Mission: Quiet Suburban Life
When my husband and I started dating, we discussed the three M's: Master (who would rule your life), Mate (who you would spend your life with), and Mission (what you would do with your life). It was a given that our Master (God) would come first in our lives, but the number-two spot was up for grabs. Do you pick your life partner first and then go on your life mission with him or her, or do you figure out your life mission and then find a life partner walking along the same path? Of course, we make plans, but God directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9). I wasn't sure what God wanted me to do with my life, but I knew my husband was a good man who loved God, so I gave Mate the respectable number-two spot and married him.
My married life was not defined by a specific mission, but it was full. I moved into my husband's condo and pursued a career in actuarial consulting. Over the course of five years, I grew from an uncertain analyst into a project manager with frequent contact with clients. I also attained my professional designation as an actuary by studying for and taking a series of grueling exams while working full-time. My husband and I enjoyed going to symphonies and taking long walks together. We attended small group, served in our church, and both went on several short-term mission trips over the years.
After having my first child, I took a step back from work and ministry. My mission became that of being helper to my husband, mother to my children, and subduer of my cookie-cutter house in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood. I soon realized that I did not find fulfillment in domestic life the way some women do. I had a vague idea that being a mother would be the most important thing I ever did and that my kids would be the greatest disciples of my life, but I could not see the forest for the trees. Changing diapers, laundry, cooking, cleaning—I thought I was supposed to feel warm fuzzies all day, but instead I felt bored.
I wanted to do something more significant, to have a greater purpose in my life. And while no one would deny the significance of a mother's work, people think of it more as a sacrifice and not so much as an accomplishment. It takes charisma to be a good lawyer, creativity to be a good artist. But mother? Anyone can be a mom, I thought.
Then I recalled an experience I had almost 10 years ago. I was in college service at church. The college service alone had a regular attendance of several hundred people. People were passionate about being disciples of Christ and sharing that passion with others. I stood there in the crowd of my peers, praising God with them, and thought, "This is just a shadow of what heaven will be like." Then I thought about those who had never heard of Jesus—who didn't have a chance of knowing him—and the tears streamed down my face. I committed at that moment to go anywhere for the sake of Christ. I did not consider it too much of a sacrifice to give up the comforts of my life at home for something much more lasting and significant.
That day, I committed to go anywhere, to do anything for God. But was I willing to be ordinary for Christ? Was I willing to be bored for Christ? Was I willing to live a seemingly insignificant life for Christ and thus find my significance?
The Apostle Paul instructed the Thessalonian believers to "Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before" (1 Thessalonians 4:11). I think about what it means to have goals and ambition in the secular world—to aspire to fame, money, power—none of which lead to a quiet life. And yet Paul instructed believers to make a quiet life their ambition. I realize now that that day in college, my passion was tainted with the desire for personal glory. I was willing to make sacrifices in my life but only in exchange for travel and adventure. My ambition was for my satisfaction, not God's. God has challenged me to not only find contentment in but to pursue a quiet life, and this path has taught me some important lessons that I would not have learned otherwise.
My Significance in Christ
While leading a quiet life does not mean I can't have a career, it does mean I don't need recognition from others to feel valuable. Career success gave me a concrete way to measure my worth. I struggled with finding confidence in myself as a suburban mom rather than a career woman. Then one day in church, the worship leader read from the Bible, saying "This is what the Lord says: 'Don't let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!' " (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
His words struck my heart like a double-edged sword. I knew I was guilty of silently boasting about the worldly success God had given me and still clinging to it for my self-worth. But all this time, I had not once wondered whether my life was a delight to God. Now when I consider the future direction of my life, I remind myself to pursue the things God delights in, and I remind myself, especially, that because of Christ's work on the cross, God delights in me.
In describing a quiet life, Paul advocated "minding your own business and working with your hands" (1 Thessalonians 4:11). In his letter to the Ephesians, he also wrote, "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago" (Ephesians 2:10). I typically think of "good works" as caring for the sick and hungry, serving at church, or sharing the gospel. Those are all important activities that are still part of my life, but my daily tasks, such as laundry and cooking, seemed to have no spiritual significance. I struggled so much with thinking there was no spiritual significance to what I was doing that I stopped praying for myself. After all, God's will had to do with world evangelism and his glory, not laundry, right?
Yet something in the back of my mind told me I was wrong. God, what really matters to you? I asked in frustration one day. God quickly brought to my mind the story of creation. In the first chapter of Genesis, God declared a myriad of things good, even though they were not doing anything "spiritual." Light is good. Fish are good. Birds are good. When God's creations function as he intended, he finds them good.
Having this new perspective on what counts as "good," coupled with the instruction "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31), brought purpose to the seemingly non-spiritual tasks I performed each day. Now I pray for God to give me joy and contentment throughout my day, knowing that even laundry done with a good attitude can bring God glory. I don't have to be changing the world to be doing something good and valuable to God.
My Future Joy Will Not Disappoint
While I'm not exactly suffering, it does take perseverance to get through some of the mundane aspects of motherhood and homemaking. When I confided in my friend about how difficult it was for me to be at home sometimes, she reminded me that we rejoice in our sufferings because "they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love" (Romans 5:3-5).
I found myself encouraging another friend with the same passage when she admitted that she just wanted to skip this life and get to heaven, even though she has a successful career and travels globally for her job. I then saw a Facebook status update from a missionary affirming the difficulties of domestic life. She may be living overseas, but she has to change diapers like the rest of us!
The longing for something more plagues us, whether we are homemakers, working moms, or missionaries abroad, but the purpose of life is not to maximize our enjoyment now. We suffer and persevere in this current life for a future joy, which is our hope. This hope relieves me of the feeling that my current life is wasted if every moment isn't completely satisfying and fulfilling. And it is this hope that inspires me to continue with my quiet life until God calls me elsewhere.
Picture of a Quiet Life
Although I've given up many of my worldly ambitions to pursue the ambition of a quiet life, I haven't given up who I am. My husband and I may not frequent the symphony anymore, but we share our love for music with our kids by listening to classical music with them. I don't have an office with a view anymore, but I do occasional work for my employer that makes use of the hours I spent achieving my professional designation. I haven't gone on any short-term mission trips lately, but we support several missionaries, and when others hear the gospel for the first time, I rejoice, knowing that I don't have to be the messenger to take joy in the delivered message.
And my day-to-day life? Still very mundane. Just because God has challenged me to pursue this life doesn't mean things are suddenly exciting! But I've learned that even the mundane can be significant. Although my activities don't seem to add up to anything by the end of each day, the days add up to become years of my children's lives, and those years form the backbone of who they will be as adults. My quiet life is significant…just not in the attention-grabbing way I anticipated as a college student.
I'm still willing to go anywhere for Christ, and if he calls, I'll go, but I've now also added suburban America to my definition of "anywhere."
Cathy is a wife and mother of two who lives in Texas.