Inefficiency and the Selfish Mama?

Since we’ve had a such an interesting discussion on hospitality over the past few days, my mind is still stuck there. This morning, thanks to my watermelon head (horray for antibiotics! it will end soon!), I’ve been awake since 4:30, reading Henri Nouwen’s book, Lifesigns.

I’m really comforted by Nouwen’s description of the work done at L’Arche, a network of small homes for mentally and physically handicapped people, in which nonhandicapped assistants spend their days caring for, loving, and living with those in need. Lifesigns was born out of Nouwen’s time at L’Arche.  At the close of a chapter on “Intimacy and Solidarity,” Nouwen reflects on the thought that perhaps his friend Jean, who founded L’Arche, and his coworkers could use their time (and really their lives) more efficiently by doing something else with their talents and education.

The thought struck me because I’ve struggled in the same way about my time home with August:  Is it selfish, I’ve wondered, in a world of so much pain and brokenness, for me to give all my time to one person?

As a Christian who believes we have all been called to sacrifice our time and use our talents toward bringing peace and justice and hope to those around us, it’s a struggle to know the answer to that question. I know that having young children is really only a short season of life, but I fear that if I spend these years devoted only to them, I will become a mother unable to see a world outside of them.

Here’s what Nouwen says: “While the needs of the world clamor for our attention, hundreds of capable, intelligent men and women spend their time, feeding broken people, helping them walk, just being with them, and giving them the small comfort of a loving word, a gentle touch, or an encouraging smile. To anyone trying to succeed in our society, which is oriented toward efficiency and control, these people are wasting their time. What they do is highly inefficient, unsuccessful, and even useless” (36).

Doesn’t that sound like the same could be said of stay-at-home mothers? Loving, feeding, comforting? Doing a job that is “accepted” by our society but, for the most part, seen as a wasteful use of education, talents and opportunities? And, honestly, as much as I’ve loved staying home with my son, I’m afraid that’s the view I’ve often had of myself. I, like you, am someone with education and gifts. Have I viewed this time at home as inefficient?

Nouwen adds, “Jean Vanier, however, believes that in this useless work for the poor the truth of God’s perfect love for all people is revealed” (36). It’s all about perspective, right? For every grilled cheese I cut into bite sized pieces, every nasty diaper I change, every Erik Carle book I read for fifth time today, what I’m doing is bigger than caring for a single person in a world of many needy people. What I’m doing is revealing the truth of God’s perfect love to August, to myself, and maybe to a world bigger than the two of us.

So maybe my calling to hospitality takes place first in my home, when I sacrifice my education and my “potential” for sake of making a home, “welcoming” August into this world.

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