Compelled

World War II, women working at D. & R.G.W. train yards, Dec., 1943, Salt Lake City. Image credit: Utah State Historical Society

by Hadley Duncan Howard

I am very, very tired. After a demanding day in the office (or otherwise), occasionally I genuinely struggle to remain vertical so as to accomplish one more vital task of homekeeping or mothering – there’s no rest for the weary. During a recent appointment, my physician asked me if I’ve “noticed some fatigue.” I chuckled wryly and replied, “I’m a working mother with a thyroid problem. Yes, I’ve noticed some fatigue.” I’ve been exhausted for twenty years.

I have a brain that doesn’t often rest. I am a thinker – a person for whom excellent conversation is as necessary as air and sunlight. I live in ideas; come at things head-on, diving in and going deep, or obliquely, finding new vantage and vision. If pressed, I’d have to say that any gifts of the Spirit I possess are communicative in nature: I write; I dream; I discern. This means I am always, always thinking.

As any like-minded individual knows, those who live in ideas are those who are compelled to do something. But doing something requires energy, and lots of it. A female life of thinking and doing is – in these parts – a life uncommon. I’m an outlier, satisfied and sleepy.

A vigorous intellect is a challenge to stamina.

For years, I’ve heard mothers comment on their eagerness for the last baby to go to school, so their own days can commence a regular schedule of pedicures, naps, lunches with friends, uninterrupted exercise, sewing circles or escaping into a novel. To me, a woman (and a tired one, at that), all of this sounds luxurious and unquestionably desirable, like a mirage of rest and indulgence that’s miraculously attainable. Who in her right mind would shun such bounteous pleasures? I could almost weep with gratitude at the WASPy possibility of it all.

But after two weeks of such celebrated comforts, I’d have to be institutionalized. Because as much as I’d like to believe that too much of a good thing is the best thing, for me it’s the worst thing. I was made to work; I was created to contribute. It’s not very sexy, I suppose, but ease will never be the making of me. Indeed, has it ever been the making of anyone?

Why is it that, when women speak of “letting themselves go,” they think only of cellulite, and not of the spiritual death wrought by disuse and abandonment of potential? Surely, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” can refer to a condition much more common than murder – to the negligence, and eventual demise, of a soul’s possibility, to the starvation and suffocation of promise.

No sane person could claim that conscientiously raising children is unchallenging or purposeless, and yet the lives of many women become exactly that as soon as the last child flies the coop. Pedicures and pilates are divine, but they’re not a life. Only rigor is refining.

The opportunity to work is a blessing that I would, under no circumstances, relinquish. It’s where I see myself most clearly.

In the journal I kept as an undergrad, I wrote that I didn’t want to look back on my life and know that I’d spent it on daytime television – a succinct expression of my desire to accomplish something meaningful and lasting. Certainly, motherhood is meaningful and lasting, if anything is. But motherhood, for all the protestations to the contrary, is a job with a use-by date. Eventually (quickly, even), mothering becomes a part-time gig performed in off-hours. But what about the on hours? The thought of sending my family into the world, anxiously engaged in good work, while I die a slow spiritual death of boredom and neglect strikes me as (dare I say it?) sinful. Does the Lord not value my good work and anxious engagement as much as theirs? Does age and gender nullify the worth and significance of my contribution? Is my entire life’s influence actually meant to benefit only three people? Reason stares at such absurdity and waste.

So, if the question is why I work when I’m not, in the strictest sense, required to by necessity, the truest and most complete answer is that I work because I’m compelled to, because God made me a thinker, a doer, a worker – a work-outside-the-home worker. If I were laden with diamonds and yachts, I’d still work. When all my friends are playing canasta and walking the mall, I’ll still be working. I need measurable goals; I need action; I need to get out of the house. It’s who I am.

Yes, as contradictory truths co-exist in fulcrum and friction to outwit inertia, I work by choice… and I am at all times tired. My aching body craves respite for just a spell, but my racing mind isn’t interested in retirement. Although I do try to pace myself, it’s a law of nature that one of these forces will claim a victory, and I’ll be damned, perhaps literally, if I let my body win out over my mind. I’m a contributor; God has made me this way for a purpose – and I can’t contribute from the couch.

I’m compelled to get up and do something.

3 Comments on “Compelled

  1. There are many ways to work, some of them unpaid but just as worthy. That is what I love about our church–we have many opportunities to serve in meaningful ways. I know women in our stake who spend full time hours in their church callings. And there is the community, schools etc out there. I think we need to embrace all women (and men)who are out there working and making a difference in the way they choose.

  2. Thank you for these thoughts! And I very much appreciate the non-judgmental tone of the essay. As you state so beautifully, it is the principle of work itself that is innately divine and ennobling, a constant for all of us. The nature and location of that work–in the home, in outside employment, or some combination of the two–is secondary, and dependent both on individual circumstances and the customized path God prompts each of us to follow. But anyone who consistently acts on an inner motivation to work is, I believe, heeding a holy calling, and will be blessed in their efforts.

  3. Thank you for this blogpost. I so identified with your thoughts, but couldn’t have said it so eloquently. I often feel guilty for working, purusing higher education, etc. But, the guilt doesn’t last long because I really think, in me, it is God driven. I’m so sorry you are always tired. I can’t imagine feeling such drive and having a thyroid problem that taxes your energy! You go girl!

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