“I do not think that the road to contentment lies in despising what we have not got. Let us acknowledge all good, all delight that the world holds, and be content without it.”
George MacDonald, Lilith
Often we are driven to envy or false disdain for that which we don’t, or cannot, have. “What a Dandy that man is, always fiddling with his hair!”, says the bald man. Beauty and achievement can be gloried in – even if we may not be the direct beneficiaries. The bald man can still admire a good head-of-hair. I can praise a well-decorated house, despite my own lack of style. One of the most difficult things to learn is how to be happy for someone when good things happen to them; to glory in another’s success. But first, we must recognize when we hold-back from celebrating with another’s good-fortune, or when we despise what we cannot have. In our honest introspection, we can begin to open the doorway to a more joyful interaction with others’ success.
If we can master this vicarious joy, we will always find a path to happiness- for beauty and good fortune abound. If we acknowledge all the delights of the world, one man’s gain can also be ours.
In the marvelous story, The Princess and Curdie*, by George MacDonald, we follow a lowly young miner, named Curdie. He comes to love and admire a wise and righteous old woman, a Princess – known as the “dear old Grandmother”. He promises to serve her, and she tells him that he must go and help the King. She does not say how he must help him, or where he must go, or what he must do – but she says he must go. And so, obedient servant that he is, he departs on his quest.
After many misadventures, he finds himself at the king’s doorway, on the run from the King’s own guard. He stops for a moment unsure if he should go in – as it would be impertinent of a lowly miner to enter the King’s chamber.
“He felt sure this must be the King’s Chamber, and it was here he was wanted. Or, if it was not the place he was bound for, something would beat him and turn him aside. For he had come to think that so long as a man wants to do right, he may go where he can. When he can go no farther, then it is not the way. Only…he must really want to do right, and not merely fancy he does. He must want it with his heart and will, and not with his rag of a tongue.”
So often we question our place; we doubt our path or we don’t understand how or why something will be accomplished. We also doubt our own motivations – “Am I truly trying to do good, or am I just seeking praise or acting out of self-righteousness?” Here Curdie is confident, however, because he really wants to do right – with his heart and his will. He isn’t seeking glory, or riches – he doesn’t care how many likes he gets on Instagram or if the other miners will be impressed by his courage. He just wants to do right. He wants to obey the truth he has found.
So he moves forward, into the unknown. As we all must. And when he hits a wall where he can go no further, he turns and finds another way. In the story, we see him reach many of these “dead ends”. Yet he does good on the path that leads there – so perhaps they aren’t so “dead” after all. Curdie, in one way, has found the answer to the complexity of life. Rather than needing to know the why, how, or where of life – he only knows that he “really wants to do right” and rely on the faith he has in his righteous Princess. He knows she is good, he knows she sent him on this quest and there is a plan and a purpose. With his heart set on doing right, his path is always the right one.
But how do we know our heart is right, and not just our “rag of a tongue”? I think in this story Curdie gives us a big clue – he is mocked and harassed by many along his path, yet he remains undaunted. He is thought to be a thief, a devil, a traitor, yet he is not seeking the good opinion of others – he seeks to do what is right. Oftentimes we question our course when we are mocked or judged by others – we start to look to others for affirmation of our “rightness”. We imagine that if we are not valued or praised we must be off-course. But the opinions of “men” are often muddied by envy, resentment, anger, or just ignorance. It is better to keep looking at our “Dear old Grandmother” and her good opinion – to keep attempting to align our steps with the will of God, or goodness, or conscience.
The scripture says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” So when we think we have made a mistake, or question which choice we should make – let’s first make sure our heart is where it should be, and then all else will unfold for good.
*I highly recommend the books The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie. A truly magical and profoundly-deep set of books for adults and children.
But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
G. K. Chesterton, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, said that MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin , which had been read to him in the nursery, was a book that “made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start.”
“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure…. You would begin to be interested in them…. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, and in a street full of splendid strangers.” — G.K. Chesterton
As a mother we are given a gift – and one we may fail to appreciate and too often see as a curse – the gift of compulsory self-denial. Our baby must be fed. The diaper must be changed. The toddler has to be potty-trained. These duties are not easily neglected. And so we do it and in the doing, we forget ourselves. We focus entirely on our very own “splendid strangers.” We look on in awe and remembrance as the wonderous world is opened to our marvelous child.
