The Thing I’d Rather Be Doing

When I joined Google + last year, it asked me about my occupation. I paused for a moment, and with tongue-in-cheek I wrote Domestic Opposer of Entropy.

For that is what I do: I hold back the chaos. As a stay-at-home mom, I pick up the strewn, I wash the dirty, I tidy the messed, I soothe the hurt and I untangle the knotted. All day. I expend all my effort into resisting the chaos that comes with three short people running about the house expressing their creativity. Domestic Opposer of Entropy put it nicely, I thought. Accurate, with a touch of comedy.

When I joined LinkedIn a few weeks ago, it asked the same question. I paused for a moment, and wrote Writer.

And then I paused some more.

Why would I jump to claim the title of “writer” rather than the snappy, happy title of “domestic opposer of entropy”? It is true that LinkedIn was meant to serve a more professional purpose than G+ and Facebook, which for me remain social media. But I think there’s more to it than that. The truth is, that day after day, while I go about the work of momming,  opposing entropy, resisting chaos and restoring order and all that goes along with the stay-at-home raising of my kids – often, I’d rather be writing.

I’ve been asking myself why. Why would I rather be writing than parenting? For you it may not be writing, but the question is still there: what would you rather be doing? And why would you rather be (sewing/surfing the internet/playing games/fill in the blank) than (whatever you ought to be doing)?

To show myself a little grace here, I need to concede that:

* for me, writing is fun. I like it. It feels like talking to adults after a full day of reasoning with preschoolers, and my brain feels like it is indulging in a leisurely stretch after being confined into a red, plastic toy bin all day. Fun is good. Fun is healthy. It is good to set aside time for fun hobbies.

* for me, writing is ministry. I do have a sense of calling to it. I spent years mentoring and teaching the bible and talking about life to women and college students, and I loved it. I loved sharing life with people, being able to compare notes against the Bible as we walked the road together, being able to laugh and cry and process it all in community. I grieved being able to do that so much less after my children were born, and treasured the opportunities I still had to mentor and teach when they arose – even if those were far fewer. But then, quite unexpectedly last year, a little anecdote I wrote about on my personal blog got a lot of traction, and Tim asked if he could publish it on his, and then I decided to create a different blog (this one) for my “public” thoughts… and then within weeks hundreds of people were reading it – and I recognized the feeling. The feeling of being useful in service in ministry. Being able to say something helpful, to be available, and all without having to get out of my pajamas? It was as if God opened the door wide open and shouted at me: “Walk through it!” I walked. I’m walking. I’m not sure where I’m walking to, but I’m walking.

But there’s a niggle in this for me, because sometimes I would rather let my children watch an extra hour of Netflix so I can write, rather than read to them and wait until they are in bed. Sometimes I ignore their requests for help because I’m checking comments on a post I’ve written, or posting links on Twitter. Throughout the day, I want to write, and I have to parent – and the tension bothers me.

ipad dishwasherDigging a little deeper, I need to confess:

* for me, writing is affirming in a way that parenting is not. My children show me my limitations and weakness by the hour. The list of things I don’t know, don’t understand, can’t fix and can’t control the outcomes of is huge and overwhelming. The to-do list seems to multiply overnight, and almost never add the “-ne” at the end to make them “done”. Stay-at-home momming requires all of my energy, and it often feels like even if I do a brilliant job, the best possible result I can hope for is that things won’t be worse or messier than they were yesterday. I work hard to prepare meals, and still the children complain. I do laundry multiple times a week, and still there are no socks to wear. I just finished unpacking the last load of groceries, and I immediately find something we are out of and have to start a new one.

Writing, on the other hand, does not get undone. When I hit “publish” on a post, it goes up onto the shiny surface of the internet, and no-one smears jam on it. If people have complaints, they keep them to themselves; but for the most part I get positive feedback on my writing – and after a day of hearing whining from my kids it feels good to have someone say “that helped me” or “thank you” or “you are good at this”. When people ‘like’ or ‘share’ something I wrote, it feels like being awarded gold stars. After hearing a lot about Enneagram profiles, I got curious and took a quick online quiz yesterday. Turns out, I am a 3: the one who likes to achieve and be well thought of by others. I thought motherhood had changed, or at least tamed, that in me – but online quizzes don’t lie (ha!). Deep down, I still want gold stars.

We all have a thing we’d rather be doing, and if we’re honest, the reason we say we’re doing it is not always the full reason. Often, there’s a deeper thing going on, and from time to time it’s worth pausing to take a good, hard look at the deeper motives and see how much they’re driving our behavior. A little soul-mirror is needed, a little truth-telling to the inner me. Where there is misplaced identity, I need to address it. I am acceptable not because I achieve, but because I am accepted by God and that is enough. Where there is misplaced ambition, I need to address it. I write wanting to honor God, not myself. Where there are misspent hours, I need to confess those. Where there are misaligned priorities, I need to re-calibrate my calendar and my character in obedience to Christ.

I enjoy writing. For me, it is fun and it is ministry. But I am also on my guard that it is a dangerous affection and idolatrous threat if I let my identity wrap around the words “writer”, or indeed the words “mom” or “opposer of entropy” too tightly. I am, first and foremost, a child of God, and he has called me to live with eternity in my heart and relationships as my priority. The perplexing parable of the unrighteous steward comes to mind: he knew he was going to lose his job for being dishonest, and so in his last hours on the job he called in his masters’ debtors and offered to write off some of their debt. By doing so, he hoped to muster up some new friends to mooch off when he became unemployed. Astonishingly, Jesus commended the man in the story, because he had “acted shrewdly” by using unrighteous money to make friends for himself in the future. Say what, Jesus?

This is what I understand Jesus to be saying in this mind-bending parable: the man was shrewd because he knew how to use the means he had in the present to cultivate relationships which would last in the future. He invested in people, and given that people are eternal – that was a wise investment. The parable helps me in two ways. Firstly, as a writer, it reminds me to keep praying that the writing is about investing in people, in you, and not about finding affirmation. Secondly, as a Mom, is puts my daily time-spending into perspective. For as much as writing may be a calling and a help to others, the truth is that blog posts have a fleeting impact. Even if this post goes viral and attracts tens of thousands of viewers, it will be forgotten in a month. Distant history in a year. That kind of post would no doubt feel deeply significant and admirable at the time, but it would be what the author of Ecclesiastes says all such accomplishments are: fleeting, a mere breath, a chasing after the wind. On the other hand, the choice I make to be with my children, hour after hour – that’s an investment in eternal people which will remembered next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, and after that, and after that. . .

A little soul-searching reminds me to keep things in perspective. To keep on writing, but not to wrap my worth up in it. And to keep parenting, but to change my focus: off the laundry, and onto the precious bodies that fill those clothes, off the dishes and on to the children we are nourishing, off the to-do list and on to the souls of the ones we are raising. For I am doing more than opposing chaos in my home, I am shaping character in their hearts.

When the next big social media platform arises, and it asks me my occupation, I’m not sure what I’ll write yet. Maybe “relationship investor”. Maybe “ice cream connoisseur”. Maybe “beloved disciple”, or “amateur juggler”. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.