Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Joy: Some common problems and solutions for the home keeper.
Part I

I'm sure you're all familiar with the recent survey about happiness. I think I may have even referred to it in an earlier post, myself.

This survey is a repeat of one that was taken back in the 1970's. When researchers compared findings from the two reports, they were shocked that more women of today said they were unhappy than did women in the 1970's. Oddly, a greater number of men report being happy today than did men in the 1970's.

I hesitate to rely too much on the survey's findings, because worldly perceptions of happiness, satisfaction, and contentment with life are in constant flux. We don't know the standard by which the men or the women in either the 2007 or the 1970's survey measure(d) "happiness".

I would imagine that in both the 1970's and in the 2,000's, many of the survey's participants
measured their lives by circumstantial happiness. Without Jesus, we all try to stake our satisfaction in life on the things of this world: a husband, a job, a baby, material success, great health, the approval of others, etc.

Even as Christians, we can sometimes put our hope in happy circumstances. We think, "I'll be happy when I get married or when I have a baby or when we finish building our house or when I can stay home from work or when I can go to work or ______." You name it.

The truth is that while happy circumstances are great blessings from God, meant to enhance our
happiness and gratitude, they are a rickety foundation on which to build our satisfaction. Only Jesus and his word can be the sure basis for our lives. See Matthew Chapter Seven.

There have been lots of interesting discussions about why today's women aren't as happy as they were a generation ago. I don't intend for this post to examine that issue in detail. Nor, is it my intent to judge any woman whose happiness is floundering at the moment. We all have to work through hard times.

However, I do meet many women today who seem to struggle with a general state of discontent. This unhappiness can manifest itself in any area of a woman's life, but especially so in the domestic sphere. This is true whether the women fit their home life around an outside career or whether they are full time keepers at home.

Of course, our society provides much less respect and much less emotional support for the woman's role as wife and mother than it did in the 70's, and there was less respect for this role in the 70's than in the thirties. The modern idea that a paycheck, a big house, and perfect looks are the ways a woman's worth is measured produces guilt and angst for many women. Those who work outside the home and also those who have chosen the home as their full time career are both laboring under the false message that no matter what they do, it will never be enough. In that sense, I do think that society's attempt to "liberate" and "empower" women have backfired.
Also, I think many women are frustrated because they do not receive the training they need in order to love their husbands and children and to manage a home well. I could also say that young men don't receive as much training in how to be husbands and fathers, either. So, many couples enter marriage unprepared to make a happy and productive life together.

Marriage, children, and a household are meant to be blessings to us, as well as a way to share God's goodness with the world. But, if a woman does not know how to manage these things, she will spin her wheels in frustration. Likewise, if she has not been trained in the habits that make for a successful home life, she will flounder under the little cares that come with loving a husband and children. Her blessings will seem like burdens in the process. Again, this is true for the woman who combines family with another career and for the woman whose home is her career.

For example, consider a woman whom we'll call Janet. Janet has recently decided to leave her job as an administrative assistant in order to be home with her three-year old child, Susie. Janet worked efficiently in the structure that her office job provided, but she is at a loss how to manage her days at home. Likewise, she is unsure of how to meet Susie's needs. Janet means well, but she doesn't know how to train or to discipline her child, much less about how to enjoy her company.

The morning after she begins her new life as a full time keeper at home, Janet takes Susie to the library. In her mind, Janet expects that Susie will be considerate of the other patrons. Janet doesn't realize that Susie has never been to a library. Janet does not know that little Susie needs her mother to teach her how to believe in a library. So, Susie acts inappropriately, first out of ignorance and then out of will. Janet does not know how to respond to Susie with appropriate guidance and discipline, so she tries to plead, bribe, and idly threaten Susie into a more cooperative attitude. Susie senses her mother's indecision and her irritation, and her mother's attitude makes her feel insecure. So, she acts out even more. Soon, both Janet and Susie are out of sorts with each other, and neither one enjoys the morning. If something like this happens day after day, Janet may become discouraged. Add to that an increasingly cluttered house and a young husband who has no clue just what a wife -- his wife -- does all day, and Janet may regret her decision to stay at home.

Let's say, however, that Janet's friend, Lisa, who is an experienced mother, comes to Janet's aid. She offers some welcome suggestions, and, before long, Janet learns how to love and train her daughter. Both mother and daughter develop new attitudes and behaviors. Now, their outings together are generally happy ones. If a rare problem arises, Janet is equipped to handle it. Janet's joy as a mother soars. Susie feels more secure and contented, as well. Lisa's husband helps Janet's husband appreciate the momentous role that Janet has taken on, and Janet's husband begins to encourage her. Janet's satisfaction at home increases.