Friends come and go, coworkers leave at 5pm, even the bond between spouses may sadly break, but we will always be our child’s mother. We will always have at least one relationship that has benefited, from the very first moments, from the shrinking of our Self, where we gazed on the other with pleasure and curiosity. We have the chance to start from scratch with our child – to act out our role with selflessness and intention. This is a grand opportunity. And because of this, we have a larger life – we have given much, so we receive much. We will know all the better how to live “under a freer sky in the streets of splendid strangers”, because we are mothers.
“Perhaps the highest moral height which a man can reach, and at the same time the most difficult of attainment, is the willingness to be nothing relatively. It is nothing to a man to be greater or less than another- to be esteemed or otherwise by the public or private world in which he moves. The truth satisfies him. He lives in absoluteness. God makes the glow-worm as well as the star; the light in both is divine. If mine be an earth-star to gladden the wayside, I must cultivate humbly and rejoicingly its green earth-glow, and not seek to blanch it to the whiteness of the stars and lie in the fields of blue. For to deny God in my own being is to cease to behold Him in any. God and man can meet only by the man’s becoming that which God meant him to be. Then he enters into the house of life, which is greater than the house of fame.”
George MacDonald, Adela Cathcart
Many thinkers, including Dr. Jordan Peterson, speak of the inevitability, and function, of social hierarchies. They point to the benefits of seeking to strive upwards in a hierarchy of competence, so we feel valuable and have purpose. One may strive accomplishment in artistic endeavors, another in plumbing. This progress brings meaning into our lives. In seeking our hierarchies-of-purpose, we should be aware of our strengths and interests, and seek to discover God’s will for our lives.
It is important to contemplate why we seek progression, and from Whom we seek approvable. The relative prestige of the heirarchy should not matter to us: glow-worm or a star. We should not look to the side to see where others are on their hierarchal-ladder, we should look upward for guidance.
In our desire to progress, we should not be overly concerned with the opinion of others. Christianity calls us to a higher sphere for recognition. A Higher Name than Society to measure our value. Rather than depending on the respect and admiration of others, we seek God’s approval. This enables us to be content with, and even see the advantages of, a life of little public influence.
When a society loses its collective belief in a Transcendent Being – that is pleased with our humble efforts – is it any wonder that motherhood and fatherhood are viewed as thankless, and often cast aside?
But we care not. Because we, as mothers and fathers, know that we are fulfilling a great work. We know that even the relative nothingness of parenthood in this world, is of the greatest worth to God.
Please forgive me for dipping into fear again, butlast week’s fear-quoteshave been swirling in my head all week, so perhaps it warrants another post.
At times it feels our entire world is holding its collective breath, bracing for the next disaster, awaiting inevitable misery and unhappiness. We assume the worst intention behind every action and self-interest behind every decision. We feel justified because so often the cynical view is confirmed. But what other view is there?
The Hopeful View
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst of all are our own fears.”
Fear is a self-fulling prophecy; it is a disease. Once we start seeing the world as a scary and uncertain place – it is difficult to dislodge that belief. The world, and its inhabitants, become hostile and unfamiliar. Fear lies – it only tells us a sliver of what might be, and leaves out all else that could be.
A fearful outlook of the world can be passed down through the generations. Perhaps our own mother saw the world as a dark place – and her mother, and her mother’s mother. Fearful mothers produce fearful children. In order to stop the chain, we need to get a handle on our fear.*
“Through every generation of the human race there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.”
Alexander the Great
We would be naïve if we did not see the reality of pain and imperfection – but hope is not naïve, it is courageous. Mothers know well that our love and self-sacrifice are real, so life is more than vying for power or self-interest. We also know that many of our past worries never materialized, so fear and suspicion are often wrong. Considering the truth “We reap what we sow,” surely it is better to face life with hope and love rather than fear and distrust.*
Water and Hope
We were one of the millions of families impacted by the recent severe winter storm in Texas. We recently moved onto some land and into an older home. I confess that I worried our old pipes would freeze and our well pump would go out. Then my mind settled on the “facts” that all the plumbing supplies would surely be bought up…all the plumbers would be booked out for weeks… they might not find all the cracks… Every woman knows the never-ending pit of worry. I was letting these fears take up long-term residence in my head. I was losing sight of all else.
