Saturday, May 17, 2008

Setting the Tone

I’m late again for the discussion of The Excellent Wife with Leslie’s reading group. This week we read Chapter 8, "Home: The Wife’s Domain." This chapter was in two parts, the first discussing being a worker at home and the second discussing setting the tone and creating a Godly atmosphere in the home. There is a lot of good information to be discussed in this chapter. I have tended in these blog posts to go through the entire chapter and discuss the specific points, resulting in quite long posts. I’m opting not to do that today, though I see the post has actually ended up being longer than intended anyway. Boo has a stomach virus complete with vomiting and diarrhea since Thursday afternoon, and I’ve been feeling queasy since yesterday – I’m not sure if I’m catching a spot of what she has or if it’s just my seriously suggestible weak stomach sympathizing with her distress, but every attempt I’ve made to sit and think out a solid post on this chapter has just not materialized into a good post, though there is lots of good material here, so rather than specifically summarizing the chapter, I'm just going to share the direction my thinking went as I've thought about this chapter. Looking back over this post now, I see it's sort of rambling and probably not a very great post, either. Sorry about that. I don't know if I'll leave this post up, but I'm throwing it out there for now, anyway.

The worker at home is a touchy subject these days, and something that our culture really does not understand. It is difficult as a young woman these days not to be influenced by the pressure to think she is something less of a person if she does not go the career route or to wonder if I've wasted my college education by virtue of the fact that I never had the drive or ambition to have a career outside the home. I spent a lot of time with a subtle guilt that somehow there was something wrong with me because I really had no desire to enter the rat race but want and enjoy staying home and taking care of the home and the kids. I don't suffer from that so much anymore, but that pressure is real and the culture does tend to send the message that a wife who stays home to take care of the home is less than a person or somehow lazy. I do know that before the children came along, I would rattle around in the apartment because there are only so many times you can clean an already clean apartment, and I did work in an office part time to stay busy and add to our income. Once children came, however, I firmly believe it was right for me to stay home (oh, and I never feel like I'm rattling around because there isn't enough to do anymore - that just doesn't happen these days *grin*).

One thing I really wish we had done differently, however, was to have purposely planned better for having children. Another way I bought into the subtle thinking of our culture was that I thought we needed 'our' time first before we had kids and that we could just decide when and how many children we'd have and it would be easy. I really regret that now and what it means for how I didn't really view children as the blessing I should have at that time. I knew I wanted to have children eventually, but I still needed to change my thinking, and that's something I've repented of since. I did not know then that it would take us over a year to finally get pregnant when we decided it was time, nor did I know we would have three miscarriages and several Army deployments for Drew meaning we were separated for long times. I also wish we had disciplined ourselves to live on only my husband's income and saved mine. Because we didn't, we ended up piling up debt once J was born and I did stay home. Thankfully the Lord changed our thinking and now, nine years later after making needed changes in our thinking and spending habits, we are very close to finally being debt free.

While reading this chapter, I struggled a little with trying to figure out why I was bristling a little at first, when I ultimately agree with and submit to the overarching principle being taught. I think the reason I was a little uncomfortable is because I know that it is easy and tempting to turn a discussion of the principles into a legalistic set of rules that we develop as to how to follow this necessary and important teaching and impose our convictions on peripheral issues onto everyone else. I agree with the worker at home discussion, but I think we need to be careful to guard against a legalistic attitude or a prideful attitude there, too. At least, I do. We need to know and understand the overarching principles taught in Scripture, but avoid trying to tell everyone exactly how that will look in their individual homes. As long as we are submitting to the principles being taught, the specific working out of that obedience may look a little different in my home than it does in yours, though we are still being obedient workers at home and submissive wives. Where I see problems sometimes is when a family holds a very strong conviction that is right for their family on a certain way to work out their obedience to the overarching principle and then proceed to project that conviction on everyone else, when the Lord may not be leading every family to follow that particular conviction in that particular way in their home. (For example, a friend was discussing in an e-mail with me the other day that how we school our children seems to be becoming a new legalistic standard for holy living, and we need to be careful to let people trust the Lord for how their family will handle this issue. I don’t intend, at this time, to get into more discussion on that particular issue, but it is an example to illustrate what I mean.) I very much want to submit to the Bible’s teaching on being a godly wife and faithful parent, and for each of us this must be a matter of diligent prayer and consecration to the Lord as husband and wife dedicate their homes to Him and seek how He would have them live out obedience to His Word and the roles and principles He has instituted.

Where I got hit hardest this week, however, was in the second part of the chapter, the discussion of cultivating a Godly atmosphere in the home. This is something I want very much to do, but I know that I have a lot of growing to do still, and I pray about this often. This week the Lord really used our reading of TEW to open my eyes, and, though it hurts, I’m thankful for the discipline because I do need to work on this area a lot.

Drew is now working active duty Army Reserve for the next few months. Thankfully he does not have to go to Iraq this time, but it does mean that he is gone several days and nights each week as he works in Savannah at his unit headquarters. Well, Thursday night he was not home, and after an afternoon of cleaning baby poo and vomit, I needed a bath. I got Boo and the boys to bed and had already said good night and everything, so I thought I was free to get in the tub for a bubble bath with a book to read. I had just started in on The Excellent Wife when I heard one of the boys outside the door to my bathroom. He said, “Mom, do I need to go to sleep right now?” (Note the irony – I was trying to read a book about how to set a Godly atmosphere in the home while I proceeded to do the opposite).

