Thursday, August 10, 2006

All the days...

She brings him good and not harm all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:12

If you've been married a while, do you remember the excitment you felt as a bride? Wasn't it fun to set up a household? Didn't you look forward to cooking for your new husband and to set teh table with your new dishes? Even if you held a fulltime, outside job, you still happily created a sweet nest for you and your beloved groom.
I remember my enthusiasm as a young wife, and I've see it in others lately. I've had the privilege of watching some new brides -- one of which is my very own wonderful daughter -- delight in making homes together with their beloved grooms.
My husband and I are a long way from being newlyweds now -- We've been married almost 26 years. In fact, we have just officially passed into the "empty nest" phase of life. It's been a gradual process, so I've gotten used to intermittent periods of time when none of our children lived at home. However, I think -- though only the Lord knows -- that we've reached the point where our children have truly started their own adult lives.
Of course, though I am happy for my children, I do miss having them under my roof. I always thought that missing your children would be the biggest challenge of the empty nest stage. However, I'm not sure that it is. I think there is a greater pitfall.
Here's what I think can be the biggest stumbling block: Once we've raised our children, we can think our work as keepers at home is done.
The truth is, we do have more more time to devote to our ministry as Christians and to business pursuits. This is good, for, if we are wise, we can make can use this extra time productively. If we're not careful, however, we can carry our newfound freedom too far. We can neglect our homes and make our husbands feel unloved as a result.
I've heard women my age proclaim, proudly, "Oh, I don't cook anymore. We eat out every evening." Now, if the husband and wife both enjoy eating out, and they have the money in their budget to do so, there's nothing wrong with this. The trouble is that I've heard women say this in a spirit that indicates that their husbands are not as important as the children were.
I've heard women express this exact same attitude about other household tasks. "Now that the children are gone, I don't _______", they say -- You can fill in the blank with whatever chore comes to mind.
Why does not having children in the house mean that you can skip doing the little things that make it a home? What if you had never been able to have children in the first place? Rearing children is an important part of God's design for a marriage, but it is not the only function.
After all, when God made Eve to be Adam's helpmeet, they had not yet brought children into the world. God expected Eve to help Adam with his work in the garden.
When making Eve as a companion for Adam, God said, "It is not good for man to be alone."
This is true of our husbands, too, whether they are 19 or 90. Our husbands don't stop needing our companionship, our respect, and our domestic support just because our children are grown. If we become too busy to make a home with our husbands and for our husbands, our husbands do feel a heart-crushing loneliness.
The cleaning expert, Flylady, has a saying, "Nothing says I love you like having clean underwear in the drawer." This goes along with a comment from Oprah, "Love is in the details." (I'm not endorsing either person here. But, there is some important truth in these two statements.)
We may look at our big, strong husbands and think, "He's an adult, and he doesn't need me to help him. I'm busy. Why can't he just fix his own sandwich?" or "If he wants the bed made, why doesn't he just do it himself?"
It's fine -- and sometimes necessary -- for our husbands to help with domestic tasks. My husband pitches in a lot to help our household run smoothly. But, the keeping of the home is ultimately our province as women. Our husbands can tell when our heart is in homemaking and when our heart is not. And, this speaks to them about whether we love and respect them. A husband whose wife can't be bothered to provide him with emotional or domestic support senses that she neither respects him nor holds him dear in her heart.
I have had to learn how to cook for two again, and, at one point, I wasn't too fired up about that. Then, it dawned on me: "Hey, as a new bride, I loved to make special meals just for the two of us. Why shouldn't I take just as much pains with our dinners now that our children are grown?"
I followed the same logic out to all parts of making a home -- Is there really any reason why I shouldn't enjoy creating a romantic and cozy nest for the two of us? After all, I love my husband even more deeply than I did on the day we married. If anything, I should put even more heart into it. After all, at this age, I should understand even better the brevity of our time on this earth and make the best of every opportunity to show my husband that I love him.