However, the words of G.K. Chesterton kept coming to mind, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” (See why I love quotes? Others’ wisdom saves me from my own weakness). So I changed course and I took to calling it an “adventure” instead of a hardship. And so it became one. When the power went out, we read “The Lord of the Rings” in front of the fire. The boys chipped away at our pool to get water for flushing toilets; the little girls searched out the best make-shift sleds; and my oldest daughter helped organize emergency supplies. My son’s birthday came and went without electricity or water. He didn’t mind. He said, “This is a birthday I will never forget.” Worries did pop up now and then, but, I diverted my energy to preventing further hardships and appreciating the advantages of our situation. I didn’t miss the joy of adventure in expectation of the difficulty. Pipes can be repaired, unrealized-joy found in moments will pass and be lost forever.
Hope When Fear Speaks Truth
But my fear was justified, at least in part, because the pipes did burst. To be honest, I had actually underestimated the damage and financial hardship the storm would cause. We still don’t have heat. Our AC system was damaged beyond repair due to the frequent power outages. Our barn flooded, my husband sliced his hand open trying to fix pipes, and our pool now has a serious leak. So perhaps our fears aren’t liars. Perhaps my other fears will come to pass? The country will split apart. The political and economic situation are just going to keep getting worse. So is hope futile after all? Yes. If we place our hope in the wrong things.
Think of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings- when he sets off to destroy the ring, he has no clue how scared he should be. He can’t imagine just how bad things will get. If he did know, he would likely stay in his cozy hobbit hole. As he experiences the pain and suffering which accompanies any great quest, he fears what other evils may lie before him – but in stillness there is also something else that propels him forward. Love – for his homeland, for Samwise, for goodness. Faith that there is a plan. And Hope. So he pushes on in hope. Not hope that the Orcs will see the error of their ways, or that some treaty between Mordor and Gondor can be struck. He hopes that good will triumph, and that he can be used toward that end.
In the Bible we hear a description of the “last days” and the fear that enters men’s hearts when they place hope on the things of the world.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity...Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken….And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Luke 21
Hope should not be placed in pipes, not in government, not in an easy life. Hope will triumph if we place it in that which doesn’t fail. Hope in truth, hope in life, and the life to come. Hope that goodness comes to the good, if not now – then eventually – that as Cicero said, virtue is its own reward. Hope cannot be that things will turn out well, but that we can turn out well. Ultimately, our hope is in God.
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Over 2000 years ago there was a woman, like me, who thought of water. She walked to a well to gather her water, like millions of women around the world still must do. She was confident in her well for it had been a reliable source of water since the time of Jacob. But she met a man there who didn’t strengthen her confidence in the water she drew, in fact he made her doubt it.
John 4: Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Physical needs and distresses are real, like thirst, and often we do not have the power to satisfy them. While these needs are important, there is a thirst that transcends physical thirst. A thirst, which if satisfied, can aid us in putting all other thirsts in proper perspective.
I always want to write for a general audience, atheist and theist alike. However, I find (I believe Plato had this same problem) often when I try to “wrap-up” my arguments, they don’t really make sense if you don’t believe in immortality. In Plato’s Phaedo and Apology, the only good reason Socrates could give for feeling hopeful when facing certain death was his belief in immortality. The only way we can face irreconcilable evil, or the unfairness of life, or the fact that much worse than broken pipes is sure to come – is to have faith that we have a soul and that our soul will continue to a place where wrongs will be made right and our goodness will be rewarded with goodness.
“Those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying, and they fear death least of all men.”
Socrates (Plato’s Phaedo)
The world is a dark and ugly place without this belief. I believe we have been given ample evidence of God, of immorality, of beauty, of goodness – but we will always need faith and hope to fill in the gaps. The only hope outside of Hope in God is Hope in The World – and hope in the world will only lead to disappointment.**
“If you were to destroy the belief in immortality in mankind, not only love but every living force on which the continuation of all life in the world depended, would dry up at once.”
