by Jennifer Senior in New York Magazine recently explored the idea that childless people are happier than parents. The writer has kids. At the end of the article, she admits that she has actually been playing the devil’s advocate this entire time — that all the research she has compiled, showing that parents are miserable, actually has one common underlying presupposition: that moment to moment happiness is more valuable than long-term happiness — or at least long term satisfaction (which might be a different thing altogether). If you delete that presupposition, you get different results.
She then quotes another body of research showing that in the long run, people who have kids are actually happier than people who don’t because children help you make meaning out of your life. So you might say, with Christian hermeneutic, in dying to yourself, you quickly discover the best version of yourself. Deep meaning comes on the tail of deep sacrifice. Senior aptly ends the piece by asserting, “The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.”
I vaguely remember new motherhood being so challenging that I had neither the willpower nor the desire to push through and conquer tasks in the home, let alone out of it. Domesticity and motherhood tamed my ego like nothing else could.
My decade on the shelf has been a discovery of the pleasures of giving. But God is pulling me back off the shelf again. Now as I step back into writing and into the workforce, He is gently stripping away some long ago buried fears.
Perfect love casts out fear, Scripture promises. I am afraid that the working world, the one that has been steadily marching forward as I have been learning the art of communion with Christ and the patience of giving my life to another, will want nothing to do with me. That world will say, you are worthless, outdated, irrelevant. Go away.
Another fear is boredom. I am, admittedly, just plain fickle. I start strong, and finish weak. I spout off ideas like a machine gun and continually throw myself feverishly into new hobbies. Who wants to be accountable for results? Who wants to answer to a boss? As Fight Club tells us, might the “nine-to-five” path be this generation’s slow descent into the abyss?
On a deeper level, beyond boredom, is truly a fear and sneaking suspicion that has haunted me throughout my two English degrees: that I am a fraud.
Off the shelf
Despite my natural ability to read, write, and analyze (for what else does an English major do?) my career in academia drained the life out of me and ran against the grain of what gave my life purpose and meaning — the redemptive narrative of Christianity. And it had no practical bent. I was always aware that while I sat comfortably in my ivory tower, people outside were hurting, people were dying, and I was just reading, analyzing and re-telling story. How trivial! I thought. What a waste! I hated the exchange of ideas simply for idea’s sake. I was and always will be hopelessly utilitarian.
But what if ideas can have impact beyond mere discussion? What if silence is not the right way to rebel against the trivial? What if there are stories that need to be told and retold, stories that need a voice, stories that need to take flight? Can I speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves? Can I be a voice for the voiceless?
God may be practical, but He is far from utilitarian. In patience and with grace, he has used the past decade to shed light on my fears, my brokenness, my hang-ups and my insecurities. He now whispers to me that it is time to expand my sphere of influence beyond the safety of my cherished twin domes: domesticity and church ministry. “I’m tuning your voice,” He says. “Pick up your pen. Open your mouth.” So I take the dusty book off the shelf of my consciousness and tentatively blow off the first whiff of dust.
Flickr photo (cc) by diepuppenstubensammlerin