Let's say that Lisa and Janet have a friend Alice, whose husband, Joe, is not a Christian. He won't hear of her quitting her job to be a full time homemaker. He has grown used to her salary, and he expects that she will advance in her career to help pay for their over-sized home. Alice has come to the conclusion that she should continue to work as Joe wishes. However, she does not do so prayerfully, but with resentment towards Joe and envy towards Lisa and Janet. Joe feels her resentment and has no desire to go to church with her. At Alice's request, Lisa and Janet commit to praying with her and for her. Alice's attitude changes. Joe still wants her to work, but he does come to a few church activities and Janet's husband is building a friendship with him. While Alice still prays for the chance to be home with her children and, even more so, for her husband to become a Christian, she is at peace.

So, we see two women in two different situations. But, each has learned how to be joyful in the position where God has placed her.

The two surveys that were taken in the 1970's and in the 2000's give us a snapshot of thirty years, which is a tiny slice of history. Have you read the book of Titus and wondered what life might have been like for the women of Crete almost 2,000 years ago?

Since the human heart doesn't change that much, those women probably struggled with some of the same questions about happiness that today's women do. Why else would God, through Paul, be so careful to instruct the older women to live reverent lives, avoiding gossip and addiction to wine? Aren't those some of the very sins we often turn to today when we are out of sorts with God, with ourselves, and with life?

Paul tells Timothy to teach the older women. He counsels the older women in the church to rely on the the Lord for strength, rather than on escapist behaviors. He also counsels the older women to train the younger women in godliness, particularly in the domestic sphere. Paul does not assume that women will automatically know how to live godly lives; he assumes that they will need help and support. His instructions to older and younger men indicate that they, also, need the same type of encouragement from each other. Then and now, one way God provides for us is through godly friends.

So, if the women of Paul's day needed to learn how to be godly in an ungodly culture, we can't blame all of the unhappiness of today's women on our current cultural circumstances. The Scriptures place greater emphasis on what emanates from within our hearts than it does on outward pressures. For some verses on this subject, see Mark 7:14:23, Luke 7:22-34, I John 1:115-17, Hebrews Chapters 11 and 12, and the entire book of Philippians.

That is not to say that we should be indifferent to cultural pressures or to unhappy circumstances. We should pray, and we should look to God's word for instructions for dealing with problems.

However, if we find ourselves blaming our circumstances for our unhappiness, there is probably something that is going on that is deeper than we realize. This is where we need God's perspective on life.

For example, a woman may struggle with discontentment because the only home that she and her husband can afford is small, cramped, dark, and, frankly, ugly. Plus, she may wish that she lived across town, closer to her sister.

The woman's first step toward happiness will be to look at her dwelling through God's eyes. Many a woman in this world lives in only a hut or a hovel. Some are even homeless. While he was on earth, Jesus, himself, had no place of his own where he could lay his head to rest. A woman should consider it a great blessing from God if she has a dry roof over her head and four secure walls around her. Plus, if she is a true Christian, she has a heavenly home to look forward to. Once she is there, she won't care where she dwelt on earth.

Once a woman in this situation turns her heart towards godly contentment, then she is ready to tackle the outer circumstances. After giving it some thought, she may discern how to make improvements in the home's appearance. Some new paint, a few carefully planted flowers, or a porch swing might go a long way toward turning her little house into a charming cottage.

She may also set her sights on serving, loving, and sharing her faith with the people in her present neighborhood, rather than eating her heart out because she doesn't live closer to family. In time, she may come to love her little home so much she may be a little sad to leave it, even if she does get the chance to move into the house of her original dreams.

Now, since this is a blog about homemaking, chances are that I'm preaching to the choir. You may already be quite joyful in your general life and you probably are happy in your domestic sphere, as well.

Still, we all have room to grow. Even the most joyful of us may have days or even seasons when our motivation suffers a bit --- with the possible exception of Julieann:) Or, we may be generally content, but still not know how to overcome a specific problem.

In my next post, I hope to list what I think are some common problems that keepers at home face when it comes to maintaining their joy. I'll list some possible solutions, as well.



Lilith said...

Good morning Elizabeth,
What a very interesting post ! Thank you for speaking of this issue with no prejudice, it really made me realize some things... I agree with you when you say that it is difficult to know if the criteria of happiness are the same between 1970's and 2000's, but it is true that there is a lack of respect nowadays towards the homemakers and in the same time the obligation for the working women to have a career AND a perfect home (which is basically impossible, if you are not a robot and still have to sleep...). This causes much stress, which is not happiness companion... :o (

Elizabeth said...

Hi Lilith,

I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Buffy said...

This looks like being an interesting series!