A woman who is seeking living water is not easily confounded by a dry well, or a broken pipe. I am grateful for those little drops of living water that sustained me through our adventure: the memory of a phrase by Chesterton, my daughter discovering the perfect sled in our large metal bowl, the screams of happiness every time the lights suddenly turned on, the love of my family and my God. So yes, a lot of things haven’t gone “well” for me the last few weeks, since the cold descended on Southern Texas. Inconveniences, financial stresses, discomfort, and even stitches – but I retain a greater hope, because my hope was rewarded.
**Let me be clear, I absolutely believe that Atheists can be, and many are, good and moral – and may be more so than some theists. However, the philosophy, or non-philosophy, of Atheism gives us little reason for a hope such as the one Christ describes- a Living hope – one that transcends the disappointments of our immediate physical surroundings.
Note from Author
I am going to step back from sharing my work on various social media groups/sites and focus on study, research, and writing. I am finding it increasingly difficult to focus on producing worthy content and taking the time to market/gain more readers. I feel fortunate that the website has grown in readership and enthusiastic followers. I hope I can depend on those readers to help share with Facebook groups, friends, Twitter, or any other avenues that you feel would benefit. I will continue to post on this website so please subscribe if you have not (lower right corner), and also on the Philosophy of Motherhood Facebook site, as well as our Instagram account. Thanks for your support.
I found these two videos insightful – their contrast of the limitations of the Adversary with the Abundance of God.
Great song, Fear is A Liar by Zach Williams.
Jordan Peterson on Trust and walking forward in courage
Losing the world’s illusion of self-worth and security caused me to uncover the eternal fountains contained within. I remember sitting in shock asking myself “how is it that I can look my worst yet feel this beautiful?” I knew this would perplex me for quite some time.
I was heavily into strengthening my muscles. I had been teaching fitness boot camps for five years. I could do 12 pull ups, heavy tire pulls and much more. Looking back, they were forms of self torture. In the moment, they were my sense of self worth and identity. I could perform feats that turned heads and proved to me, in a twisted way, that I was valuable. You can only live carrying beliefs like this for so long before something breaks.
In my case, it was an explosion. My body gave up. I developed the most severe case of guttate psoriasis (an autoimmune disease) my doctors had ever seen. I thought I had leprosy for a time; it took a month before I was diagnosed with anything. Every morning I hoped for a sign of healing but I’d wake up to find it worse. The itching mixed with burning felt like I was on fire. I couldn’t be touched. The medicines given to me only angered my skin and made the burning more severe. The spots turned redder and seemed angry at me as I applied the steroid creams that were supposed to calm it. It was an indescribable experience where my body seemed to be screaming out at me to stop hating it. It wasn’t until I gave up all my expectations and genuinely apologized to it that I was able to turn a corner. That took place two months in. And yes, I literally apologized to my body and wept for it. My body and I were in an abusive relationship and now it was healing.
You see, I thought of my body as a frustrating thing to deal with; something to be tamed into submission. I was always attempting to discipline it and make it perform almost like a circus animal. Never did I see it as something to be loved, like a plant or a puppy. I finally saw it as a living organism intertwined with my soul. It reminds me of how we can wrongly see our children as a reflection of ourselves and wrongfully force our ideas onto them so they’ll portray us how we need the world to interpret us. We can sometimes put this same pressure on our bodies when we need them to look and perform a certain way so others will think certain things about us. Our bodies need to be respected, listened to, considered and loved just like our individual children do. I learned it in such a hard way. But I wouldn’t change anything about it because the lesson reached such a deep level of my being. The hardest part of writing about this is keeping it short and straightforward when in my mind, volumes could be written on what I learned from this. It was such a life-altering experience.
What shifted everything for me was when my husband said a heartfelt prayer for me and my situation. He prayed that I would have Jesus Christ walk beside me through this trial. I didn’t know such a thing was possible. I can attest that something as abstract as this sounds, is a literal possibility in this world. There were a few times where I could not bear another second of the burning. I averaged an hour of broken up sleep a night because it hurt so bad to lay on the sores. It was during those sleepless nights that I called out to God in agony for relief. I experienced the indescribable presence of Christ and His healing power in those moments.
