Monday, April 22, 2013
An Incredibly Important Job
The butterfly is a strange creature. She starts off in an egg, eats through the egg, then emerges as a caterpillar smaller than the head of a pin. For weeks, she does nothing but devour leaves, and then hangs upside-down in complete rest, without movement, for two weeks after turning into a cocoon (I know, it's actually a chrysalis, but cocoon works better with my metaphor, so just let it go). Then she emerges as butterfly with tiny wings until fluid is pumped into them, causing them to grow and their colors to become striking. She spends her life as a butterfly flittering from flower to flower drinking nectar and then she lays her eggs, starting the process over.
For several years after my wife stopped taking care of other people's kids at school and started taking care of our own kids at home, she dealt with an internal struggle. "Am I doing enough?"
I, on the other hand, had a job that seemed important—the kind of job Tom Cruise and John Travolta make look very exciting—so she felt, at least somewhat, under-important.
There certainly is a temptation for stay-at-home moms, domestic engineers, and CEOs of singular family enterprises, to feel like their jobs are unfulfilling and not worthwhile. They feel like a butterfly whose life cycle is going in reverse. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A few years ago, I re-read a portion of The Life You've Always Wanted, by John Ortberg. In it, he says something that has never left me. He responded to a young mom who made it clear that she thought reading the Bible and praying were the only two activities that mattered spiritually.
"In this the church had failed her. She had never been taught to see that caring for two young children, offered daily with expressions of gratitude and prayers for help and patient acceptance of trials, might become a kind of school for transformation into powerful servanthood beyond anything she had ever known. Somehow having a "quiet time" countedtoward spiritual devotion and caring for two children did not."
I think this syndrome is all-too-common among young moms. "I'm not doing enough. I used to spend so much time in the Word. Did I even take a shower today? I am a failure. I don't have time to think. I'm a bad wife. I used to be somebody. I'd give anything to crawl into a cocoon for a couple of weeks."
Listen, I've met those families where the kids do exactly as their parents ask them, the first time, every time; they eat every meal on a mid-century modern table, filled with fresh vegetables from their organic garden and eggs from free-range chickens roaming in their own backyard, and have boundless energy to spend 3 hours in prayer and 2 hours reading the Bible. Dad mows the lawn every day after sitting behind his gigantic mahogany desk, reading leather-bound editions of Euclid, and smoking a tobacco-less pipe (so as not to subject anyone to second-hand smoke). The kids get up, wash themselves, change their own diapers, brush their teeth for 60 seconds, away from the gums, and then run outside to pick up after the dog.
Oh wait, I haven't met them because they don't exist.
Your Facebook friends and those blogs you read, those people are lying. Okay, that's a strong word. They probably aren't lying intentionally, but they typically put their best feet forward. Your friends who appear to have it all together are struggling, too. They get tired. They mess up. They feed their kids (gasp!) McDonald's (the pious ones choose Chick-fil-A) when the food is gone, and they are just too exhausted to boil water for spaghetti.
Sometimes, God gives you the grace to do it all. You'll have it together, you'll look good, you'll feel good, you'll wake up before the kids, you'll read your Bible, and the kids will be well-behaved. Other times, His grace is sufficient to help you not wallop your 11 year-old across the head when he pushes your buttons. And the sheer act of not screaming out or responding negatively is itself an act of God.
The next time you are feeling inadequate, or you're missing how important you think you used to be, remember this: Those kids you are raising will someday be raising kids of their own. They will remember how you loved them, how you bandaged their knees, how you held them, and how you didn't smack them when they deserved it. They'll remember you saying, "Lord, help!" And they will do the same with their children.
After I leave my job, no one will remember the incredible legal advice I gave to the Real Estate department on how to deal with a property owner that saved the City some money. But, I know my kids will remember when their mom decided not to buy an Easter dress so that she could, instead, buy stupid caterpillars so that the kids could watch them turn into butterflies (that look suspiciously like moths) in our kitchen.
Mama, you are a butterfly! The time you spent before you had kids devouring the Word and then taking weeks at a time to rest was amazing! But you now have to fly around looking for food and take care of your kids. Embrace your beauty, your crazy, busy life, and love God in the midst of it.