I don’t mean to brag, but I’m not a bad housewife. It wasn’t always that way. My career as a domestic administrator began years ago when Lisa was due to begin her medical residency. In those days, a physician-in-training would often take in house (i.e. staying at the hospital) call every fourth night. On one of these nights, a resident would consider herself lucky to get three hours of sleep. After working this thirty-six hour shift, Lisa would come home and flop into bed. The next morning, she would wake up, drink stout coffee, and begin her usual ten-hour workday at the hospital. Three days later, she would repeat this cycle by taking another turn on call.
At the time, our oldest daughter, Annalise, was three years old, and John Harry, our second born, was a roly-poly nine-month old. The expense of daycare, and the things that I had learned in graduate school about attachment theory led us to the conclusion that I should prune back my career to get these little humans off to a good start.
The next thing you know, I had traded in my briefcase for a backpack. At our library’s story hour, in swimming classes, at the playground, and at the dreaded crafts table, I was the lone male bobbing conspicuously in a sea of estrogen. Having lived the life of a housewife with small children has convinced me, that in purgatory, they are constantly doing children’s crafts.
I have worked at many jobs in my life. I was a grounds keeper at the Illinois State Capitol. I drove a coffee delivery truck. I sold women’s shoes, men’s shoes, boy’s shoes, and girl’s shoes. I have bagged groceries, and flipped hamburgers. I provided maintenance for a hotel and a grade school. I have landscaped, mowed lawns, pumped gas, and waited tables. I have counseled drug addicted, law-breaking adolescents. I have managed volunteers, and employees. I have constructed and directed retreats, and trainings in many places. I was a door-to-door evangelizer for one summer. I have counseled, thousands of people by now. By a country mile, the hardest job description for me to fulfill was my job of being a housewife.
It wasn’t the mastery of the eclectic array of skills that I found especially difficult. It was the day-in-day-out lack of measurable productivity that I found demoralizing. Many days I remember looking around a disheveled house and asking myself, “What did I do all day?” I remembered a wise old spiritual director who once told me that until a person reaches the age of fifty, he or she should probably steer clear of providing spiritual direction. He believed that until a spiritual director had reached the threshold of fifty years, the youthful needs for measurability and productivity would rob the director of the necessary patience it takes to appreciate the quiet and subtle movements of God’s grace in a client, or protégée. I’m over fifty now. Yet I still find that I’m waiting for the compulsion toward measurability to recede. Some temptations are more tenacious than others.
The Gospel selection for the First Sunday of Lent told the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Mt 4: 1-11). In this account, Satan kept asking the Lord to provide measurable demonstrations of his power. Jesus resisted these temptations to measure out His kingdom by the yardsticks of this world. Rather, he remained in the desert in immeasurable intimacy with His Father.
In my career as a housewife, I have found it difficult to imitate the Master in this regard. My temptation has been to give myself over to what is measurable, while forsaking the important work, which is not. I have discovered that it is easy to obsess over keeping the house clean, and the meals flashy. A clean bathroom or kitchen can be measured. When people bite into one of my culinary creations they say complimentary things. But the really important work has little to do with productivity. Wasting time with a child, or with my wife is not productive in any measurable way. But for a Christian husband and father, there is nothing more important than setting aside my agenda and hanging out with my kids or wife.
Here at the outset of Lent, could you consider choosing a spiritual exercise that is in keeping with this Sunday’s Gospel? Could you set aside a screen-free, half-an-hour a week to hang out with each of your kids? Let them set the agenda and the pace. Could your Lenten discipline involve carving out time for screen-free conversation with your spouse? Let your motto be, “Less to be understood than to understand.” Can you select something that helps you to wrestle with the notion that a clean room, or a fat bank account are not pre-requisites for God’s love? Can you enter into this season with a firm resolve to waste time with a God who is like a really good mom or dad who doesn’t care if things are a little out of place? Will you allow yourself to embrace the truly shocking notion that God’s love for you is immeasurable?