Friday, October 2, 2015

On Pretending to be Useful

I have read my fair share of stereotypical gender roles kind of books, many of them talking about how important it is for a woman to feel beautiful. If you look through the magazines with their 15 step facial cleansing routine, it seems like a reasonable assumption.  But as my 360th day of ponytail might suggest, beauty has never been top on my list of concerns. Sure I wouldn’t mind being beautiful, but it doesn’t keep me up at night.

What I want is to be useful. And I don’t mean in a holier-than-thou kind of way, because as much as being useful, I want everyone to notice how very useful I am and marvel at my mad skills. I want someone to say, “Wow, how do you do it all? Raising bright, creative, disciplined children. Making incredibly healthy meals in a spectacularly clean house. Interacting with students every day. All while being an indispensable leader, writing profound books, being famous, literally saving lives - we are truly inspired.”

And that’s why I don’t want to show how useless I sometimes feel. There are days when I do nothing. Not Gilmore Girls marathon kind of nothing. But nothing outside of my home, and nothing inside of my home that won’t have to be done all over again tomorrow. Nothing that says, “Look at me, I’m leading a super important life here in China!

When we tell people back in America we live in China and they get that “ooh exotic” look in their eyes, or when people (untruthfully) say something like, “I could never do what you’re doing,” I don’t think they are envisioning another day of laundry and hitting and tattling about hitting. Because everyone does that. Besides a laundry porch instead of a drier, it doesn’t even look much different than it would in America.

And sure sometimes I do things with students and “impact lives,” generally in a vague, unmeasurable way. I do the “supporting spouse” thing, which is something like more laundry and cooking and keeping the house livable. And maybe at the end of the day I grew my baby a little bigger and I kept my toddler from eating an entire crayon and I taught my kindergartener how to write a 4. But is that enough? Would it ever be enough?

I don’t want to tell how ordinary our lives are sometimes, how full of the mundane necessities of life, because people want to hear the glory and the suffering, the exotic “this could never happen in America.” People want to hear about The Results. Not The Laundry.

(In fairness, nobody wants to hear about laundry wherever you live; it’s very boring. But it is especially anticlimactic when you are talking about China.)

I don’t want to tell how ordinary our lives are sometimes because I’m afraid people will ask, “Why are you there anyway?” It’s hard enough to hear that question from myself. I know this is where we should be now. I want to be here. But sometimes I wonder if it matters that I’m here.

Especially in this not-so-productive season of my life. This season of limited energy and focusing on what has to get done. This season of learning about weakness and limitations, which is humbling.\\

Some would say growing a baby is productive - it feels like a lot of work sometimes, but it looks more like doing nothing much for 9 months and then you happen to get a baby at the end. Most would say that raising children is important, but often it looks like doing and saying the same things over and over for years and wondering if it’s getting through.

So why are we here, living lives that seem way too ordinary?

This may not be the right answer, or the best answer, but this is the answer I have right now.

We are here to do life in China. Laundry, messy floors, home schooling, all of it. This is not just our jobs; it’s our lives. It’s our children’s lives. China is where we work and play and learn and discipline. We want our students to see that we are not just passing through - we are choosing to live our lives here.

In reality, our lives do look different than they would in America, especially in a million small ways we hardly notice anymore. We do deal with unique challenges. We have great opportunities and witness exciting change. But much of our lives are just eating and sleeping and cleaning and doing life stuff.

And it’s not enough. It will never be enough. The need is always before us; the plans and dreams are always more than we can realize; the tasks will never be completed. At my most productive, I am not enough. But then, in the end, I don’t have to be. It was never all on me anyway.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Fa├žade]


  1. Thanks for this!! I popped over from the Velvet Ashes site...and this is exactly what I needed to hear. I am transitioning from a full-time hospital nurse and homeschooling mom of 3 girls in the US to a homeschooling high school daughters who don't need help/SAHM in South Africa. Great words

  2. I love this post! We just moved to the US from Lanzhou, not too far from you. Wish I could have met you when we were there! Can relate to so much of what you shared about the ordinariness of life and the question of "What are we doing here?" Keep pressing on. You are right where He wants you to be and through the loads of laundry you are bringing glory to Him.

  3. Ruth, you've expressed beautifully what so many women serving globally are feeling. A lot of "ordinary" piled on top of a lot more "ordinary". But this is what I know. Living where you've been called is no small thing in our Father's eyes. He delights in the faithfulness developed in the everyday small things. He smiles at the "doing life stuff" done in His name. He counts those small acts as love lavished on Him. (Mt 25, 1 Cor 10:31, Heb 6:10)
    You are a beautiful example of a surrendered life of hope and faith!

  4. Love this Ruth! :)

  5. Ruth, This is so good to read. I never had children in China and now that I have them in America, I sometimes think, "How could I have even DONE this over there?" You are being faithful--in the exotic AND in the mundane. And it is actually helpful for me personally to hear that your life and mine have many similarities--laundry (oh, but I have a dryer! not the same!), cook, pick up the floor, wipe the nose, stop the fight/tantrum/near accident. Wake up. Repeat. And yet there are still days that I wish I was doing it there, in China! Perseverance, my friend! God is blessing your faithfulness!