I answered him, somewhat snottily, “Well, it’s now nine o’clock and I’ve already said good night and sent you to bed, so yes, you need to go to sleep now.”

Upon which he said, “Okay,” and went on back to his room.

I suddenly realized that I spend so much time getting on to the boys for their snotty attitudes and tones of voices and here I had answered him sarcastically and snottily, just like I tell them not to. It wasn’t so much the words I said, but the way I said them that wasn’t right. I should have just answered straight, but I didn’t. I was tired and ready to finally have a moment to myself and I gave in to the temptation to use a biting tone rather than just answer the question. And I do this all the time. It just comes naturally to me to take the sarcastic route rather than to just answer a question nicely. The realization that I am often sarcastic and snotty when I really just need to give a kind answer came crashing down on me and I had to repent. First I prayed, got dried off and dressed, and then I went to M’s room and apologized to him. I told him that I had just done what I am always telling them not to do with my unkind tone of voice.

And then I prayed again, realizing that this is a pattern in my life that needs to be addressed and changed. If I am to cultivate a Godly atmosphere in my home, I need to monitor my tone of voice and the way I treat my family. I am far too quick to answer with sarcasm when I need to be loving or understanding or kind. And it isn’t just to the children that I’m snotty, either. And I am far too easily frustrated. Ouch. I need to do a much better job of modeling respectful speech in front of my children. When they are snotty and sarcastic, they are parroting me. Even worse, when I’m snotty to my husband in front of them, I am not helping them learn to respect their dad. In light of the fact that the wife sets the tone of the home, that is extremely humbling, and makes my stomach hurt and my heart ache to think about how often I have set the wrong tone in our home. I do not want the tone of my home to be sarcastic, snotty or chaotic (another area where this chapter was used to discipline me, I have to admit).

I keep finding that I am uncomfortable when I read this book sometimes, even when it’s talking about things I thought I agreed with. I think sometimes the reason I’m bristling and my inner self is trying to brush off some things as “legalistic” is really because I need to repent of not setting a proper tone in our home. I don’t want to be the “Momma ain’t happy” kind of wife and mother. I don’t want my family to feel they’re walking on eggshells with me. I want our home to be a safe haven. And that means I need to have a heart that is tender and quiet before God. That means I need to be willing to seek their needs before my wants and learn to curb my sharp tongue. By His grace alone can this become the tone of our home.


Karen said...

This is so timely. I have the same issue with my kids. I've realized this week that I'm somewhat guilty of hipocrisy am have been unknowningly taking the "do as I say and not as I do" attitude, which is poison.

Thanks for the refreshing yet convicting point of view. :)

Anonymous said...

The part about setting the tone really got to me this week, too, even though I didn't get as specific as you did in your post. I really appreciate the way you did that. You are also right about how our obedience sometimes works itself out in different ways. I have to remind myself of that when I see the way another mother handles her family. I usually start thinking that I need to be more like her, rather than just being content with the way God made me. It's impossible for me to be someone I'm not. I'm not sure that makes sense....but I do have a hard time not beating myself up because the way we do things isn't exactly like another family's.

Elle said...

I enjoyed your post. I remember this chapter when I read Excellent Wife. I agree with you that it was difficult to recognize how very responsible I was for setting the tone. And still today I know myself to struggle in this area. Thanks for sharing how God is teaching you.

Adzele K. Jones said...

Great post, thank you for sharing your heart. I think as far at the 'the legalistic' is concern, I think the best thing we can do is to share 'our experience in love' by making it clear that this is the way 'God is working our life'. The other important thing is to also remind ourselves that when other people are talking, they are sharing 'their' experience, their life, hurt, pain and joy so on...(even when they are giving you advice). It is hardly ever about the listener but more so about the speaker.
It is a scary thing hearing ourselves in our kids. We often ask "where did they get this from" and we forget to look at ourselves. It was a rude awakening for me when I realized this. By the Grace of God, I have been working on it ever since....still working on it.

Amy said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto. Oh man, I feel like you wrote for me. Thanks for the great post.

Melissa @ Breath of Life said...

Thank you for pointing out that we need to realize different families are under different convictions. The SAHM vs. working mom battle is one that we, as Christians, should avoid.

Anonymous said...

I know this is greatly delayed, but I did not what to forfeit reading and responding to this chapter because I was not feeling well...

Hello Rebekah, hearing ourselves in our children is scary indeed. It seems to be one way God gets my attention.

I do believe that a woman/mother should be home with her children, but I also know that we live in a fallen world and things are far from perfect. With that said, some moms cannot stay home. I worked outside of the home from my sons birth till he was a junior in high school. I had no choice I was s single mother. Even in this situation, I believed it was my responsibility to stay home with my child, that principle did not change. My circumstance did not allow it. I am married now and have a 3 year old daughter now, and I a grateful to my husband for the ability to stay at home with her. Thanks so much for sharing with us. Linda