On C.S. Lewis and being a ‘homemaker’

On CS Lewis, homemakers and the Ultimate Career

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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