"I am a Stay-at-Home Wife"
12 Aug 2004 | Lanier Ivester
“So, what do you do?” The question is posed relentlessly. In other words, "What label have you given yourself to prove to the rest of the world that you are not a drain on society?"
During my single years I had a lot of creative answers to that question: “I am a ballet teacher.” “I work at an old and rare bookstore.” “I am a student.” “I teach piano lessons.” Those years were ripe with opportunities to invest in other lives, to develop skills for the future, and to discover the calling for which God had uniquely designed me. During my five-month engagement, I quipped lightly, “Why, I am a bride!” Most people were amused by that, but I was serious. I saw it as a calling, and a very sweet one, at that.
I was spending every waking hour preparing, not just for my wedding, but for my husband. There was painting to be done and flowers to be planted at my new home where we were planning to hold the reception. There were the invitations to address and the endless decisions about cakes and bouquets and bridesmaids dresses, and although I had been mentally planning my wedding from the time that I was sixteen, I still had a lot to do. But far more important than any of that, I was getting ready to be a wife, and the vocation was so appealing and precious that tears would spring to my eyes at the very thought, and I would sometimes call Philip at the office with a little whispered entreaty: “Can’t we just elope…today? Right now?”
We had been married only six months or so when we attended a wedding of one of my husband’s friends. I found myself sitting at a table with an old acquaintance of his, a young single man. I awaited the inevitable. When the question finally came, I smiled brightly and squeezed my husband’s hand. “I am Philip’s wife,” I said, with all the pride in the world. His eyes widened, but not with the censure I had anticipated. He shook his head in a dumbfounded manner, and said, “Well, then Philip is a lucky man.”
I knew from the very beginning that Philip would love for his wife to be at home—not that he would require it, but that he would revere it, and that knowledge only solidified my unswerving conviction that he was the one God had for me. He had thought about it, and that was what he was looking for. But what man, in his inmost heart, wouldn’t admit that it would be nice to come home at the end of a long day to a good, hot meal; a pretty, clean house; and a woman who has given a little attention to her appearance? I realize that I am generalizing a bit, but if I am, it is on matters that basic biblical principles presuppose. “But let the older women teach the younger women to…love their husbands…to be keepers at home…” (Titus 2:4,5).
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the word "keeper" means literally a guard, a stayer at home, one who is domestically inclined. We women are gatekeepers—no matter what battles are raging in our culture, we have been entrusted with the culture of our own homes, a culture within which tremendous ministry can take place, both to our families as well as the ones God brings into our lives. And for me, even though He has not blessed us with children yet, that is a full-time job. Once people have regained consciousness after I tell them that I am a stay-at-home wife, they usually say something like, “I wish that I could afford to do that,” or “What on earth do you do all day?”
There is no reply that will satisfy those who have already made up their minds that I am throwing away my life, or at least any potential for significance. But I was once asked by an older woman who was a stay-at-home mother of 11, “What do your days look like?” which is a much more intuitive question. She did not assume for a moment that just because I had no children at home my days were not filled with meaningful tasks.
We ladies need to reassess our motives in what we do. All that we do—from the housewife who is so occupied with her children that her husband goes to work with buttons missing off of his shirt, to the newly-married career woman who feeds her man on frozen dinners and take-out food. We were created by God to be a helper suitable. In other words, we are designed by God to be precisely what that man—that we have vowed before Him to love, honour, cherish and obey—needs. Such an understanding of the glowing realities beneath the surface of life exalts tasks like ironing his pants and packing his lunch and making his home beautiful to a place of honour, as far removed from the idea of subservience as the sacred from the profane.
I think that it is a shame that the old-fashioned custom of a wife being called by her husband’s name has gone by the wayside. What a symbol of pride and possessiveness—I am his! Mrs. Philip Ivester—he has given me his name, in very much the same way as our Lord has given us His. We are Christians—"little Christs"—not just people who believe in Him, but people who belong to Him. We don’t lose our identity in assuming such a handle; we accept it gratefully, joyously, knowing the new life within us for which it stands.
God often changed people’s names in the Old Testament as an outward sign of His ownership of them. They were not less themselves, but more—in all the abundance and freedom of God’s calling. If we are wives, it is a symbol of the fullness of our womanhood to be so named. I have been approached on two separate occasions by widows who thanked me most earnestly for addressing a letter to them using their husband’s name. These women were still proud to be identified with their men—and touched deeply that someone had proclaimed it in such a simple, commonplace way.
I am not a homemaker because I had too little ambition or education to make anything else of myself. No—I am a homemaker because God has given me the infinite honour of being a wife, and I delight in employing every ability that He has equipped me with in this glad career. I love being home. I love being intimately familiar with each creaking floorboard and each pattern that the sun makes upon the walls as it travels across the backyard. I love making bread and tending my garden and caring for a small menagerie of cats and chickens and a dog who thinks he’s human. But most of all, I love the happy look that I see on my husband’s tired face when he comes in at the end of the day. And I cherish the fulfillment that the Lord gives me in all of these things. Indeed, “my borders enclose a pleasant land”. (Psalm 16:6)
I am not saying that no married woman should supplement her husband’s income. I am only urging that she be sure of her calling. Too many women jump to some rather unfortunate conclusions when it comes to the concept of homemaking. They seem to associate it solely with child-raising, forgetting that in his divine order the Lord calls us to be wives before He calls us to be mothers. It is a wonderful thing to encourage women to be at home with their children, and I applaud those who have made sacrifices of their careers in order to invest in eternity. But we should be promoting the vocation of wife just as much, if not more, for the marriage relationship is the foundation of all family life. For the childless woman, home can still be a fulfilling place, as I have learned in waiting on God to bless us with little ones. To be sure, there may be less time for the tending of roses, but I think that the nursing of little rosebuds will be a fair exchange.