In a post I wrote today for a Christianity Today women’s leadership forum, I discussed the growing trend in our modern, digitized lives to measure life. There’s a number tied to just about everything these days… our email inbox, our cell phone rosters, our Facebook accounts, our blogger dashboards. It’s increasingly hard to do anything without a running tally of how many people you’re interacting with or influencing. I wrote: “The technology that now structures so much of our lives is forever counting, tracking relentlessly. And we who keep up with the digitized world tend to use the numbers as a means of gauging our day-to-day lives.” Often to our detriment, since we usually only view ourselves as successful or when the inbox is full or the blog ranking’s high… And, more to the point, because the life of faith is not a by-the-numbers life.
So what does all this have to do with mothering? A fair amount, actually. I think stay-at-home moms can fall into the data-tracking trap as much or more than anyone, as many of us look to our “online lives” as a way of warding off alienation and connecting with the outside world. I know scores of self-professed Facebook addicts (one being me, on occasion) and have read accounts of mommy-bloggers obsessing over their viewer stats (which I can also imagine doing). Moms need to be as wary, if not more so, than the average American about this stuff.
But there’s another link between at-home mothering and the “measurement” phenomenon, and it’s this: we moms wholly lack tangible assessment data. No five-star rating mechanism comes with any aspect of parenting, and our preschoolers never provide clear, direct feedback on how we’re doing. Among jobs, ours is one whose progress can be the most nebulous – and therefore discouraging. Are we doing a good job? Are we having an impact? It’s hard to tell.
I didn’t have space in the post to include something that I otherwise would have – a favorite passage from a C. S. Lewis book I love, The Great Divorce. The protagonist, a traveler in heaven, encounters a figure named Sarah Smith, saying:
“I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produced in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of her nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone though the clothes… But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
‘Is it?… Is it?’ I whispered to my guide.
‘Not at all,’ said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders green.’
‘She seems to be … well, a person of particular importance?’
‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on earth are two quite different things.’
‘And who are these gigantic people… look! They’re like emeralds… who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’
‘Haven’t you read Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.’
‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’
They are her sons and daughters.’
‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.’
‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son–even if it is was only the boy that brought meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.
‘Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?’
‘No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.’
‘And how… But Hullo! What are all these animals? A cat–two cats–dozens of cats. And all those dogs… why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.
‘They are her beasts.’
‘Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean this is a bit too much.’
‘Every beast or bird that came near her had a place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.'”
With characteristic brilliance, Lewis demonstrates that ordinary lives well lived – often unnoteworthy from a worldly standpoint – can become those most applauded and celebrated in heaven. I can’t think of a more encouraging pictures for us mother who pour daily into our kids, families, and neighbors, to keep at it… And to believe that our efforts not only do make a difference, but are carefully observed by the only One whose assessment really matters in the end.