There’s been quite a bit of discussion on the “joys of housewifery…” That is, of course, a rather tongue-in-cheek statement, as many of us struggle daily with the challenges and demands of caring for our homes and children. Not a few of us have added home education to the mix, just to keep things interesting! I’d like to personally thank all of the lovely ladies out there, who continue to offer support and encouragement for what is often considered by society as the ultimate in daily drudgery.

Having said that, I’d like to switch gears and turn the discussion to a subject that I struggled with for many years…

Wifehood. Yes, it’s a real word. The formal definition: The state of being a wife; the character of a wife.

What is the character of a wife? We don’t have to look very far in Sacred Scripture for a few pointers:

From the book of Sirach:

Blessed the husband of a good wife,
twice-lengthened are his days;
A worthy wife brings joy to her husband,
peaceful and full is his life.
A good wife is a generous gift
bestowed upon him who fears the LORD;
Be he rich or poor, his heart is content,
and a smile is ever on his face.

A gracious wife delights her husband,
her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones;
A gift from the LORD is her governed speech,
and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth.
Choicest of blessings is a modest wife,
priceless her chaste soul.
A holy and decent woman adds grace upon grace;
indeed, no price is worthy of her temperate soul.
Like the sun rising in the LORD’s heavens,
the beauty of a virtuous wife in her well-ordered home.

And Proverbs:

When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.
She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skillful hands.
Like merchant ships, she secures her provisions from afar.
She rises while it is still night, and distributes food to her household.
She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She is girt about with strength, and sturdy are her arms.
She enjoys the success of her dealings; at night her lamp is undimmed.
She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.
She fears not the snow for her household; all her charges are doubly clothed.
She makes her own coverlets; fine linen and purple are her clothing.
Her husband is prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes garments and sells them, and stocks the merchants with belts.
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel.
She watches the conduct of her household, and eats not her food in idleness.
Her children rise up and praise her; her husband, too, extols her:
“Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all.”
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.

Challenging precepts, indeed! Yet, how do we apply them? My husband is “entrusting his heart” to me. What daily kindnesses to do I offer to reflect this? Am I waiting for him to reciprocate, or do I truly, lovingly offer daily sacrifices for him?

As a former feminist, the thought of serving a man was simply abhorrent! I would watch my mother fix my father’s coffee, lay out his clothing…for heaven’s sake she would warm his robe in the dryer! My father is a wonderful man, kind and loving to his wife and children, and yet I couldn’t see how this level of servitude was necessary. I took this baggage into my marriage and let my husband fend for himself.

I washed his clothes. I prepared evening meals. But that was it. After all, he’s a man! He can fix his own breakfast, can’t he? Why should I rise earlier than necessary? I need my sleep and really, does it matter? He leaves the lid off the toothpaste! And dirty socks on the floor! Do I OWE him any further service?!

Yes…I felt that way. And loved him dearly! Or at least said I did. But my daily actions often reflected something far from love, and were even tinged with not a small amount of disrespect. He was always patient, always kind, never demanding and simply accepted our household arrangement as the status quo.

Fifteen years ago, I had a change of heart. We call it “conversion.” Mine was the “Saul on the road to Damascus” sort, which I will share sometime in the future. This “awakening” opened my eyes to the reality of the message that I was sending, not only to my husband, but to my children, his friends and the world in general.

Non serviam. I will not serve. Or at least, I’ll serve only as much as I want to, when I want to, if I want to.

So I changed. I opened my heart and responded to the call of generosity and charity. This opened many doors and greatly increased my capacity to love. Not only did I improve in the service of my husband, but it helped to open other areas, previously closed due to my rebellious nature.

I still struggle. Daily. I’m far from perfect and realize that there is still much work to be done. But there is a certain sweet pride (the good kind!) in knowing that I can subvert my desire to stay in bed and instead rise before my husband, prepare his coffee and breakfast, help locate the things he needs for the day, pack his lunch if he requests it and accompany him to the door as he’s leaving. These things matter. It sends a message…”I love you, you are important to me, I appreciate how you sacrifice for our family, for me…”

“I want to sacrifice for you…”

It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that our sacrifice involves the daily care, feeding and education of the children. The watering of the plants, sweeping the floor, doing the dishes, preparing the meals, etc. These are sacrifices. Loving acts of necessity that our husbands appreciate. But there’s so much more…

Seeing him to the door, greeting him when he returns home, really listening to him, not barraging him with a list of complaints as soon as he walks in the door…exercising those little kindnesses sends a much larger message and refutes the message the world would have us believe.

There is no joy in “non serviam…” An eternity of misery is written in those words.