As a small gift to my husband, I recently left him to leisure at home for a few hours while I took my one year old on a road trip to a sort-of-nearby historic farmstead that has been converted into one of Denver’s botanical garden sites. We couldn’t bear to stay as long as I wanted to due to some unanticipated mosquito mayhem, but throughout our entire 1.5 hour visit I couldn’t help but constantly exclaim (out loud) over the seemingly effortless beauty of the entire place. Tall, intermixed beds of wildflowers and perennials contrasted beautifully with the white wooden buildings and rugged old barns and large structured fields of produce plants, all set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains’ front range.
Of course, I knew it wasn’t actually “effortless beauty.” Though I’ve only experienced the nostalgic remnants of my Appalachian farming heritage, I know enough of pictures and firsthand stories of my earthly predecessors to recognize that there is a back-breaking intensity that actually characterizes the homesteading life. There is not much effortless beauty involved in any of it, except for the way that God sovereignly dictates the sunrise and sunset to fall on wildflowers that have been sowed by animals in random places.
And something about this reality makees our heart fall, doesn’t it? Especially in our culture of instant gratification, we grasp desperately for any promise of high-yield, low-cost prosperity. This is why the “fast fashion” industry exists, where we can get really attractice clothing at ludicrously low prices to us, even as we suppress the knowledge that much of it was produced far away by slave labor. It’s why the makeup industry capitalizes on marketing campaigns like, “Maybe she was born with it . . . maybe it’s Maybelline.” (The implied truth is that while the model’s beauty may look natural and effortless, in reality there was some work that went on behind the scenes.) It’s also why our culture is so saturated with consumerism and credit card debt. We are constantly paying for new goods and services that promise to make our lives better; better almost always meaning “more enjoyable but with less hardship involved.”
Now, this isn’t always a bad thing. As I mentioned in my recent post about Christians and the environment, it’s part of our God-given and God-imaging design as human beings to use intellect and creativity to solve problems through innovation. But with the presence of sin comes myriad distortions of our good qualities and good goals, so that we are now living in a time where we aren’t even trying to distinguish between perceived problems and actual problems. Often (in the case of indusry, at least) people end up creating more problems than they solved because they wanted Prosperity Now, and so they chose quick fixes and glossed over their lasting negative implications.
Basically, we have been convinced ever since the exchange between Eve and the serpent in the garden that we can find some shortcut to experiencing the good without having to exert ourselves or take on any greater responsibility. We would rather pursue a life where we dabble on a mediocre level in everything the world has to offer, resulting in endless harried frustration, rather than choosing some good things (thereby giving up on other things by necessity) and working to live with those things to the glory of God. The crucial thing we have to remember if we profess Christian faith is that this last element, living to the glory of God, will always involve effort and hardship as long as Christ hasn’t yet returned to redeem us from the curse that creation groans under. If you are trying to live a life of reward without sacrifice or displeasure, you are likely living to glorify yourself instead of the One who is truly God. That is why threats to our convenience, even small ones, can cause us to expode in anger or self-pity.
An area I see this principle demonstrated in all the time is the world of homemaking. In the past hundred years (maybe more) there has been an astounding level of material innovation brought into the home. Even the older models of slow cookers, laundry machines, bread machines, mixers, and so on would be a complete wonder to homemakers of even three or four generations ago. And while much good has been accomplished by improving upon tools we use to feed and clothe and otherwise care for our families, many of us have become unyieldingly dependent upon the conveniences and luxuries they afford us. (Not to mention that it has only furthered the cause of feminism by giving homemakers less satisfying or skillful work to do in the home, resulting in boredom and depression being associated with the entire realm of homemaking.)
I have witnessed or had this conversaion with other women often, in which they loosely express a desire to stay at home but insist it’s not possible. When asked why, they say they cannot afford to live on one income. When asked if they’ve considered all the ways that sewing, line drying laundry, cloth diapering, making food from scratch, and so on could save them a lot of money, the response becomes a bit more insistent and the tone more negative: “No, no way. That’s too hard and too much work.” The idea that the homemaking lifestyle is an option to them is made completely unthinkable and untenable based on the base standard of convenience and luxury they’ve learned from their culture and adopted for their family. They may long to have more time with their family or generally have a more holistic and simple life, but the hard work involved in transitioning from the life they’ve acquired by default to the life they want is the factor standing in their way, and that is a real tragedy. Why? Because they’re not really avoiding any hardship by continuing in their current lifestyle – they’re just choosing which kind of hardship they prefer.
Obviously, this is a personal choice, and that personal choice is actually the point of this post more than the question of whether a woman should quit her job and be a stay-at-home-whatever. All I’m saying is that if we let a dependence on leisure or convenience or pleasure dictate the kind of life we choose, we are really just fooling ourselves and will never actually experience satisfaction or joy, because the reality is that Hard is unavoidable no matter what choices you make and lasting joy is only found in eternal treasures (that being Christ Himself). As long as we are humans living on earth, the Hard will just manifest differently, whether it be physically, relationally, financially . . . you get the point.
Whatever lifestyle choice you make has some type of unavoidable hardship involved, and you will be restless and miserable as long as you are fixated on trying to eliminate that hardship from the equation.
Sure, sometimes it is tempting to do the minimum as far as housework and childrearing goes (which, just saying, is the way to ensure that homemaking feels like a bland and depressing job) so that I could work outside the home and afford vacations, a nicer home, and more pre-packaged food. This is especially tempting when we haven’t been able to go on walks or errands and the days are only consumed with cooking and cleaning the same things for the millionth time. But then I have to remind myself that it wouldn’t eliminate the Hard if I sought a different kind of life – it would just exchange it for a different Hard, one that involves being separated from my children for long periods of time, experiencing the stresses and pressures of whatever job I had, and so on.
Further, this is important to remember on the worst days when sin and selfishness take over and tell us that we should have picked an entirely different avenue of life in the first place. This acknowledgment of inevitable difficulty is what people forget when they have affairs and end up ruining more lives than remedying them; when they put off having families until its biologically unfeasable; or when they avoid difficult phone calls and tasks that actually just result in worse consquences later (like the ticket I got last week for my expired van registration).
There is no earthly life devoid of the evidences of sin, corruption, and brokenness. This is why our only, only, only reliable source of joy is Jesus Christ, who not only redeems us from our own wickedness but has promised to one day redeem all of creation from its inherent toil and strife and death.
Cease from envy, discontent, idleness, and all the other wicked (and experientially miserable) vices that stem from the pursuit of worldly pleasure. Pursue Jesus instead, as He pursues you. And do the hard things with humble faith that He works out His ultimate plan for your good and His glory.