To Women We Haven’t Thanked Enough
A Song for Forgotten Mothers
The pressure grows in our time to live a life worth taking pictures of. Special accomplishments and special moments — confirmed by scrolling spectators — threaten to become the business of life. This pressure tempts us to perform. The world is our stage; stand ready to pose and sleep in your makeup. Life away from the public eye is as unheard of as it is undesired. If we enjoy a simple walk in the forest — and no one else hears or sees — did it happen?
Of course, this pressure has not landed equally on the shoulders of all in our society. Satan loads more weight on the pillars of civilization when he strikes at the pillars of our households: our wives and mothers. We see this heartbreaking lie at work every time we hear valiant women reflect on their decades spent at home as if they never really lived. Eve, the mother of all living, is pressured to think she forfeited all that mattered by giving it to her children. What have I done with my life?
Now some women could ask the haunting question with due sobriety — what have they done with their lives? — but not these women.
These women built their homes and did not eat the bread of idleness. These women opened their mouths with wisdom and released the fragrance of kind teaching. These women dressed in strength and dignity and laughed at the times to come. These women produced industry in their homes, opened their hands to the poor, crowned their husbands with splendor, rose early in some seasons, retired late in others. These women, who sat year in and year out at their Master’s feet, far surpass Solomon’s riches. And yet these women reflected upon their lives, convinced they had done meagerly. Oh, for hands to strangle the devil and silence his forked tongue.
She Was Industry
In the case of these women, the lie mocks the very ones who are worthy of praise. God determines she is worth a planet’s weight in gold, while the enemy tells her she’s weightless. God instructs his sons to rise and praise her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29). Meanwhile, Satan asks what they each, in turn, had to show for themselves on all the wrong terms. And the question from his lips finds its place on theirs. This breaks the heart of all good men.
But have the good men been praising? Has Satan sunk our queens with whispers because the kings have forgotten to sing? When Adam ceased singing, the serpent found an opportunity to speak. These women too, musing upon what they feared to be a wasted life, may not have heard lyrics of excellence sung over them. And they should have. The choir of godly men should have gathered to drown out the secret fears of irrelevance.
And all the louder in our day — because the world sings a song of demerit to the full-time mother. Congratulations are liberal for the career man, and especially for the woman working outside the home, but not the wife and mother managing it. We proudly hear, “I am a contractor,” or a principal, or an artist, but we nervously break eye contact when a woman reports that she has been faithful at her post as wife, mother, and Christian. We blush for all the wrong reasons.
So there they sat. Now with grown-up children, life was not what it was before. What could they say to secret fears of triviality? They changed thousands of diapers? Cooked thousands of meals? Stood in grocery aisles for endless hours? Helped their child with countless assignments? Their days, many of them now passed, did not contain much that the world values. Their Instagrams weren’t followed by any but a few friends and family.
These women sat reckoning with the fact that not an insignificant amount of the fruit of their hands (and their wombs) had moved on. The harvest grew legs and walked away. The son left father and mother; the daughter, swept from her feet and from home. The assignments were complete. No more diapers to change. They stood in grocery lines with an inexplicable pain that fewer mouths remain to feed. Life lacked the same color as former days. And the gray hair of the righteous woman seemed less of a crown and more of a shame.
Chesterton Saw It
Her youth, now gone, was spent on others. And she retires with no awards for public service. The reason being that the world acclaims specialists, and the Christian mother is the supreme generalist. She is not the professional of one skill, but the vital proficient of many. She is omnicompetent, lauded by few but in many areas. How short would that poem in Proverbs 31 be if she was the specialist of today?
If she, as G.K. Chesterton mused, went down from the mountaintop with man into a trade and did not continue to “behold the horizon,” she undoubtedly would get applause, but would all be better? Her ability is the great ballast that complements man’s inabilities as a specialist. She, the great North Star, shines fixed in glory among the changing heavens. Historically, “Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad.” We’ve lost the romance of the generalist for the appeal of the specialist. A romance we need not apologize for.
I, with wiser sons and fathers around and before me, refuse to join the cultural sigh given to mothers and daughters who answer (and have the luxury to do so) the call to manage the very entity that builds and preserves all civilization: the home. We will not join the elegy. We will ennoble her and her household again — rescuing the latter from its ruins as a place of mere sleep and screens. In the meantime, we wonder aloud, for the feminists, and all others, to hear, as Chesterton did (more than a century ago),
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. (“The Emancipation of Domesticity” in What’s Wrong with the World)
The stay-at-home wife and mother does not work in obscurity, but in grandeur. And as she rounds the bend into the homestretch, she should never be left to wonder whether all required sweat, blood, and tears along the way made any difference. If anything is true, this is: it did.
Praise Her in Public
As a son to these women, and other women, who have spent their years in — and this abhorrently — thankless labor, may I speak? To you mothers in the faith who did not hear the song you so rightfully deserved and now question, “Was it all worth it?” To women tempted to look at the sacrificed career that stood within reach, laid down to build a home and console a crying baby (and so much more) in love and obedience to Christ: Yours is praise. Yours is thanks. Yours is honor. Yours is heaven.
The world, with all its cheap ribbons, overlooks you. Too many of us men have forgotten to sing. But one who watches above has not. His music does not fade. His smile only broadens. Do not despise the homestretch. Your wifehood and motherhood, conducted in the fear of the Lord, is the very opposite of a wasted life. Thank you for all you are and all you do. We men resolve to again learn to sing, to respond to our Father’s call more faithfully: “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:31).