Whether it was the feeling of numbness coming over me so I could doze off or an extreme presence of pure love turned tangible to all five of my senses, He showed up when I could not take another minute of suffering. I remember thinking “Christ is pure, tangible, healing love.” I came to know Him in such a deep, indescribable way that forever changed how I see Him and myself. I felt His love strongest when I felt that I deserved it the least. When my faith in Him was the weakest, His presence became stronger to where I couldn’t deny it. I remember telling God that if this is what it took for me to be this close to Christ, I wanted this ailment to stay. The following scripture became very real to me through my circumstances:
Romans 8 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Lord was proving The Father’s unwavering love for me. It was so loud and all encompassing, I could not misinterpret it. I felt better than I ever had in my whole life, yet I looked like death was about to overcome me. The power of God’s love is unyielding, even stubborn. I tested it in childish ways where I’d do something or think something selfish and I would feel His love ever stronger. He won me over. I wanted to be good because I knew He would love me even if I was bad. This made me like Him. Because God, my sweet Father, proved His stubborn love for me, I gave up earning my worth through the world’s eyes. I already had this worth inside me that wasn’t going anywhere. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t change. This brought extreme peace and rest to my soul. I could finally relax for the first time in my life. All the while I had a friend who lived down the street who checked in with me daily and helped me process all this as it happened. She was truly sent by our Father to physically walk me through this transformational healing. It was too much for my mind to comprehend. She could put the pieces together with me that I couldn’t on my own. While my body looked awful, my soul was healing at a rapid pace.
Here are the messages I have for others learned through my discovery of self worth:
1. Your worth is inherent. You’re born with it. Nothing you do or don’t do can touch it. So relax and be at peace. It’s untouchable by you and by anything or anyone in this world.
2. God’s love for you is real and stubborn. Real stubborn. Nothing you can do will alter it so you might as well learn to like Him and accept that He will always be there for you, especially when you deserve it the least.
3. We can’t feel secure within ourselves alone. We feel secure to the degree that we trust He whose hands we’re in. Develop trust in God and security will come as a byproduct.
4. Be nice to your body. A plant doesn’t grow well if we ignore it, yell at it or only feed it Diet Coke. This is obvious. Yet often we treat plants better than the living organism that is our body. See it with loving eyes and watch how it responds.
5. Ask God, your loving Father, to show you that He loves you in ways you can grasp. Ask to be able to feel it deeper than ever before. Watch and see how experiencing His love heals you in ways you never thought possible.
Immediately after healing from the disease, I felt like I had a second chance at life. A quote by Bernard Malamud from the movie The Natural reminds me of what I experienced coming out of this experience: “We have two lives… the life we learn with and the life we live after that. Suffering is what brings us towards happiness.” My suffering did just that. I relearned how to exercise my body in love rather than fear. I dropped the exercise boot camps and began learning how to do aerial silk. It was a beautiful thing to do with my body. I remembered how much I loved riding dirt bikes growing up. I got my motorcycle license and returned to that love again. My husband and I wanted to find a slower pace of life. We moved out to the country with our three children and then added two more. Pregnancy was a whole different experience when I loved my body through it. Mothering has become much more of a joy to me. There’s less pressure and more peace. I’ve also become open to deeper friendships. I’m not as afraid to be seen or rejected because I know God will love me through any relational pain I might experience.
So many things have changed and continue to change as these truths reach deeper and deeper levels in me. I know from experience that as we set ourselves on the path to real self worth, profound inner peace evades our being. We shed layer after layer of needing to please outward sources and let go of our futile attempts at earning self worth and earning our right to be here. The struggle disappears in ways we never thought possible simply because we realize we already have what we were aiming to attain. The endless struggle was endless because we were striving for the wrong thing. Our aim was completely off. Inner peace is what the soul longs for and can be had any moment of any day when we allow the truth to set in. We are already fully loved and fully accepted by the eternal being that created us. No mortal being can take that away, not even ourselves. So be at peace and know, you already have the worth you seek.
