Stay-at-Home Martyr?

saint-at-homeHave you ever asked a married woman what she does only to get a wearied, saintly look and hear, “I’m a stay at home mom.” I know that I have given that answer, with that look on my face. With rising recognition that work in the home is legitimate and challenging, a too-common attitude has arisen among evangelical mothers: we have the hardest job in the world (especially if we home school). Good job we realize that it’s the most important job as well, or we’d drop dead of exhaustion.

But it just isn’t so. Don’t get me wrong–staying at home and caring for children is hard work! Very hard, mostly because it never stops. The kids are up first thing, their needs are many, diverse, and don’t stop. The laundry is always calling, you’re sweeping the kitchen floor at 10:30 at night, and you repeat the same menial tasks every single day.

But think about all the other difficult jobs out there. I’ve always been thankful that I don’t drive a bus for an urban elementary school. Sitting in a traffic jam with 40 wired nine year-olds sounds like a bit of a nightmare. Serving as a Christian business man in a post-Christian society must be very challenging. It has to be wearing to be frequently tempted to compromise your honesty and sexual purity. Think of secret service men on presidential detail: they are not allowed to serve more than a few years in a row because they burn out. If you’ve ever talked to one, you’ll know that carrying the weight of preventing an assassination every single day is physically, mentally, and emotionally grueling.

And caring for children at home is also important as well as hard, but it is not the most important job in the world. I’m not sure who would be bold enough to claim that for their work, but missionaries and ministers legitimately could. What could be more important than preaching salvation and feeding the flock? True, we tell our children the gospel every day, but we do not carry the burden of being a watchman who is accountable for the blood of entire congregations and peoples (Ez. 33:6). Also consider the soldier serving overseas. He is living in primitive conditions, in danger, away from his family in order to keep you and your children and the rest of the country safe. It’s almost a proverb among enlisted men: “I’d rather be fighting the Taliban in the Middle East than in my hometown”. Their important work of defense allows you to do yours. The importance of our work is smaller in scale, though no less necessary, than these other callings. Our work is less vital to the future of mankind than it is vital to the futures of those whom we love the most.

While staying at home with children is hard and important, there are so many blessings that come with it: we are with the people whom we love the most, we can use diverse skills in different aspects of home keeping, we can set our own schedule, work Scripture reading and prayer into times where we would not be able to if we had a 9-5 job, and so on. We do not lose our personalities, gifts, and abilities by staying at home; we simply use them in counter-cultural ways. I know women who will never have this opportunity and grieve for it. Let’s stop the martyr complex and be thankful simply for the opportunity to do what we are doing, even if we are tired.

When we realize that by grace we are doing good work in thankful obedience, we can be joyful, instead of comparing our work to everyone else’s, wanting to be lauded as doing the hardest, most important things. Why do we care how difficult and important our job is? As long as we know that we are personally obeying God’s command to us (Titus 2:5), whatever that looks like in our stage and position in life, we should be content. Obedience is better, we’re told, than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22), and God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). When we realize that staying at home is our calling that we are to do with thankfulness for our salvation out of love for Christ, it will be a privilege, not a burden. We will be grateful for the opportunity and ability to do it, instead of focusing on the difficulties, wishing for “fulfillment”, or depending on human affirmation and recognition (Matt. 6:1).

In responding to feminism, evangelicals should not be reacting with the, “Not only is staying at home okay, it’s also the most challenging and valuable job on the planet!” We should simply be affirming what Scripture teaches: it’s just thankful obedience by God’s grace. Yes, it has real and foundational value, but it is not the ultimate self-sacrifice that so many of us make it out to be. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). Maybe next time someone asks me what I do, I’ll smile and say, “I’m blessed to be able to stay at home with my children.”