My daughter recently referred me to an interesting blog which she had read, entitled ‘Why are the Women Fading?’.
Written by Rebekah Lyons, the article is about what the author sees as the plight of many women today, who find that they have lost their identity. ‘These women are brightly shining stars fading away behind the shadow of everyone they care for. They are a little worse for wear. Their light is dimmer than it used to be, unable to dream beyond their current reality. So they medicate, and numb out.’
As a parenthesis, I want to say that I think a glaring omission in the article is that it does not seem to recognise that there are many women who find their fulfilment in motherhood, who are satisfied with that role and are simply not living in the misery of which the author speaks. Motherhood is one of the highest roles any woman can have. To be given the priceless gift of a child and to be entrusted with the privilege of shaping that child into the person he or she will become, is surely second to no other task.
Elisabeth Elliot has encouraged women for years and here is what she writes about motherhood: A mother’s part in sustaining the life of her children and making it pleasant and comfortable is no triviality. It calls for self-sacrifice and humility, but it is the route, as was the humiliation of Jesus, to glory.
Nevertheless, I believe it is true that there are many other women who have lost themselves and their identity in the all-consuming responsibility that is motherhood. Rebekah Lyons divides them into two groups of women: those who ‘uncover their talents and life purpose before they have kids and then shelve it while raising them’ and those who ‘never identify their life purpose before having children’.
The writer goes on to ask:
Can we imagine a mother chasing the dreams that stir her heart and simultaneously raise her children?
What if husbands saw it as their responsibility to cultivate the unique gifting in the lives of their wives?
How could our communities of faith support this type of lifestyle?
These are searching questions and ones which many women ponder – perhaps in the middle of the night as they lie awake and wonder where their lives are going. I am privileged to be taking a Marriage Counseling course at the moment with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. My tutor, Winston Smith, says: A husband’s love must be constructive. “. . . to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word . . .” (Ephesians 5:26) …To see your wife grow in wisdom and develop in her gifts.
A common thread runs through these excerpts. Rebekah Lyons is asking
What if husbands saw it as their responsibility to cultivate the unique gifting in the lives of their wives? while Winston Smith is suggesting that
part of a husband’s love is demonstrated in helping his wife grow in wisdom and develop in her gifts.
While we can’t lay all the responsibility for our personal growth on our husbands – and we cannot lay on them all the blame for our lack of it – nevertheless I do believe they have a key role to play on whether or not we manage to juggle the balls of motherhood and our own personal growth. That is, as Winston points out, biblical – it is part of a man’s love for his wife that he sees to it that she has the chance to grow and develop to her God-given potential.
Winston gives the example of his wife pursuing her profession as a physiotherapist. He has encouraged her in that because together they decided that for her to do that was not only good for her own development, but also good for the kingdom – she sees it as a way to love others and show them the love of Christ – so the world is a better place because she does that.
That means that Winston makes certain sacrifices in order for that to happen – eg occasionally cooking dinner, taking care of the kids etc – but he sees that as part of his role in loving his wife as he is biblically called to do.
For my own part, I think, in common with most other women, I have struggled with keeping all the balls in the air most of my life. Sometimes I manage better than others. Sometimes I have failed miserably and have felt in turn (a) miserable because I have somehow lost a sense of who I am and (b) guilty because I have let a ball drop.
But I don’t think I have ever given up on the dream of keeping all the balls in the air and of maintaining my own personal growth alongside motherhood and my other responsibilities. Being a pastor’s wife for 21 years has allowed me opportunities to do that – there were always opportunities to use my gifts in pastoral care and counselling as time allowed. And I have also been able to grab hold of opportunities to continue to learn, as I am doing now through CCEF. I am thankful that my husband has encouraged me to develop in these ways and has also made it possible for me to do so.
I love this story:
One day, an old professor of the School of Public Management in France, was invited to lecture on the topic of “Efficient Time Management” in front of a group of 15 executive managers representing the largest, most successful companies in America. The lecture was one in a series of 5 lectures conducted in one day, and the old professor was given 1 hr to lecture.
Standing in front of this group of elite managers, who were willing to write down every word that would come out of the famous professor’s mouth, the professor slowly met eyes with each manager, one by one, and finally said, “we are going to conduct an experiment”.
From under the table that stood between the professor and the listeners, the professor pulled out a big glass jar and gently placed it in front of him. Next, he pulled out from under the table a bag of stones, each the size of a tennis ball, and placed the stones one by one in the jar. He did so until there was no room to add another stone in the jar. Lifting his gaze to the managers, the professor asked, “Is the jar full?” The managers replied, “Yes”.
The professor paused for a moment, and replied, “Really?”
Once again, he reached under the table and pulled out a bag full of pebbles. Carefully, the professor poured the pebbles in and slightly rattled the jar, allowing the pebbles to slip through the larger stones, until they settled at the bottom. Again, the professor lifted his gaze to his audience and asked, “Is the jar full?”
At this point, the managers began to understand his intentions. One replied, “apparently not!”
“Correct”, replied the old professor, now pulling out a bag of sand from under the table. Cautiously, the professor poured the sand into the jar. The sand filled up the spaces between the stones and the pebbles.
Yet again, the professor asked, “Is the jar full?”
Without hesitation, the entire group of students replied in unison, “NO!”
“Correct”, replied the professor. And as was expected by the students, the professor reached for the pitcher of water that was on the table, and poured water in the jar until it was absolutely full. The professor now lifted his gaze once again and asked, “What great truth can we surmise from this experiment?”
With his thoughts on the lecture topic, one manager quickly replied, “We learn that as full as our schedules may appear, if we only increase our effort, it is always possible to add more meetings and tasks.”
“No”, replied the professor. The great truth that we can conclude from this experiment is:
If we don’t put all the larger stones in the jar first, we will never be able to fit all of them later.
The auditorium fell silent, as every manager processed the significance of the professor’s words in their entirety.
What are the large stones in your life? Make sure you put them in first. For me, it is clear that God has given me certain tasks that no one else can do: He has given me a husband and 2 children. They are large stones in my life – I want to make sure they are first in the jar of my life. Depending on the stage of motherhood at any given time, my children will require greater or lesser time and energy. At this point in my life, my two girls are adults living away from home. They obviously require a lot less of my time and energy than they did when they were toddlers. So I am able to give more time and energy to my recently-widowed father. And I have been able to pick up my studies with CCEF again, as well as work part-time.
There are seasons in all of our lives. Juggling all the balls in the air requires constant attention – to keep them in the air but also to determine what the balls are as the seasons unfold. And sometimes it’s really OK to let one drop – even if you don’t pick up another. Or to go back to the metaphor of the stones – make sure you put the large stones in the jar first.