I live in the country with the lowest birth rate in the EU – and with one of the lowest worldwide: Italy. So perhaps the feedback I got from the people around me when I started to explore the idea of having a third child, about two and a half years ago, won’t be very surprising. “But aren’t two kids already a LOT of work?!” “For me that would mean not working for a while. I can’t risk losing my job: you never know what’s going to happen with marriage.” “Kids are SO expensive.” “You already have a boy and a girl..!” “If you have another child, it will push you back 10 years” (… whatever that means, still haven’t really figured this one out) “Who NEEDS more than two children?”
I’ve been married 12 years to a hard-working man who is passionately devoted to his family, our first two children are objectively sane and well-mannered and I enjoy various happy circumstances in life. For example, I live in a large house in the countryside, until recently had a paid job only in the mornings that I could carry out from home, and have two very helpful in-laws who live 10 minutes away from us. However, all of this didn’t seem to be a valid incentive for a more optimistic outlook on the part of the people whom I sounded out on the third baby question.
I have pictured myself with three children ever since I became aware that I wanted to have kids – that is, about a couple months after first meeting my future husband. I actually sent him a text message stating that it would be great for us to have three children. At such an early stage in our relationship, it was certainly a bit naive of me – but given how things turned out, it showed that I instinctively knew right from the start what would make us feel truly fulfilled in life. Some things we just know from the beginning, by some form of divine inspiration, even though we might have doubts about them later. I feel very lucky to be one of three siblings myself: my brother and sister are my best friends. It feels like we’re all part of a little community with the same exact background. I wanted to offer my children the opportunity to enjoy the same kind of experience. Also, having as many children as my husband and I felt we could manage seemed the best way to celebrate our marriage, our love for each other and our passion for life.
For a while I remained undecided – that is, confused about what was truly important to me. I was mainly weary of my shortcomings as a mother and wife. I tackled them at some level every day. But what if lack of sleep, less time to dedicate to my husband and the two children I already have, together with everything else going on in my life, would just make my weaknesses worse? I wasn’t convinced that I’d rise up to the challenge. I furnished this lack of confidence in myself with a whole series of foolish excuses for not being brave enough to be truly honest with myself and embrace the challenges that my decision would necessarily entail. The people at work wouldn’t like me taking time off. If I didn’t take time off from work to look after a newborn, I can earn more. The four of us can enjoy more material things. I can have more time to do what I want to do whenever I feel like it. In short, I’d brought into my thinking a lot of ideas from the wrong side of feminism – and they clung to me like gooey paste, despite the fact that I’d been getting plenty of encouragement from my husband to go ahead with our third baby, if that’s what I really wanted. He’d always reassured me that he’d compensate for whatever I couldn’t earn with his own efforts. But the influence that modern society has had on me throughout my lifetime was very pervasive. No one had ever bothered to tell me that, as a woman, I might relate to having a paid job a little differently than a man – that maybe it wouldn’t or even shouldn’t matter that much to me, at least compared to the privilege of raising other human beings with the power to make this world a better place. I think this sentence from one of my former bosses – who is objectively a very nice person – sums up pretty well how motherhood is viewed nowadays in the western world: “Well, now that your children are grown up, we’d like to offer to increase your workload from four to eight hours a day.” Yeah, sure, my kids, aged five and eight, are “grown up.” What on earth do they need a mother for anymore? It’s normal for a mother to work all day long. I can just pay someone, I guess, to spend time with and talk to my children when they’re not exhausted at the end of the day. Someone else can help them with their homework, and take them to sports – in short, raise them for me.
This was a no-brainer: I not only refused to increase my workload, I actually had it decreased as I let out a sigh of relief. My longing for another child remained stubbornly persistent. It was always there, right beneath the lid I tried to put on it. Any time I stopped to think a second, I could feel it wanting to get out. As it turns out, stifling one’s conscience is pretty darn hard – luckily. The real turning point came after a conversation I had about this with my younger sister. She matter-of-factly told me at one point: “You know, who knows what will happen with your job. You might still have it in a year, you might not. I don’t think you should base your decision on whether or not to have a child on something so volatile.” That was it. It really was that simple. It hit me all of a sudden how terribly wrong it had been of me to make such an important existential decision based on things that were so vague and really quite insignificant. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t living up to my potential with just two children. I knew I had more to give, more love, more energy, and, most importantly, I knew having another child would make me a better person. I also knew – both at a conscious and a subconscious level – that, at 32, I was running out of time. There are a lot of people out there nowadays who want women to ignore the fact that their fertility starts plummeting after they turn 35. Personally, I couldn’t ignore it as my body and I have a pretty honest, upfront relationship, and these days I can feel it telling me that it’s getting old-ish and that there are some things that it just can’t do as well as it used to. During the months it took for me and my husband to conceive our third baby, I kept dreaming of finding myself crawling down a tunnel that kept getting tighter and tighter, until there was no more room for me to move or breathe. Women’s biological clock is no myth: I could feel it ticking pretty much every second, despite the fact that I’d already had two children.
