The anonymous blogger, Frau Luther, is frustrated with the way we (or perhaps just I, since I seem to be the one who throws the word around the most here) at SF talk about hospitality:
Like, there’s a LOT of trendy talk in those circles about “hospitality” and communal living and whatnot. Those who are outside traditional families are supposed to find some way to link up with this. Those inside them are supposed to somehow reach out and pull them in. This is allegedly the cure for loneliness. And as someone who is firmly ensconced in the very kind of traditional family they look towards, I have to say their understanding of what it’s like in here must be based on a 19th century novel or something, because it sounds nothing like my reality. Maybe it’s class-based (I strongly suspect this), as their visions seem to be filled with dinner parties and wine glass clinking and rich conversation over great books and fine liquor, and calendars full of ~social obligations~. Or something like that.
The idea that life in a family is not lonely is laughable. Think it through. Do you remember Betty Friedan? I spend most of my life in a static-space between utterly alone and never alone. I rarely have a soul to talk to and I can’t go to the bathroom for 5 minutes without someone interrupting. I’m not complaining, here, and I am not claiming that my status in the family constitutes oppression. I mean that the lot of the human being is loneliness, to some degree, and mutual incomprehensibility, and toil and weariness and weeping in hac lacrimarum valle. And life in a family isn’t all hobbit-like coziness and ale. It’s more of the same, with people you’re related to.
What I get from these writings, what puts me SO on edge about them, is that these folks who completely romanticize family life want to come warm themselves by the hearth and have a glass of wine and let a child amuse them for an hour or two, and call this “being part of our community” or somesuch. They will go home reflecting, thoughtfully, and write an essay about the deep meaning of it all, and with some tinge of envy and tsking about how plain boring hausfraus don’t appreciate our fortune. And then I will clear the plates, load the dishwasher, switch the clothes into the dryer, treat someone’s cough, sit half a precious hour in the room until she sleeps again, mend the blanket, thaw the chicken, mix the filling for the lunch entree, put on the TV and try to read 30 minutes before I fall asleep, alone.
I may have something to say in response to this later, but for now, I thought I would just post (with her permission) an email my (single) friend Betsy Childs sent to me about Frau Luther’s rant:
I was fascinated by the “Frau Luther” post on family life, even though I don’t know who this woman is. Most interesting to me is that she doesn’t seem able to see beyond her own context. She is the mother of small children, her husband apparently has a night job, and she homeschools. Can there be a harder stage of family life than that (excluding single parenthood)?
Observing my friends with small children has taken the romanticism out of my idea of family life. Drudgery is not a bad word to describe it. But this period lasts for a very short time. How many grandparents would write a post like this?
As a student of family life from the outside, I’ve come to a conclusion that family life, as opposed to celibacy, is a life of high highs and low lows. The high is that you are loved by someone who has promised never to leave you. You are needed by children who are utterly dependent on you, and who return your smiles. The low is that you may lose those people to death, or they may at some point reject you.
The single life is more moderated and less risky. The high is that my will is never crossed. The low is that my will is never crossed. Another low is that I am lonely. But at least I don’t have another person who is directly responsible for my loneliness.
I do think that her point, though it could have been more charitably stated, is a needed corrective to the romanticizing of family life and hospitality by single people. We are invited into the highs—to Christmas dinner. We need to be reminded that the home is not always filled with such inviting aromas.
However disgusted with her quality of life Frau Luther may be, I suspect she will not stay that way. Perhaps when she can see beyond her own situation, she will be able to think more about how God may extend the gifts and fellowship of her family to others who won’t be quite as demanding as her little ones.
I found this insightful. Again, I may say more later, but that’s all for now. Thank you, Betsy.
Wesley Hill is an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010). He can be followed on Twitter: @WesleyHill.