From its genesis, holiness and filth walk with fingers entwined, forbidden lovers born for each other. From the gooey mess of afterbirth emerges the angel face of a daughter. As I wipe muck from her year-old bottom, she giggles and launches my heart ceiling-high. Mopping up the collateral damage of her potty-training—again—I am caught between curses and praises. Waiting on tiny tables, buttoning princess dresses, washing heart-shaped dishes, breaking up kitten fights, I fight my proud resistance to this daily ordinance of humility.
Work is so much easier than this. And so much more rewarding.
Yes, more rewarding.
Work yields fast dividends: esteem, results, checks on checklists, unprompted thank-yous, a sense of accomplishment. At work I have an office space I control, where books stay neatly in line on the shelves and tools are my toys. People—nearly grown people—come and go in civilized fashion, wait their turn, say please. Stacks of work diminish in size as I solve problems using high-level mental processes. The diplomas I worked years to earn are on the wall, smiling down at me, stretching out an arm to pat me on the back.
It is really quite nice. A happy sort of limbo where neither glory nor humiliation come calling.
But home is the marriage of heaven and hell. The highs are high and the lows are low.
The question is (as it was for readers of Blake’s masterpiece), which is the real heaven and which the real hell? Is heaven when all is mellow, when the kids are napping or hugging me or playing nicely for a change? Is hell when I’m wiping up blood, urine and tears to the tune of children’s wailing?
Or is something else going on? Are the inconveniences of parenting that feel like hell purging the pent-up inferno of my self-centeredness? Are the quick rewards of work that seem so heavenly sustaining the life of my parasitic ego, the one that sucks dry the God-imaged me? Are the moments of peace paradise’s reward to me, or breaks in the boot camp in which God has lovingly enrolled me?
When did we decide that the best thing to do is the one we find most “rewarding” anyway? Did Jesus wash filthy feet for the rewards? Was
Caring for my children exposes the rawness of my nerves, the frailty of my facades, the poverty of my soul. It catches me red-handed. It brings me to my knees in ways that my rewarding job never could.
I do not like this part of the Daddy gig. It infuriates me daily. I fight against it, I whisper curses. I slam the wall with my open hand, hoping it will knock sense up through my arm into my heavy heart.
I pray desperately. I hug my girls, pressing my cheek in hard against theirs. I breathe in the bouquet of their hair and kiss the blonde curls atop their heads, hungry to be filled with the kind of love they were born to enjoy.
Through the anger of vulgar self-interest—my real hell—I emerge with a sort of peace. Humiliated. Gloriously.