The Whole Woman

the whole woman  

This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, and like most moms with young children, I completely forgot about it until my husband reminded me. The irony of Mother’s Day is that mothering is the kind of work you celebrate by actually doing it. And in the midst of laundry, prepping for a yard sale, and running kids to ball practice and piano lessons, the last thing I have time to do is to cultivate expectations of Hallmark moments, breakfast in bed, and keepsake necklaces.

Still there is a tension that surrounds mothering and I’ve recently read several good pieces that explore motherhood as it relates to the questions of work, calling, and gifting. In pieces at Her.meneutics, Sharon Hodde Miller asks whether we should talk of motherhood as a “calling” while Courtney Reissig explores the false construct between being a stay-at-home-mom and being a “working” mom. (In this Slate piece, Ester Bloom argues that we need to do away with the term “stay-at-home-mom” altogether and return to the more encompassing title of “homemaker.”)

But my favorite piece is Jen Pollock Michel’s review of Matt Perman’s new book on productivity, What’s Best Next? While Michel has good things to say about the book, she points out that it doesn’t address the very real work that it takes to manage a home and nurture a family. She writes, “When does Perman do his laundry? Make dinner or do the dishes? Where does he fit in carpool? And once his children are tucked into bed, who is packing the lunch boxes?”

Michel's point is this: productivity and work cannot be defined by an office or job description. All people work because all people—whether SAHMs or CEOs---are made in the image of a God who works.  And because of this, the questions women ask about “work/life balance" are not really questions about womanhood or motherhood at all. At their core, these questions are about what it means to be image bearers. These are questions about what it means to live holistically in the image of a God who is wholeness Himself.

One of the lesser discussed attributes of God’s character is His simplicity--the truth that the various parts of His nature (even the three persons of the Trinity) exist in perfect union and peace. But God’s simplicity is more than a good “work/life balance.” In the purest sense, He cannot even be separated into parts. He is love; He is justice; He is peace. All at the same time.

The implication for us as image bearers is that we are made to live holistically as well. We simply cannot divide our existence into categories. There is no such thing as "work" vs. "home" vs. "gifting" vs. "motherhood." I am a wife, mother, writer, extrovert, saint, and sinner --all at the same time. In fact, we damage our own humanity when we try to separate them.

And yet, achieving simplicity is not a simple thing. Over the course of a single day, the responsibilities of life will pull us in a hundred different directions and if you are anything like me, you’ll find yourself asking,

  • How am I supposed to pursue my gifting when the laundry hasn’t been done and my five-year-old had to borrow his older brother’s underpants (yet again)? 
  • How am I supposed to live “missionally” –to take a meal to my neighbor when my own family is eating very non-organic, nitrate-laden hot dogs tonight?
  • How am I supposed live this multi-dimensional existence, to live in the image of an infinite God, when I am so very limited?

The thing that few of us acknowledge and that fewer of us want to embrace is that we are limited. We cannot reflect God’s simplicity on our own. We cannot achieve wholeness by simply being more or managing our time better. We must achieve wholeness through His wholeness.

In many ways, our limitations are the very things that God is using to draw us to Himself. Just like the opposing facets of a diamond work in coordination to refract light, God is using the different facets of our lives to display His glory. So that as we grow in dependence on Him, as each facet of life is aligned to His nature, we will begin to experience a bit of His wholeness.

Categories like calling and work and motherhood are not wrong; but they are limited. Alone they will never be large enough to contain creatures who bear the image of a infinite God. Alone, they will never be able to reflect the complexity and brilliance of His nature. Nothing but God Himself can do this. But as He becomes the unifying element of our existence—not simply our ability to multi-task or draw boundaries—His Light will suddenly come bursting forth in brilliant splendor.

And in this Light, we will finally see.