Purpose in the In-Between Times

I’ve always known I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. 

I can think of no better career than to be the one to shape the earliest experiences of my children’s lives, to be the primary and greatest influence on their first impressions of love, learning, and life. I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t miss working outside the home once I had children of my own to educate and nurture; I’m confident that motherhood, with all the varied responsibilities it brings, will provide plenty of challenge and purpose to fill my days and weeks.

So when I got married and moved to Canada, I wasn’t worried about not being able to work while my residency application was in process. I was already planning to be a stay-at-home mom; even if I was allowed to work, it would only be until the babies arrived anyway. It was a blessing, really, to be able to start living the stay-at-home mom lifestyle before the children came along, so I could figure out how to be a homemaker before I had to learn how to be a mom.

That plan became increasingly appealing in the early days of the pandemic, when I couldn’t focus to save my life and all I wanted to do was bake and clean and tidy and bake some more. I took that pull toward domesticity as proof—proof that homemaking was my true calling, that spending all day tending to home and family was the ideal path for me.

What I hadn’t counted on was how long the months between marriage and children would feel.

In the first few months, there were boxes to unpack, immigration forms to fill out, cupboards to organize. Then there were the holidays and all the big, complicated emotions of Christmas in 2020. But then the dust settled and it was 2021. Day followed day, week followed week, and month followed long month, and then all the boxes were unpacked, all the immigration forms were submitted, and all the cupboards were organized. Keeping things clean didn’t take as long as I had thought it would. Baking didn’t happen as often as I had expected either—two people can only go through a batch of muffins so quickly. My home was clean and attractive and cozy, but my days were empty. Empty, and—at least to a certain degree—without purpose.

At first, all I felt was guilt.

I was the woman who had blogged for three months about how vital the work of homemaking was. I was (and still am) passionately convinced that our homes shape and nurture who we are becoming. To create and cultivate a lifegiving home and to care for the souls that live within it has always been the highest and noblest calling in my eyes.

So how could it be that I, finally a full-time homemaker, now felt consumed by a lack of purpose?

It took me several months to be able to verbalize how different my current life is from the lifestyle I had envisioned. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom because I want to invest in people, my people. I want to nurture and inspire and lead the lives entrusted to my care. It was always about people for me, about the kind of environment I wanted to create for them.

And that’s the problem with this in-between time, with the long months or maybe years that lie between the wedding and the babies: there are no people to care for, at least not once my husband leaves for work. As I spend hour after hour alone in my quiet home, it’s hard to connect to the kind of purpose I thought I would have as a homemaker.

I suppose I can blame the pandemic for some of it. In any other year, I would have had a busier social calendar, more events and activities to distract myself with. I don’t regret all the extra hours my husband and I have been able to spend together, learning to be married without the distractions of an overly busy lifestyle. But during the day, when he’s at work and I’m at home, spending long, empty days in a lonely, empty house, I wonder if this season of my life would have felt more meaningful if it had happened in another year, a more “normal” year, a year when I could have been involved in more activities to pass the time between one major life event and the next.

Maybe it would have.

Or maybe the busyness would only have masked the lack of meaning rather than curing it.

Activity? Or Attitude?

Sometimes our lives feel devoid of purpose because there’s some particular activity we should be involved in but aren’t. These are times when we need to take action, to actively seek out meaningful work with which to occupy ourselves.

This is usually my default solution, and maybe it’s yours, too. As soon as I begin to feel that my life is less meaningful than I would like it to be, I start looking for activities to supply the sense of purpose I lack. Maybe I do need a job after all, I tell myself. At the very least, maybe I need some kind of project to fill the long, solitary hours at home. Maybe this is the season when I should be writing a book or starting a business or doing any number of things I never had time to do when a job took up most of my time. Maybe the answer to my restlessness is more activity, something to keep my mind and hands occupied.

Maybe so.

Or maybe this brief moment of stillness and solitude in between the busyness of working and planning a wedding and the different busyness of raising babies is my chance to learn what true purpose is.

Of course, there are times when we do have an activity problem, when we need to add something into our lives. But there are also times when more activity is not the answer, times when what we need is not to find more work but to reframe the way we think about the work we’ve already been given. There are times when what needs to change is not our circumstance, but our perspective.

