On C.S. Lewis and being a ‘homemaker’

I recently stumbled upon a quote that made this stay-at-home-mama’s heart leap:

The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

-C.S. Lewis

I read it, and read it, and read it again. Then I let my eyes savor who had penned those words. I mean really, if C.S. Lewis said it – it HAS to be true! I posted the quote on Facebook and the it garnered ‘likes’ by-the-minute. Clearly I am not the only one needed to hear exactly this today.

domestic bliss

Modern Homemakers of 2013?

Why did it strike such a chord? I think the reason it leaped out at me was that, at first, I read it to mean this: “a stay at home Mom has the most valuable and important career.”

Now as a stay-at-home Mom, I am in SORE NEED OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Every single day is one spent being busy, busy, busy. The hours are long. The work is never done. There are hours and hours of laundry and refereeing and fort-building and sandwiches being made and then rejected. Each day involves about thirty forays under the dining table to retrieve Something Sticky. Every day involves multiple trips to the bathroom to rinse Something Sticky (sadly, often underpants). And yet at the end of each day I look at the fruit of my labor, and most days this is what I come up with:

Nothing.

At the end of the day, judging by the physical evidence around me, I see zero dollars earned, zero surface areas cleaned, and judging by the whining and sass, zero character development in my children either.

Yet, in my heart, I know that this is worthwhile. I know that I need to take the long-view. I just need to be encouraged and reminded that This Is Worth It, and My Time At Home Makes A Difference. Because the physical evidence to refute that piles up daily in my sink. Amidst the daily grind of parenting there is also the colossal mental battle of discouragement and fear that needs to be fought.

So when C.S. Lewis, that great author of things wise and pithy, writes something which seems to say that this, THIS, my underpaid, undervalued, underwhelming and very-sticky existence – is the Ultimate Career – I feel validated and worthy again, even if just for a moment.

A little internet sleuthing revealed the original source for the quote, which appears to have been someone’s precis of something he wrote in a “letter to Mrs Ashton” 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, 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 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…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)

What a wonderful man to have corresponded with. Mrs Ashton’s heart was, no doubt, warmed as mine was to read his words.

However, as I’ve been mulling over this quote today, a thought has occurred to me, and now that I have read the original quote I think I need to tweak my initial understanding of Lewis’ words.

By “ultimate” career, he did not solely mean ultimate as in “highest, greatest and unsurpassed.” He was not saying that homemaking is the most fabulous career, the best one, the one-that-can’t-be-beat. Lovely as it sounds, it would be hard to accept his encouragement as truly true if that was what he meant. There is a pile of dishes in my sink to refute that claim, after all.

Rather, by “ultimate”, I think he means “the last, the furthest, ending a process or series. The final or total. The fundamental.” I think he means by “ultimate” what in Greek is meant by the word ‘telos’ – it’s the final goal. It’s the career to which all other careers point.

Reading it like that, I think, means that Lewis’ words of encouragement stretch their warmth and wisdom beyond the realm of the stay-at-home mama, and in fact speak to us all, for:

.. You, working mama, work not to selfishly advance your career, but to provide for your home. To make a place which is warm and safe and in which your family that you love can thrive. Your career is also in service of the ultimate goal: you are using your skills as best you can to make your house a HOME.

.. and You, working daddy, work ultimately not for prestige or money or selfish advancement, but to provide for your FAMILY. You too, are working towards the ultimate career – to provide for your home. You work at “work”, but ultimately, you are working for your home.

… and yes You too, stay at home mama or stay at home daddy, are working in the ultimate career: using your strengths, gifts, time, service to make your house a HOME. And that Sisyphean task is valuable.

CS Lewis’ words are encouraging to me as I face my sticky-floor, but not in the sense that my career as a stay-at-home is “different from other careers and most highly esteemed”. Rather, today his words are encouraging to me because they remind me that my career as a SAHM is, in fact, the same as other careers, in that we are all ultimately seeking to make a HOME.

And that goal of creating happy homes, which “prepares for being happy in our own real home hereafter”,

(whether done directly by floor-and-butt-wipers like me,)

(or indirectly by engineers-like my husband,)

(or indirectly by my brave and wonderful working-mama friends,)

…..is a goal worthy of encouragement.

 
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31 thoughts on “On C.S. Lewis and being a ‘homemaker’

  1. ‘and to you, friend of mom or dad, who prays for us, reads the Bible with us, plays with our children, babysits them so that we can go out for dinner. Gives our children another example of Christianity in action, an adult that they long to see at church. Thank you for making our home the place of Christian family, a small taste of heaven and a place of rich diversity.’

    If it takes a village to raise a child then we can all join in, doing our little bit in the ultimate goal!

    What do you think?

