There’s no doubt about it, my mother has the gift of hospitality. Enter her house nearly any time of day and you’ll be greeted by the warm smell of something delicious being whipped up in her kitchen, as if she were just hoping someone might stop by. Her house is always immaculate and inviting, neatly decorated and comfortable, and she converses easily with everyone she meets. She just seems to know intuitively how to make people feel welcome.
But I did not inherit my mother’s gifts; most of my talents are from my Dad. I am a thinker, an introvert, and I do not have an aesthetic bone in my body. So imagine the shock I experienced when I decided to stay home and care for my firstborn son. I knew, because of the wonderful care my mother had given our family, how important it was for me to take on this role, but I hadn’t realized how naturally it came for her until one day when I asked:
“What did you want to be when you were a little girl?”
“All I’ve ever wanted to be is a wife and mother,” she told me.
It was not the answer I wanted to hear. Something must be wrong with me, I surmised. And thus began a warped worldview I’ve only recently realized I possessed. Unfortunately, I lumped all of women into two distinct categories: those who were naturally gifted in the domestic arts, like my mother, and those who were not, like me.
The result of such thinking was a ten-year struggle between my role as Mom, wife, and homemaker—and my passion for writing. And then I met Jill Phillips, a recording artist who works from home while caring for three kids with her husband Andy Gullahorn, who also sings and makes music. I went to Jill’s house one afternoon and met her kids and saw how she mothered them, and we talked about finding time for our passions in the midst of our daily lives. Jill told me about a book she’d been reading and invited me to a small group meeting with other women who were reading along with her.
The book was Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth. It’s a comprehensive look at the ways we view the role of caregiver in modern times, and it’s a defense of the value of that vocation. Ashworth examines her life before and after she began placing an emphasis on her calling as caregiver, and she offers encouragement as well as exhortation for anyone seeking to make the most of their daily relationships. Without romanticizing or dismissing the hard work that goes into caregiving, Ashworth lays out specific ways to examine our current methods of care and offers concrete examples of how we can do a better job.
The chapter Jill’s group discussed that morning is called “Rest For the Weary,” and it really grabbed my attention.
“Because the work of caring is invisible to so many people, and because caregiving as a vocation has been neglected by our society, we need to bring it out of the shadows and help people understand what we do. When you value what you do and correctly name it as work, respect and appreciation for your efforts will likely spread throughout your family and beyond.” (p. 122)
Finally, here was a book that validated the work I knew my mother had done and I was trying to do, and also gave me the language I needed to understand that this work was far more comprehensive than a clean home and a well-cooked meal. My calling didn’t have to look exactly the same as my mother’s, and if God gave me a different set of skills, it didn’t have to mean I wasn’t doing a good job caring for my family. I could still use the gifts he gave me to fulfill that calling in my own unique way, like my ability to be a good listener, my off-beat sense of humor, or my natural awareness of other people’s moods.
“If you are someone whose primary work is to care physically and emotionally for those entrusted to you, then you are in the business of imagining for the good of those people and working to bring about what is true and lovely and admirable in them. Your gifts, your time, and your work are important. You are not alone. Like countless others through generations, you are participating in God’s perfect design to love in the everyday realities of life. In doing so you reflect the beauty of a God whose love knows no limit.” (p. 18)
I went home, and later that summer I started a small group at my church with several ladies who read the book with me. These ladies helped me discover things about myself, ways that I was already using my gifts to care for my family and new things I could try which might even encourage my creativity in writing. They helped me recognize the error of my thinking about only two categories of women, and I began to let go of the idea that my role as caregiver and my passion for writing had to be at odds with one another. It’s still tricky at times to navigate both paths, but I’m encouraged when I remember that this season of life, with all of my children at home, is fleeting and no one else can be their mother but me.
“Embracing the seasons of caregiving helps us seize the moment for what it is: a portion of time that is small when seen against the whole of life on earth and the vast expanse of eternity. Yet what great significance is found in a single opportunity to love someone in a way that can never be repeated.” (p. 156)
The best thing I learned from this book is that taking care of people encompasses a great deal more than domestic giftedness, and it’s not something only mothers can do. The truth is that all women, and all men for that matter, have abilities and talents which enable them to care for other people. It’s just that our definitions of caregiving are too narrow. It’s not something only wives and mothers do. It does not merely involve cooking and cleaning, and it’s much more than menial labor, regardless of the fact that so many people who do it do so without getting paid.
“While caregiving is often associated with women, it’s clear from the Scriptures that all God’s children are responsible to take neighbor-love out of the abstract and bring it into our concrete, daily lives. Our overarching vocation in the kingdom of God is to take care of the earth and its people, to protect and develop what God has made.” (p. 11-12)
I’m so glad the Rabbit Room Press has republished this book – it deserves our attention. It’s not just a book for women, and it’s not just a book for mothers. It’s a book for Christians. Let it encourage you to seek out the non-efficient business of loving and caring for the people in your life. May it open your eyes to the value of a love that is lived out in real life, in the nitty gritty corners of caring, not just the esoteric planes of exultation. And as a result, may the people you love see your work as a reflection of a creative, loving God who values people enough to be intimately involved in their daily care.
“When we live in light of the gospel, we view time and people from the perspective of eternity. Even the small things we do to show people they matter can make a difference. We make our offerings, not knowing if our efforts will even be noticed, but knowing that each person matters supremely to God, and he notices. We live by faith, not by sight, entrusting the outcome to God and knowing that we’re participating in his work of caring for the people he loves. That knowledge fills all of our caregiving with eternal significance.” (p. 46)