In keeping with Will’s theme about Salt and Light paradigm below, I wanted to post some thoughts here. As this paradigm relates to the home life, I mean.
For many years, I struggled with finding meaning in staying at home… as many stay-at-home Mom’s or mom’s-to-be probably do. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay at home with my kids as much as it was not knowing how to do that AND be effective for God’s kingdom. After being brought up in a cutting-edge church, I didn’t know how to let the dream die of reaching others. Maybe if I had just wanted to have one or two kids and then go back to work, I could have dealt with the demands of full-time ministry. But I was persuaded by the active stay-at-home Christian moms camp that raising children was a ministry and a full-time one at that. I became persuaded that I wanted to have a larger family, stay at home, and homeschool. And I didn’t see any way to do that to my utmost while supporting my husband’s more radical dreams.
Maybe that’s just because I didn’t know many pastor’s wives or missionary wives personally. I had only had close contact with a few and most of them—forgive me—“settled” for being a home-oriented Mom with just radical Christian views (as opposed to leading a radical life). I don’t in any way mean to denigrate the Mom job. Or overestimate what “radical” means. But I could not reconcile the fiery, Pentecostal, evangelistic missionary Mom with the meek, conservative, homeschooling domestic Mom. I saw two lives and wondered how it was possible to get them both. One role always seemed to win out at some point, at the expense of the other. The fiery Moms had home lives I didn’t envy. The meeker Moms had church lives I didn’t envy.
Over the last ten years, I have been trying to make sense of this polarization. I have asked Christian women in leadership all kinds of questions, and tried to make sense of their answers. From afar, I admire a number of Christian women leaders today who have managed to rear children, grandchildren, and stay the course… Beth Moore, Lisa Bevere, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, etc. But I still feel like there are two people inside of me, as I raise my children and serve my husband. One is like a nun, treasuring the daily duties of life and trying to find the sacred in them. And the other is like a soldier in battle, forsaking personal tranquility to grab hold of the desperate lives of the lost around me and my city. At times, either one of these roles might be burning bright. But it has been hard for me to meld them into one person, consistent and progressive.
But now comes my point.
The Salt and Light paradigm addresses both of these roles. On the one hand, raising children is a “salt” ministry—a ministry to our culture and future. I mean, we do it today but we do it for tomorrow. My “salt self” is my home life, that domestic part of me that is trying to separate from the world and raise my children differently. It pursues my childrens’ character and education, knowing that they are part of the next generation and can make a difference. It chooses to forego television, sports, and worldly entertainment in our home. It talks differently, disciplines differently, and incorporates different subjects into the “core curriculum.” Not to earn brownie points but to be sure that our family and children can season the culture around us and not be thrown out and trampled by men. My “salt” self knows that the devil strives to capture hearts and minds on massive scales, to shift society. And that beliefs are tested again and again by each generation that arises, often resulting in political and moral shift. So if I don’t teach my kids the values and beliefs they need, they will never win the cultural engagement war. On a practical level, I put a lot of hope in them, and I invest.
However, I cannot be satisfied that my life’s sole purpose is wrapped up in them. My children are not my badges of success (or failure!). And God’s judgment of my life will include more than how I stewarded them… it will include how I stewarded myself. So many home-based Christian teachings implicitly teach stay-at-home mom’s that they live FOR their children. Even THROUGH them sometimes, vicariously. When they say that staying home is enough, homeschooling is enough, raising a godly generation is enough—they are wrong. It is not enough. If it were, then it would mean how my children “do” is the measure of my success. (Especially how my boys “do” because girls are often expected to just raise the next generation, perpetuating the predicament.) It would mean that my mothering role is “enough” for God. All I would need to do, then, is stay connected to the Lord personally while I fulfill that role, and He will think I’m faithful. Have a great quiet time, pursue my religious studies and habits. And if I put all my being into the home life, so the story goes, then God is satisfied. And if He is, then I certainly should be.
So why do so many evangelical moms with a fire breathing deep in their hearts FEEL that it’s not? Because it isn’t!