“.. Let there be Dora!”
The light our third baby – our second daughter – has brought to our lives, the lives of all four of us, is something my husband and I marvel at every single day. Without a doubt, there is more harmony and love in my family than there was before her arrival. Just like I knew would happen before we even started searching for her, my husband and I are better people, better parents and better spouses. So the four of us are all happier. Of course it’s challenging to have some extra noise in the house, to lose some sleep again, to have to manage three small people, each with their own important needs. But I don’t believe any human being can accomplish anything significant without some form of sacrifice. My husband and I are rising up to the challenge, step by step. Of course, we make our mistakes every now and then, but they’re definitely less frequent and have less of an impact. We’re more experienced at this point and better grounded in our knowledge of how important it is for us to manage our family as well as possible, so that our children may be a source of joy and good to this world. Our youngest daughter is providing us with that extra inspiration, and we are deeply, humbly grateful for her.
InTolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo contemplates the ruinous world he faces. He tells his wise and patient teacher,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I often find myself wishing, as Frodo did, that “it need not have happened in my time.” That I could raise my children in a more stable age.
Sometimes we may exaggerate the difficulty and divisiveness of our modern life – especially when compared with the horrific conditions of most of human history. Perspective is often helpful in calming our fears. Yet, as a mother, it is evident that in many ways the world is becoming increasingly divisive, immoral, and selfish. We seem to be headed down well-trodden paths of conflict – roads laid down generations ago and marked with blood and destruction. We are willfully repeating lessons we should have learned long ago. Concerned parents look on in dread as our society descends into tribalism and self interest. We see greed and envy driving public policy; leaders usurping power; distrust and suspicion increasing; cultural unity and patriotism dissipating; faith and humility abandoned…Darkness looms…but Tolkien reminds us, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
As mothers, we must not be naïve – we must face the darkness. We must strengthen ourselves for the journey. Wishing things were different will not accomplish anything. We must act. But how? Our world is starving for virtue. We must accept our role as the Teacher-of-Virtue.
Absent moral and virtuous individuals, societies inevitably degrade. Who can shape the morality of a populace if not its mothers? The world may deny our influence, but the power of a strong mother endures.
“What a mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin.”
Henry Ward Beecher
The solution to our anxieties and to the world’s division, lies in strengthening our families.
“The family is the basis of society. As the family is, so is the society.”
Today, I felt discouraged about the future, about the world my children are inheriting. To cope, I distracted myself from the news and social media, and instead reflected on the love of my husband and children. As I hugged my daughter and read with my son, the day seemed brighter – we made it brighter. Fear will return when my thoughts inevitably rest on harsh realities, but I know what I can do to calm my fears – be a mother that puts her will and energy into raising resilient, educated, and virtuous children.
“Men are what their mothers made them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Frodo expresses his fears to Gandalf – as a child would to a parent – he gazes into the flames and wishes them away. Gandalf acknowledges and empathizes with those fears, but he knows the solution will not be found in staring into the fire. Instead, he pushes Frodo towards the only firm hope he has – his own action. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The world may burn, but we will not do the burning, we will do the building.
“Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”
As mothers, we must have faith in our influence. We can wisely use the time given us. The future is unsure – there will always be anxiety when facing the unknown. But our world will improve when we mothers decide – decide to replace that fear with faith and action, and intentionally teach our children to do the same.
“Pick up the cross of your tragedy and betrayal. Accept its terrible weight….We are all fallen creatures—and we all know it. We are all separated from what should be and thrown into the world of death and despair. We are all brutally crucified on the cross that is the reality of life itself….And the Christian command? To act out the proposition that courage and truth and love are more powerful than death and despair.”
