Every day I waste my life. I spend my time doing menial labor—laundry, vacuuming, dishes, sweeping, chopping vegetables, grocery-shopping. I hold my breath and wipe little bottoms. I read nap time stories aloud and make school lunches. If I look at individual tasks, much of my day is spent doing menial labor—the type of work that doesn’t pay very well. In a world where value is measured in dollars, life as a stay-at-home mom doesn’t feel very important. And the world around us certainly doesn’t validate us for the decision.
A couple nights ago, while I fixed a quick pot of tomato soup and my husband Ben flipped grilled cheese sandwiches, I told him, “I’ve been working hard all day. But I’m not even sure what I got done.” He told me about a Sunday school lesson I had missed last Sunday. The lesson came from Paul’s words in Philippians 2:17:
“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” The teacher, Dr. Spaetti, pointed out that mothers spend each day being poured out.
That certainly resonated with me. By the end of the day, I feel empty—not in the spiritual sense, but in the physical, bone-tired sense. But God sends His Spirit to refill me, so that I can get up and do it all over again the next day.
When I pictured myself as a vial, being poured out each day, I immediately thought of the woman who knelt down and anointed Christ’s feet with costly perfume. Just like her, we are daily pouring ourselves out on something that seems below us—something that requires us to kneel down at floor-level. The Pharisees stood around shaking their heads at this woman’s extravagant show of worship and sacrifice. They asked, “‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her.” (Mark 14:3-9)
Just like Mary, we are surrounded by people shaking their heads, scolding. When the words go unspoken, we know what runs through their minds: She showed such promise when she was young. She was zealous, ambitious, gifted. She got a great education. She was a world-class soprano, an up-and-coming designer, a top-notch optometrist. Why is she wasting that on snot-nose kids and housekeeping? Doesn’t she know we pay minimum wage for those “skills” now?
“What happened?” they ask. “Why are you wasting your life?”
Sadly, we often ask ourselves the same questions. “What am I doing here?” Everyone understands the hustle is necessary when we’re climbing the corporate ladder, or working our way into the job we *really* want. It’s understood that a good career requires putting in time doing something entirely unglamorous. But you and I look around at the unglamorous parts of motherhood, and we silently say to ourselves, “This is leading nowhere fast.”
Paul showed a lot of promise, too. And his work was far from glamorous. But what was he being poured out on? The sacrifice and service of the Philippians’ faith. His spiritual children required all sorts of arduous, humbling, and exhausting work from Paul. But he said “even if I am being poured out as a drink offering.” When we look at the big picture job of motherhood (and wifehood, too) it is for a far greater purpose: the lives we are pouring out for our children are for the building of their faith. When we mop the floor, we aren’t just keeping house.
Taken as a whole, all the little, demeaning tasks that fill our days amount to the shepherding of God’s own children, the creating of a home, the nurturing of little bodies and little souls. And just as a hired hand can’t be trusted to stick around when a wolf approaches the sheepfold, so a hired hand can’t be trusted to fight for the souls of our children.
So when you hear the voices echoing in your mind, voices saying that you are wasting your life, say this: “Just because I am being poured out does not mean I’m being wasted.” But make sure that what is being poured out of you is costly perfume. When we do our work with faithfulness and humility, for the purpose of eternity and not the purpose of a clean house and presentable children, then it is a beautiful fragrance that spreads, even to those shaking their heads. Sometimes the strength of the smell may be overpowering to those who object, but Christ said, “She has done a good deed to me.”