The “Light” side of me burns to reach out, to reach more than my family. The “light” self yearns to do the same things as my husband… to touch others, to counsel and pastor, to travel and heal. The “Light” self notices that a culture is dying around me NOW, not just around my kids’ generation. It knows that the gospel is needed now, and the expansion of the Kingdom of heaven and everything it entails! Yet so many neo-feminist Christian teachings implicitly teach that women should pursue their destinies, fulfill their potential, and take advantage of their giftings. The focus is all on self, and the obligation to God ostensibly through self-actualization. I don’t believe that is the right philosophy either—women end up with unhappy marriages and children because they’ve pursued the talents God gave them. Or maybe their families are supportive, but the moms have missed a lot… just like a dad who worked away from home. The Kingdom of God has gained more souls, and God will be happy that His talents were stewarded… but the people who are not delivered and free are our kids. Or the people who were not counseled with revelation were our own spouses. The people who were jealous for Mom’s time and attention that she showed others were her own family.
The truth is that Salt and Light must work together, as Jesus said. If mothering is an end all to itself, then I have no mission. I’m a soldier with no battle. Just a nice prayer journal. But if Christian ministry is an end to itself, then I am selfish. I cannot meet the needs of a spouse and children properly. I need both. I need to be a mother with a battle to fight… a “salty” family that is also “light” to the world. As best I can, I need to see my family as a missionary family who tries to serve others in battle while trying to raise little people who will do the same. For I must focus on my family. I must put in the time to produce healthy children who will then propagate healthy relationships and values with others as they grow up… “salting” the culture. I must also put in the time to grow them the holy way, which is often more time-consuming that relying on cultural shortcuts to do it.
But I can’t win the family and lose everything else. If all I’ve done is invested in four small people, then I have spent the bulk of my life making only four disciples. What about everyone else around me, while I was doing that? What about this woman I know who battles addiction to meth and has had her children taken away from her? What about this young girl I know who is getting into trouble because she fears she has angered God irrevocably? What about ministry at my local crisis-pregnancy center, or marriage counseling with some couples who need it? Do I have time to counsel them on weekend, and pray with them in my messy house, or run out for coffee with them when Dad is home? Can I fit in a bible study and home group, and church, and AWANA, and whatever else everyone needs? Well, practically speaking, sometimes no. Sometimes it takes all my energy sometimes to make it through a day. I don’t feel I have the time for the hurting world out there. I don’t have the mental energy, peace, or answers for others. But that’s too bad because the New Covenant requires me to walk in the supernatural, the Holy Spirit, and the fountain of life that never runs dry. It calls me above the Jewish commandment to raise holy children in the obedience of the Lord. It calls me out into the lost and dying world, to touch and give and mend.
It’s too bad I can’t do this every day in the way that I want. But I do know that’s my call. I can’t just put in all the family effort every day and know that in twenty or thirty years, I might be able to say I was a success. If my children are as perfect as every childtraining book offers that they could be, then I’ll know I discharged my duty to God. And if they raise healthy Christian children, then I’ll really be Supermom. No, I have to see my ministry as present day too. I am not just ministering to the life of twenty or thirty years down the road, I am ministering to today. The kids somehow have to fit into the ride, the larger ride of serving God today. Even if that means a less than perfect meal, a less well-thought out curriculum, or a messy house. It has to go beyond a thrilling quiet time, a wonderful marriage, and a home nice enough for a home group. It has to move into a realm where people on drugs are set free, marriages are saved, women in prostitution are given hope, those who are lost find answers, people who are suicidal are given an alternative, and the poor’s needs are addressed.
In some way, I think I’ve always known this even in the beginning of my search. But putting it to work in real life has been so hard now that marriage has set in and children have showed up. Part of me has had no idea how to do this. And my two selves within, my Salt and Light, have sometimes been at war with one another, threatening to overtake the other because the cause is so strong. Sometimes I even see churches and Christian groups at war over which cause is more important. But just like evangelism and cultural transformation, one can’t win over the other. We have to reach both individuals and society. We have to help both the family and the community. We have to address both the Christians and the lost. I think the Salt and Light paradigm has helped me reconcile the inward and outward call, as it pertains to myself and family. It is helping me see that the call really is two-fold and impossible (in the flesh). It is not, as each camp would tell me, that one of the missions is ultimately more important… and therefore attainable. I have to be both the meek stay-at-home Mom and the fiery outreaching Mom whenever necessary, in whatever way I can handle for the day I am in. I have to live the world of plans and spontaneity, routines and ruining them, and future and present!
But the call will not be simplified…