I believe that a society built around Honor and Virtue are crucial if we want to shift our current trajectory. We must be willing to applaud goodness and condemn wickedness. We simply cannot say that all beliefs, actions, and choices are of equal worth and virtue, and still have a society where good can triumph.
I enjoyed the podcast episode below from Young Heretics. It brings a good perspective on the utility of Honor and Virtue, using Roman society as a case-study.
“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis
I’m searching over the roofs of my neighbors as my kids are yelling inside the house for me to help them to more dinner. Why is my heart racing? I could have planned this better. Why can’t I find this star?
I quickly jump off the railing of the deck a bit disappointed and head back inside as the children have begun fighting with one another. I place more potatoes on the plate for my five-year-old and I start wondering if I would have missed that thrill of hope long ago too.
I think many of us would have. In my current state of busy, at my current pace, I’m not confident I would have looked up long enough to become curious and follow. Veteran mothers tell me when the children are grown that I’ll have time to look up, to see the stars and learn their names. However, the older I get the more I know, like them, we don’t only use our time to look up, we often use it to look back.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them.” I begin thinking about why people were amazed by the tale of the shepherds, hearing and seeing angels and coming face to face with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Maybe the star of Bethlehem wasn’t this astronomical anomaly that stopped everyone in their tracks but was enough of a difference to make three wise men curious. Or Jesus, lying in a manger of a dark and cold cave in Bethlehem. Maybe that’s why everyone was thrown by the telling of His arrival. It wasn’t a beautiful place that required appreciation. It was a place full of constant hurry and conflict, much like myself.
I begin loading the dishwasher and as I run the plates through the warm water of the sink, right outside my small kitchen window, is the Christmas Star, in my line of sight. The Great Conjunction. For a few brief moments, all was calm and bright. There was no rushing or anxiety––I was astonished. In all its distant glory, it was enough to stir the gratitude in my heart for that Gift given to us over two thousand years ago. He had found me, right where I was at in my rushing and running, as faithfully He does. And my weary world rejoiced.
I unravel another bundle of lights from the Christmas tote and ask my husband to line the roof in white. This year, I’ve noticed, more neighbors and communities have put out extravagant Christmas displays. Possibly for the children, most certainly for me. How dark the shadows have been this year.
My husband begins climbing a ladder, and I think back to how I’ve been reading “A Christmas Carol” a few pages at a time, out loud as often as possible the past few weeks. My newborn niece was recently victim to my retelling of Jacob Marley’s haunting visit to Scrooge. As the old man stumbled away from the glow of the town to his cold quarters, Charles Dickens wrote, “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
How honest a statement about the darkness! To sit in apathy and bitterness, hardened and invulnerable. Can we truly “like” such a thing? Surely not forever! Scrooge, having seen the truth, would tell you so today.
I think about what price bringing illuminance anywhere has cost. Relationally, geographically and economically, intellectually and emotionally — light is not cheap. It takes time, a loyal and intentional investment.
I toss up another strand of lights to my hardworking and semi-uncomfortable husband and remember in the spirit of the season how after four hundred years of silence, God pierced the sky to lead humanity through the shadows. They hadn’t heard or seen from God in centuries, and in following the star He gave them, they find the Light of the World; a humble baby. A price paid to reveal and close the dark path of misery.
My darling husband makes his way back down the ladder, thankful to live another day on the ground, and I take a look at the beautifully lit corners of our roof. In corresponding with a woman about resuming the practice of her faith, C.S. Lewis wrote, “One can’t go on thinking it over for ever, and one can begin to try to be a disciple before one is a professed theologian. In fact they tell us, don’t they, that in these matters to act on the light one has is almost the only way to more light.” (4 January 1941, Mary Neylan)
We must kindle what’s in front of us. Stir the heaviest embers, and pray for enduring flames. Keep lamps burning, our front porch lights on, and continue pushing back the shadows not just for our paths, but the paths of others. Light is not cheap, still God finds each of us worth His radiant mercy and encourages us to dwell abundantly in His glow. No matter the season, on rooftops or six-feet-apart, strive to be light.