    Thanks for the blog Bron, I found it very encouraging and due to the rich blessings of friendship we have been blessed with in the last few crazy years with our little ones, I thought this might be a good addition!

    Greetings from the land of your birth!

    • Fiona, I LOVE this addition! Yes, I am so thankful for the many friends (unmarried or sans kids, or those with older kids who have left the home) etc who play such a HUGE role in making our homes sweeter and more blessed. Yes, yes, yes!!

  2. Bronwyn, this morning I stepped on a dinosaur in David’s room, then into a puddle of orange juice on the kitchen floor while I tried to tame my bird’s-nest-hair with an elastic. I love you for posting this! Much needed encouragement for the day in a new house we’re trying to make into a home. Thank you!

  3. Bronwyn, is it redundant to say that your post made me think of the ultimate telos? Because that’s what you did, and quite well at that.

    Tim

    P.S. And about being a parent and ending some days with nothing to show for it, I have a completely different view. When my kids were young the way I saw it was that if they were still alive at the end of the day, then the day had been a complete success!

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  7. Bronwyn, I am sitting here at 1:38pm on a Thursday afternoon in Busan, South Korea. Its naptime. Baby Susannah is swaddled and snoozing and tumultuous-twos Cormac is sprawled out in his portable crib/bed (our household goods will not be here for two months!). We can’t leave our fifth floor apartment we very much due to the extreme heat and humidity or just because Baby Suzy needs to nap so often. I NEEDED TO READ THIS POST. If your goal is to open people’s eyes to the grace given through Jesus Christ and a faith in His plan for us…YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED. My life is hard right now with the two little ones. I knew it would be hard. But, after being transplanted into this harsh climate and taken away from my friends and family it sometimes seems impossible. Thank you Bronwyn. Your posted lifted my spirits today.

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  11. As a young single male I find that this ideology robs me of having any purpose out of marriage. However I do find that the Bible says that the servant is greater than the master as well as calling all of us to disciple those around us. These things are right at the heart of what the homemaker does. But it is also at the heart of what I do.

    P.S. I am uncertain if C.S. Lewis said this.

    • Hi Kyle, thanks for your comment. I appreciate you weighing in with your perspective. I would say that from my perspective, even as a young single person, you still have a home which you are supporting: the place where you are yourself, with your friends and family. Even if there is no wife and children, we still work to provide for something (dare I say somewhere?): to make a place in this world of ours where service, joy, creativity and purpose can thrive. I think you are totally right: home is where we serve and (often), the place where we disciple.
      CS Lewis spent most of his life as a bachelor and so I doubt very much that he would have intended to rob bachelors from purpose in life or marriage. It certainly was not my intention to do so either! Wt we do in service of our Master matters a great deal, no matter what stage of life we are in.
      Thanks again for reading and for raising this :-)

    • Kyle, I find it very curious and intriguing that you said what you did. I would like to commend to you “Wild At Heart” by John Eldredge, and “Raising a Modern-Day Knight” by Robert Lewis. Also, anything that Josh McDowell has said or written about families and parenting is worth listening to.

      P.S. I am fairly certain that Lewis did say this; It is consistent with his views on family, government, and social values. I believe it is in “Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis”. Thanks for commenting, brother. Be encouraged…

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  13. I would say one thing as a working mom – I feel that if you want a career outside the home and children, as a woman you actually end up having two careers. Especially if you have a husband who works longer hours than you do, you end up being prime homemaker and career woman. Thus two sets of people making demands on you: clients at work and kids at home, making sandwiches, laundry, and that daily pile of dishes waiting (and no dishwasher). I say this not to raise hackles, because at least here in the UK it is genuinely difficult to have open discussions about these issues without people getting offended. Our former MP Louise Mensch who recently moved to New York has commented that American working women are much more comfortable with their roles.

    I have a career outside home because it’s important to me and because I think it makes me a better person and a better mom than I otherwise would be. But it is one more very time consuming role to add to the list of potty trainer, teacher, mentor, wife, cleaner, cook, taxi driver, holiday planner, daughter, sister, auntie, friend and social organiser! Thoughts from different parts of the globe welcome.

  14. Wow, that is a great perspective on homemaking. It is so true that all things lead to happiness at home. If we don’t have that, then what’s the point of going through all the mundane motions of survival? What a great gift for us to be able to influence the happiness of our families! What a great responsibility as well. Thank you. This post was VERY encouraging. Thank you for your honestly about your daily troubles, which I share :) Pinning.

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  16. I happened across your blog searching for the actually location of this Lewis quote, which btw is one of my favorites. I was a stay at home Mom, and I promise you your work will pay off greatly in the years to come. My two sons are all grown up and am proud to say they are wonderful, hard working, respectable, ( to name a few

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