By today's standards, our children came along fairly quickly. We had been married only about a year and a half before our oldest was born. So, this is the time that God is giving us to enjoy being with just each other. We are both extremely busy, so we have to work at creating these together moments. But, when we do, it's always worth the efffort.
Now, I'm not perfect in this by any means! Recently, I have made my husband feel like he was second fiddle to other pursuits. However, it is on my heart to be my husband's helpmeet for as long as the Lord allows us to grow old together.
Even if we both end up in a room in a nursing home, I want to add some homey touches to our space. If we both live to be eighty, I still want to be an enjoyable companion to my husband.
In middle age, we women go through the craziness of perimenopause and menopause. Sometimes, we may not have the emotional vigor or the physical strength that we used to. This can present challenges in our marriages and in our keeping of the home. However, no challenges are insurmountable with God.
This is not usually the end of the story. Though I'm not there yet, I've noticed that women who have passed through menopause sometimes end up with more energy than ever before. Since the body no longer diverts resources to the reproductive cycle, a post-menopausal woman may feel better at 55 than she did when she was 30.
If the empty-nest woman is basically healthy, she may be entering some of the most vigorous years of her life. Plus, she may be extra-energized by new happenings -- such as becoming a grandmother, finally finding the time to garden, or going back to school.
It's great when the husband and wife are both doing well spiritually and physically and are both excited about life. Sometimes, however, the wife's post-menopausal rush may coninside a husband's midlife droop. Perhaps, as she starts to feel better physical and emotionally and spiritually, he may begin to feel his age. Or, he may peak out in his career peak, while younger men whiz past him. Perhaps, he wrestles with disappointments and broken dreams.
Thus, the wife may see doors opening before her, while the husband may may see doors shutting. A wife's loving and faithful example may encourage a man to draw closer to the Lord. It may help him to remain faithful, rather than giving way to depression or bitterness.
This is also a time when our husbands may take on more responsibility at church; after all, one of the qualifications of a spiritual elder is that he literally be "an elder" in terms of life experience. Though her husband was an elder under the old covenant rather than in the church, we can take our cue from the Proverbs 31 woman. Because she was such an excellent wife, her husband was able to take his place as a leader. He needed her to fulfill her role, not to slack off on it. In the same way, if our husbands are carrying heavy spiritual responsiblity in middle age and beyond, they need us more than ever.
When I was a new bride, there was an army of empty-nest women in the church. These women were available during the day to teach the Bible to other women or to organize Sunday school materials or to sit with the ill or to train the younger sisters or to provide a sympathetic ear or to otherwise serve the Lord and his church. Now, most empty nest women work full time jobs outside of the home, and it's hard to find women who can meet needs that arise during working hours. The few women who are at home get called for everything. And, often, there are too few of them to take care of it all.
Now, I'm not saying that it's wrong for an empty nest woman to work fulltime. That is a decision that is between her, her husband, and, most of all, God. However, a woman should not think that because her children are grown, that she is not needed at home or in the church. She should not believe that a job is her only avenue to fulfillment.
If an empty nest woman does return to work on a fulltime basis, her husband may step up and do more things around the house. However, the woman must still fulfill her role as wife and as keeper of the home. She cannot use her career as an excuse to neglect these important responsiblities. (See Titus 2:1-5).
"She brings him good -- ALL -- the days of her life," says Proverbs 31. This ends only when we are parted when the Lord calls one spouse home. There's no retirment plan for being a keeper at home.


plainandsimple said...

Elzabeth, your blog is such an encouragement. I still in my early thirties but have often thought about what I'd do when the children leave home...I think I'll just stay where I am1

plainandsimple said...

PS I've put you on my sidebar (for easy access)LOL!

Wendy WaterBirde said...

Elizabeth this article was WONDERFUL : ) Im already in my thirties and also have some health issues there, so Im not sure children will happen. But I am so looking forward to "keeping" our little nest and being the nurturer, children or no : )

Elizabeth said...

Hi Wendy,

I'm glad ou enjoyed this post. And, I'm glad you drew my attention back to it. These concepts are things I need to keep remembering, myself. :)

Hi Plain and Simple, I think I may have already replied to your comment, but it may have gotten dropped. There was a period of time there when I seemed to lose people's comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the article, as well.