A few years ago, I used a precious vacation day from a job that I hated and braved 9 hours of driving in winter weather to visit my friend E, who was temporarily staying in someone else’s home. Due to some extenuating circumstances and another person’s irresponsibility, she had been abandoned and misplaced, and because that situation was out of our control, we went to work doing what we could: making the best of her makeshift location. Seizing the day (and night, until 3:00 am), we sewed curtains, upholstered the seat of an old dining room chair for her desk, coordinated her files, and sent more than half her clothes to a thrift store so she could survive with minimal closet space. I look back on that weekend as some of the most purpose-filled times of my life. One of my dearest friends experienced unfairness and betrayal on a level I could barely fathom, and I got to coach her into making that little room a bit more of a refuge from the very real hardships I couldn’t take away.
As the weekend came to a close, I dreaded the thought of returning. Starting that Monday, some personnel changes meant my job would go from very difficult to I-don’t-know-how-I’m-going-to-make-it-difficult. So with that impending doom in mind, it was most crazy to me when one of E’s friends asked me how I liked being a housewife. Seriously? I am gone 10 hours a day, plus every other Saturday, to work at mind-numbing tasks in an office devoid of any kindness whatsoever. I mumbled something about how I was far from a homemaker, and this woman exclaimed, “Abby, you live somewhere and are married. That’s all you need. You are a housewife! Everyone is a homemaker; some people just juggle a little more than others. What is domestic is primary and everything else supports that.” It was the encouragement I needed to actually get in the car and come back instead of hiding away with E forever, which I definitely thought about doing on multiple occasions.
Now that I’m basically thrilled to death with my job(s), it’s easy to lose sight of how homemaking fits into life. But those piano lessons and co-op classes exist for a dual purpose: to enrich the lives of students and support my home. I know that when I focus more on the home-supporting, which does happen with some students, I become a crummy teacher. And sometimes I focus on student-enriching to the detriment of my own home, when I bend rules on lesson times or handle stressful parental interactions during my off-hours. So with that in mind, I am thankful for this “Spring Break” and the chance to devote some extra time to this housewife endeavor, which is going to be an ongoing project for my whole life independent of any income-earning or child rearing that might also be part of my vocation.
Don’t think for a moment that this housewife business is really about decorating or crafts, or home ownership or marriage or even being a woman. Plenty of great people don’t or can’t fit into those roles. And homemaking is not something that happens as a “lesser” career, or in subordination to a job. Instead, I think making a home is about cultivating your surroundings to act as a mini-church. It is in the home that we fellowship and eat, our sins are laid bare, we forgive and reconcile, we live out our daily acts of worship, and in the best cases it is where we are most comfortable being the people God created us to be. For Christians, this is exactly how we can begin with the end in mind. And so gospel-centered homemaking is, as C.S. Lewis says, casting a shadow of the Christian’s future heavenly home:
“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)