Notes From Home: The Hidden Costs of Self-Definition

Notes From Home: The Hidden Costs of Self-Definition July 21, 2018

Found this article to be most interesting. Didn’t know there was something called the New Domesticity. Did know all about mommy blogging and, not wanting to lie, sort of miss the days where every morning I’d cycle through my favorite blogspots to see what everyone was cooking and reading, and who had decided to cover her head. The jumble of birth stories, extreme theology, canning, and baby advice was the kick I needed to get me out of bed every morning.

Eventually I quit, though, and started reading the Bible and the news in the early hours. My fascination with the head-covering, jewelry-eschewing set waned, especially when I found a pair of hoop earrings I really loved. I don’t feel comfortable in long skirts, I hate having babies attached to my person every moment of the day, and it turns out making stock is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks.

What interests me now is the tenuous marriage of the new domestic female identity—how a woman identifies herself with motherhood and keeping a house—and the identity of the Christian. The article touches on it, and rightly warns against embracing a filtered image as if it were the real thing. But American women, Christian or not, have to have an identity. They have to know themselves and put themselves into some certain, and increasingly complex, categories by which they will signal to others what kind of people they are. Marriage, children, housekeeping, work-life balance—somehow in the middle of it all, the key to your happiness is knowing who you are. Indeed, the very act of reading the Bible is promised to be one of self-discovery and self-definition.

The defining of the self, though, comes at a cost, especially when there are thousands of options to sift through—minimalism, baby wearing, head covering, feminism, homeschooling, unschooling, organic, fair trade, helpless comedy, sports, PTA…And what about you…are you an introvert? A reformer? An adventurer? You labor up and down the overstuffed aisles of identity marketing, choosing who you are and what kind of cereal you will eat, taking it home and wondering if you choose wrong.

By you I mean me, obviously. This is why I like to shop at Aldi—there is only one choice. If you need flour tortillas there is only one kind. You pick them up off the shelf and pay for them. It’s not about what kind you like best. It’s not about you at all. You just went to the store. It wasn’t an identifying moment in your life.

I really think church should be like Aldi—a momentary rest from self-consideration.

Or, to say it another way, around the world people have their identities conferred to them by their place in certain ethnic familial groups. If you are the third daughter of so and so’s second wife, and your mother is from such and such a clan, when your maternal aunt dies, you have certain very fixed tasks to perform. When you’re all grown up, you will have to be married into the village across the stream because of the way you’re related to your patri-clan. Or something. You don’t really have time to wonder who you are because you have to go gather firewood (which is seriously a drag), and because the community told you who you were.

More also, you don’t have to go fill out a lot of paperwork to prove who your children are for reasons of the state, and to get a bank account, and to get a phone, and to pay your electric bill, and water bill because you don’t have any of those things, which is a drag, but also no paperwork. Just think about all the paperwork, the level of intellectual sophistication that’s required to survive in American culture. All the email and obligations and bureaucracy drip like water on a stone. The hidden cost of keeping on top of them is at least your mental health.

I’m not saying we should return to the dark ages. But I am saying that the church could confer identity. The church can say, when you hobble through the door and recoil from the cold metal chair in the industrially lit fellowship hall, “You are a person created by God. You are a sinner but God can and will forgive you when you trust him and ask him to. You are now related to us. It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or if you want to grind all your own grain by hand. Here’s a donut and some coffee made ten hours ago. Let’s read Leviticus together, it’ll be fun.”

The whole body of the church could help to take the weight off of you and your chosen identity and put it on Jesus. He already knows you more than you know yourself. Who you are doesn’t need to occupy the totality of your mind and heart. You can consider your baby, perhaps, and your neighbor, and lots of other people who wander by. Overtime self-knowledge will creep in, which must not be exactly the same thing as self-identity, especially if it is grounded in the person who made you in the first place, and not in Instagram.

Ah well, I will now go clean my house and see if I can’t catch the light coming through the kitchen window well enough that I don’t have to filter it later when I post it online. Have a lovely day.

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