1960 was not a great year to get divorced; especially if you didn’t have a job, couldn’t drive a car, and had four children to feed.
When my grandmother found herself facing this situation, she did what any member of the Greatest Generation would do: she flew into action.
Women working outside the home was still a relatively new concept in the early sixties. There were very few “working moms,” let alone “single parents,” and child-support laws wouldn’t exist for another fifteen years.
This did not deter Eileen Gay. Anyone raised during the Depression knew how to make ends meet. She was an expert in the arts of scrimping, saving, and salvaging whatever was on hand. But most importantly, she never stopped moving.
My mom and her three siblings were raised by one of the world’s first supermoms, blessed to be brought up in a family where the absence of one parent was fully compensated for by the industrious dedication of another.
Even in old age she refused to sit down. The only way to keep her seated was to find a job she could do from a chair. Folding laundry, sewing buttons, shucking corn. Work kept her active for ninety-eight years, and she had energy to burn right up until her dying day.
My own mother was cut from the same cloth. She will find a job whether one exists or not. I just took a weekend trip with my husband and came home to find that in addition to taking care of our son and the dog, my mother had scrubbed and painted every baseboard in the house.
Having been raised in a hive of incessant activity, I often find myself buzzing around like the busy bees I adore, even though the world demands very little of me. I only have one child, and I no longer work outside the home. So compared to these two, I’m sitting pretty.
I spent the better part of my life under the misconception that staying at home meant you had the luxury of “not having to work.” I now list my occupation as “homemaker” and know for a fact that I’m working ten times harder than I ever did in the office, and I was the doctor! I am now the housekeeper, groundskeeper, laundress, chef, chauffeur, nanny, tutor, and maid, but sometimes I still find myself wondering if this is really enough.
My husband gets up and goes to work every morning so that I can stay home, which leaves me feeling like a bit of a freeloader from time to time. I know the funds in our joint accounts are “ours” and the house belongs to “us,” but do they really? I don’t technically contribute to the 401K and I don’t actually pay the mortgage, so can I really claim equal partnership on the financial side of our marriage? (The short answer here is an emphatic “YES!”)
As a stay-home-mom, I feel I have to somehow justify my existence by getting things done. The value of non-monetary contributions can’t be calculated like a salary, so my strategy is to overcompensate by struggling to pack as many tasks and errands as possible into my day.
My tendency to remain in motion makes it very difficult for me to stop, even if it’s for a valid reason like eating a meal or taking a shower. I subconsciously fear that if I lose my momentum, I won’t manage to get everything done before the three-o’clock school pick-up, at which point all productivity comes to a screeching halt.
I often live my life according to Newton’s first law: an object in motion that remains in motion because an object at rest will remain at rest. And who has time for that?!
I certainly don’t. As a matter of fact, there are two loads of laundry on my bed right now that need to be folded and put away. There’s a light bulb that needs replaced in the living room, and the breakfast dishes are still in the sink.
There will always be something more for me to do unless I am actively forced to STOP MOVING. It takes intentional effort to divert myself from the endless tracks of housework and autopilot-errands, but doing so is essential to my physical, mental, and spiritual health.
When I discovered the Mother’s Prayer Companion, I finally began to understand the meaning of Psalm 46:10:
Be still and know that I am God.
When I actually took time to sit down and be still - intentionally praying for myself, my husband, and my son - my insignificant day-to-day flutter of activity was put on hold while I focused on the things that matter most in my life.
This began a subtle internal shift that has immeasurably enriched what I see as my day-to-day purpose. As a wife I am meant to do more than prepare meals. As a mother I am meant to do more than fold laundry. And as a woman I am meant to do more than raise a child.
The more I allow God to take control of my life, the more clearly I see my role in my family and in the world. I’m still striving to discern and fulfill what He has planned for me, but prayer has become more central to my daily routine.
When I began this process, there were times I felt guilty or impatient when faced with the idea of sitting down to pray for even a few minutes each day. Praying with a journal made the mental exercise seem slightly more “active,” so now I pray with a pen. I’m often surprised and delighted to find His words scrawled across the pages in my handwriting. If I ever get the urge to jump up and start vacuuming, I simply turn to the page where He wrote the following:
Mary Alice, these moments of sitting in prayer with me are some of the most productive moments of your life. Time spent sitting still in my presence is never wasted. It is fruitful in ways you may never see, but that does not negate its purpose or necessity.
Jesus is able to accomplish far more than we could ever hope or imagine, and all we have to do is stop the hurry-scurry of all our futile “doing” long enough to tap into His abundant resources. Being still in His presence is hard work for some of us, but the fruits of this labor are far more rewarding than those any paycheck could provide.
This Lent, join me in making a conscious effort to “fast” from the endless, and often needless, tasks that can drive our days, so that we might hollow out time and space to simply sit with God. This season of spiritual examination and preparation is the perfect time to slow down long enough to dwell in the beautiful simplicity of Psalm 46:10.
Be still and know that I am God.