I haven’t blogged much this spring because all my free time has been spent reading, but now I have some really good books to recommend to you guys! First up, Eve in Exile, by Bekah Merkle, sister of Rachel Jankovic, whom you already know we love. Unsurprisingly, this book on femininity delighted and challenged me.
Eve in Exile has two main points. First of all, both the radical feminists and those who long for the “good old days when women knew their place” have it wrong when they talk about what it means to be a woman. The former insist that we’re just like men, and the latter seem to think the Victorian mother or the 50’s housewife embody the perfect, “merely decorative” little woman. In following the radical feminists, women have been discovering that the myth of having it all is impossible and exhausting to attempt, just as countless bored housewives have discovered that sitting around in pretty clothes while their husbands do all the real work is pretty depressing, too. But God actually had a better idea. He created us to be beautifully different from men and gave us hard and important work to do. Merkle spends the second half of her book giving a brief overview of what feminine work includes, under the general headings of Subdue, Fill, Help, and Glorify. She argues, “God did not create women to lounge around in picturesque poses, occasionally embroidering a handkerchief.” We’re to be working to build things (family, culture, community), “to make holiness beautiful, to make it taste,” to help our husbands (if we have them) and “our people” (family, friends, those who God has put in our immediate sphere of influence). I really could have quoted about half the book, but I’ll just give you this one beautiful passage about the work of a homemaker:
Our jobs are not important because they keep us just as busy as if we had “real” careers. They’re not important because we can come up with important sounding words to describe them. Our jobs are important because they are poetry. Because they shape loves and they shape loyalties, they teach and they convict. They’re important because they take glorious truths and make them incarnate, make them visible, and weave them into the souls of the people around us. (Ch. 14)
One thing I most appreciated about this book was its focus on our attitude. Do I see my work in the home as poetry? A woman can be a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children, cooks fresh meals from scratch three times a day, reads the Bible to them every night, and resents them every minute of every day. Such a mom doesn’t get a pass over her mom friend who went back to work full-time and put the kids in public school after her husband developed a debilitating illness that prevents him working (but does it all with a cheerful spirit). In our efforts here at E2S to encourage moms to embrace full-time motherhood in the early years, we have tried to make clear that this is a lifestyle we must commit to do joyfully, not resentfully.
The book doesn’t get into too many specifics of what a Godly woman’s life might be like, because Merkle rightly acknowledges that every situation is different. Although Anna and I do manage to live on a single income with large families in two of the most expensive places in the United States, we’re both very much aware that staying at home full-time is financially easier in the good old Midwest (where we both come from!), for example. And the author herself works now at the school where her (teenage) children attend, so while she acknowledges the need that young children have for their mothers, she definitely is not saying women can not ever work outside the home. Rather, she urges that we make decisions about commitments and employment based on the needs of “our people” and not our own desires for personal fulfillment or praise.
While a book on Biblical femininity can often make the single and/or childless women among us feel left out, Merkle’s call applies to all women. If the focus is ministering to “our people,” our vision for ministry as women needn’t just be limited to young mothers who should be staying home with their kids. My youngest daughter’s namesakes are my favorite author (who never married) and a single woman from my church growing up who became an honorary member of our family (she and my mom and I even road tripped together in my teens) who worked hard in her profession and served faithfully in our church for many years before taking her very ill mother in to live with her for the last years of her mother’s life. This Godly friend of mine did not get to marry until her 50s and never had children of her own, but her entire life has been centered around service, much of which was explicitly feminine. Since this blog is written for young mothers, we don’t talk much about other groups of women, but I so appreciate a robust philosophy of womanhood that can challenge women in any stage of life.
I came away from the book feeling excited and challenged to step up my game. All too often, I act like an employee in my home, doing the bare minimum in housework and cooking to get by. Instead, Bekah Merkle reminds me, I need to see my home with the eyes of a business owner. I don’t just want to clock in and out; I want us to thrive! I want us as a family to do great, glorious things for God. I want to pursue excellence. Some weeks, that might mean coaching my children as they clean house before the social workers come out to do another home study foster family interview (side note: I realize that a year from now, frazzled with my five or six kiddos bouncing off the walls, I will laugh at the thought of cleaning up for these social workers, but I’m still in the wanting to make a good impression phase.). Some weeks, that might mean ignoring the state of the house and snuggling on the couch together all morning to read a really good book. Some weeks, that might mean spending all afternoon in the kitchen together in preparation for hosting another group for dinner. Some weeks, that might mean running my kids to four different activities as they develop the skills and talents God has given them. Regardless of the agenda for the day, I’m re-inspired to tackle it with joy and a sense of purpose!
As always, I would love to talk more about Eve in Exile with any dear readers who have read it, too. Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org And is anyone else enjoying Bekah and Rachel’s What Have You podcast as much as I am?
Note: The links in this post are amazon affiliate links. If you decide to buy this book and order it (or anything else from amazon) through our link, we’ll get a tiny percentage back, which we’ll use to pay the hosting fees for this blog. =)