Many of us tend to associate responsibility and purpose with a paid job, where we work during certain hours, complete certain tasks, and then consider ourselves “off duty” the rest of the time. Because of this, we tend to equate meaning and purpose with measurable productivity. If we’re using our time well—if we’re living purposefully—we should have something to show for it, right? A published piece of writing, a product skillfully designed, a paycheck to prove we’ve spent our time on something worthwhile—or a post on Instagram so the influx of likes will confirm that the choice we’ve made matters.

Part of my impulse to seek out more activity comes from that association. I want to have something I’m working toward that can be scheduled and broken down into a neat and tidy task list. Something with a finish line I can move toward. Something that can be laid out along a visible, measurable timeline.

But what if meaning isn’t always measurable?

What if purpose doesn’t always seem to be productive?

Homemaking isn’t a job I clock in and out of and ignore whenever I’m not “on duty”; it’s the type of person I choose to be, one of the ways I love and serve and nurture the people around me. Sometimes, that service looks like the labor of a purposeful to-do list—but sometimes, it looks like laying my plans aside to meet people’s deeper needs for emotional or spiritual connection. My “success” as a homemaker is determined not by the things I accomplish, but by whether or not people feel that connection, that sense of safety, when they’re in my home. 

I can’t quantify connection and safety. And I can’t measure my “success” as a homemaker by the number of hours I spend working in my home or by whether I’ve checked off my to-do list at the end of the week. Of course a safe and welcoming home environment requires an investment of time and labor—but ultimately, my success is an abstract quality, an atmosphere that is more easily felt than described. 

The problem with focusing on concrete, measurable solutions to our lack of purpose is that we tend to ignore how abstract the truly meaningful things in life tend to be. We fill our schedules, arrange our plans, and rarely leave enough space and time to consider that true purpose doesn’t always come packaged in a shape so easily defined by our schedules and to-do lists.

What if true meaning can’t be measured or assessed?

What if, instead of adding in projects that make me feel productive, I could recognize and embrace the deeper value of what I’m already doing?

What really matters most?

This is not a post with answers.

I’m still in the middle of my own in-between time. I’ve only recently been able to verbalize the weighty questions I’ve just expressed, and I don’t think I’m anywhere near finished wrestling through them within my own heart. 

I can’t offer answers—but I can offer a question, one that has helped me walk through my own season of waiting more thoughtfully and purposefully, and which I hope can help you do the same. As I move through this in-between time, I’ve been asking myself:

Is this an activity problem? Or an attitude problem?

If I’m being honest, I haven’t given my absolute best effort to my home. I haven’t dedicated myself to the shaping of this crucially important environment to the extent that I could do, especially during this unique season where there are very few outside responsibilities calling for my attention.

Is anyone suffering from my lack of dedication? Not really. But when I do put in the extra effort, I notice how my husband’s face lights up when he walks into a cozy, inviting room. I notice how my own stress lifts and dissipates when my space is tidy and clean, when there are flickering candles and freshly made muffins and steaming pots of tea whispering, “This is a place of rest, of safety. You are welcome here. Sit and stay a while.”

That sense of calm and welcome is so incredibly valuable, both for me and for my husband. The lack of children or guests in our home in no way diminishes the impact our home has on us. I don’t want to ignore that impact, and I don’t want to underestimate the role I play in making that environment everything I long for it to be. And I don’t want to rush out searching for “more” without first taking the time to fully embrace how meaningful this unseen, abstract labor of love truly is.

I can’t say for certain that I don’t need more activity in my life, and I certainly wouldn’t presume to answer that question for you. But before I seek to add something in—before I race out of this time of stillness and uncertainty—I’m taking the time to consider my attitude, to make sure the way I think about the work I’m doing now reflects the meaning and purpose that’s already within my reach.

Maybe I do need to do something more—but I don’t want to race down that path before pausing to make sure I’m honoring the meaningful work that’s right in front of me.


  1. Danielle Banerjee said:

    I really enjoyed you sharing about this time of stillness and uncertainty and how you consider pausing to honor what’s right in front of you. It’s interesting I’ve been through similar experiences in my life. I kind of think of it now as I look back as the quiet right before it’s about to snow. For me the stillness was painful at times yet I also decided to not fill my space or become busy by adding more and that’s when my life gave birth for my art to come in.
    Thank you for helping me process my stillness and uncertain times in my life by you sharing about yours.

    May 24, 2021
    • Amy said:

      I love the image of in-between times as the quiet right before it’s about to snow, like a brief pause from which something beautiful is about to be born. Thank you for your thoughtful reply!

      June 11, 2021

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