“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career”.
This quotation, attributed to C.S. Lewis, has popped up on my Facebook feed again. I can’t detect if this was actually written by Lewis but it connects clearly to this quotation from a letter he sent to a Mrs Johnson in 1955:
“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, mines, cars, government et cetera 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 endeavour’. (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.”
― The Collected Letters of C.S Lewis, Volume III, 581-582
There’s a debate to be had about whether being a housewife / homemaker / stay at home mum is actually a realistic option for many women today, even if they would prefer it. Financial pressures, absent fathers and technological advances mean that more women can (or need to) work from home, combine parenthood with part-time work (or more) or at least spend less time cooking and cleaning than would have been required in the 1950s. I am grateful for the changes in society which mean that more women can be successful in a wider range of careers than might have been thought possible in 1955, but even then, as an unmarried woman I think there would have been some expectation on me to work outside the home unless my family were extremely wealthy.
I am sure Lewis was seeking to encourage Mrs Johnson and I think the kind of recognition he gives for the work she does strikes a chord with many mums who are sharing and blogging about the quotation. While I can’t fully grasp the day to day struggles and joys of raising a family at home I certainly have a lot of respect for those whose lives revolve around their children, even if I find their Facebook updates wearying at times. I have to acknowledge that the reality must be much more wearying, even though I hope that the good times make up for the hard times, eventually at least. I have many good friends who might call themselves homemakers and I want them to feel valued and affirmed and strengthened with everything they need.
But some people don’t even have a home. Some people live in a house that doesn’t feel like home. However godly it may be to care for and support your family, Jesus actually said that he didn’t have a place to lay his head and went on to stress how following him may mean sacrificing some things normally expected of a family member. Jesus’ ideas of who were his mother, sisters and brothers went a lot further than just a cosy nuclear family.
Taking a wider definition of being a homemaker, perhaps we could be valuing anyone who offers hospitality to others; anyone who seeks to encourage a lonely person or who works to provide for those in need. Some important organisations in the fields of homeless support, providing sanctuary for refugees, housing charities or even building projects could be seen as literally making homes for people. Maybe like The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, we need to leave the comforts of our own homes at times to help others who have no home find justice. Perhaps some of the home improvements we desire but don’t need could actually fund more basic shelter or furniture for someone else. Lots of people are dreaming of a place called home.
I’ve tried to explain before how I don’t see my own career as existing to support someone else’s home-making. I think it’s important that those without children or who are single can be fulfilled and valued in their careers and life choices as well as those who consider themselves homemakers. I guess historically society valued more impressive careers more highly, hence the need for Lewis’s comments above. Maybe as a lecturer with a PhD I already have the validation that some people who are less happy at home would envy. While I don’t want to brag about my achievements, I could say that I do find some comfort in having something concrete to show for my life. Even though I’m not married with children, I tell myself, at least I have that. But hang on a minute.
I don’t actually believe that my worth as a human being is dependent on my career or my achievements or my children or my homemaking. And I don’t believe that my purpose in life is to have a comfortable home or even a happy family. Looking back at where Lewis quotes Dr Johnson, he alludes to our “own real Home hereafter”. If I believe I am a child of God, there is my worth, and my purpose in life is to love Him and build His Kingdom. Jesus said:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
One day we can share our heavenly Father’s home. If this world or our current life circumstances don’t feel very homely, we have a hope that there is a place where we will find eternal peace, joy and security. I suppose in one way, we’re on earth to invite others to enter this home as well, so we can be seen to have the job of supporting our heavenly Father’s home-making. Yes, we have responsibilities to our families and children, and at times these can seem all-consuming. But part of the task of parenting children is to show them how to care for others and look beyond our immediate surroundings to see God’s purposes in our lives. There are a lot of people dreaming of a place called home. We have a big family. We have a big God. Neither can be contained in a bungalow or a hobbit-hole.