“Hermeneutic” (I had to look it up, too) is a ten-cent word meaning interpretation. The phrase “hermeneutic of generosity” comes from the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, about Dr. Paul Farmer, who brought health care to Haiti with his Partners in Health organization. And here is what Dr. Farmer means: when someone tells you something, you assume the best of them. You don’t look for things to criticize, you assume that they mean well in whatever they said.
To reframe it in terms that are useful to me personally, having a hermeneutic of generosity towards others means that I refuse to allow myself to be irritated by them. I refuse to seek for reasons to be offended or bothered or critical. I assume they mean well, and I treat them accordingly unless proven otherwise.
I’ve been thinking about generous interpretations as I’ve read the recent war of words concerning Hillary Rosen and Ann Romney. There are better discussions and analysis of the issues surrounding the war between women here, and here. That’s not really what I want to go into right now.
What I’m most interested in are the stories behind the labels: working mom, stay-at-home mom, do-a- little-of-everything mom. Segullah‘s newest staff member, poet Terresa Wellborn, posted this on her Facebook wall, from Barry Lopez: “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”
For me, the two ideas are linked: that what creates the hermeneutic of generosity is the assumption that the person you’re hearing has a story, has a reason for being the way they are, for seeing the way they see and saying what they are saying. I believe that this is one of the most powerful aspects of charity: when we see others as they are, as God sees them, then we do not allow Satan to stir up our hearts to contend with anger. Instead, we assume good, because we see them as good.
Here’s my story: I’m a stay-at-home mom. I stay at home because I can, financially, and because I feel like that’s where God wants me to be (me, personally. Not you. Just me.). But I chafe at it sometimes, and second-guess myself. A while ago I attended a wedding reception and encountered one of the bishops I grew up with, who asked me what I was up to. “At home with my kids,” I told him. “You could have been anything,” he said, “and look at you. You chose to stay home.”
He meant it as a compliment, I am sure. But there’s a part of me that thinks, I could have been anything, and I didn’t. I didn’t do any of it. I didn’t write the book, I didn’t get the advanced degree, I didn’t have the job, I didn’t. And there are many women who had kids and also did all those things. I have no idea how, but they did, and I’m amazed by them. So when I’m being honest, I admit to a certain amount of envy. I know this is wrong, this envy, and I’m working to stop it.
Five years ago I was invited to join the staff of Segullah, and I was not sure that I should. Should I really take time away from my family just for something I wanted? (“Wanted” is a weak word; “yearned for” seems cheesy but accurate.) I knelt down to pray about it, and I felt overwhelmed by the Spirit telling me that this would be a good thing in my life, that I needed to do it, that it was all right. More than all right: that this was the direction God had blessed me with.
Maybe you have already figured this out, but for me, it was hard for me to believe that I was allowed, permitted, encouraged by God to cultivate the things I used to be good at, before I had children. I had thought I would need to put it all on hold till my kids were grown; to feel like I did not have to was eye-opening and liberating. I felt like God knew me as a person, not just as a mother, but as a woman with creative abilities that He wanted me to pursue. Right now I’m not employed, but maybe some day that’s where He will lead me. In fact, I hope it works out for me some time. I would love to go back to school, love to teach, when the timing works out for me and for our family.
I want to know your story: where do you fit into the continuum of working/SAHM moms? Do you ever second guess your decisions? Where had God led you? And, in the spirit of generous interpretation, let’s have the discussion be without preachiness or attacking anyone for the decisions they have made as they’ve worked to care for their families. Stories and compassion are what will hold us all together.