What has the power to set a woman on edge and make her feel everything from shame to pride to embarrassment to judgment to superiority and in between? Ask her what she does for a living.
Among Christians, this shouldn’t be the case, but alas, many can attest that it is. Single women may feel that somehow they’re missing out on the calling of motherhood and wish they didn’t have to work a job. Others may be happy to forgo husband and kids and find joy in a career. If a mom works outside the home, she may fear judgment, whether real or imagined, from the stay-at-home-mom contingent. If a mom has embraced homemaking full-time, she similarly tends to feel judgment, real or imagined, by her working counterpart. Or better put, real and imagined, for both women.
Women and Work
Before wading into fraught waters, can we take a moment to try to lay aside our presumptions? We may assume that because a woman prioritizes her home such that she has no paycheck, she is ardently opposed to any work outside of it, and we also may assume that because a woman is getting a paycheck, she disdains the work of the home. These are unkind and dangerous presumptions that create inflated divisions in Christ’s body.
We also need to recognize our goal as Christian women: not the freedom to do whatever we want, but the freedom to do God’s will. We want this for ourselves and our fellow sisters-in-Christ.
What principles, then, does the Bible give us regarding women and work?
Made to Work
First, work is not optional. God put men and women in the garden to work. God gave dominion to them both.
Throughout the Scriptures, we see very clearly that men and women are not identical. We need to know what it is to be a woman if we’re going to know what it is to work as one. As basic as this is, it is often overlooked. To be a woman is to be made in God’s image, marred and broken by sin. And to be a Christian woman is to be restored and sanctified by Christ who is the perfect image of the invisible God — Christ who lives perfectly in accordance with God’s word. He is God’s Word.
God’s word is not silent in regard to the priorities that women in particular should have. We are made as helpers, co-workers (Genesis 2:18), with the home as a priority (Titus 2:5) and a place of industry, hospitality, and respite (Proverbs 31:10–31). Women are to be fearless in the face of frightening things and submissive to their own husbands, to cultivate inward beauty over outward (1 Peter 3:1–6). We are to be examples of generous patrons, selfless service, and spiritual mothering (Romans 16:1–13). Women manage difficult circumstances requiring action and prudence, like Abigail, Jael, and Deborah. And under, in, above, and surrounding all of these principles is the understanding that all she does is by, for, and through Christ (Colossians 1:16–17).
Meet Real Needs
The pertinent question for women entering the workforce or motherhood or setting up their home or any sphere of work is this: Am I faithfully obeying God as his child by meeting the genuine needs of others, or am I pursuing self-actualization, self-fulfillment, or selfish ambition apart from him?
Our faithfulness first requires a kind of death — death to self and selfish ambition. Yet death leads to life — life in Christ, through him, and for him. What exactly that death looks like will vary from person to person, but in every case, it will be a gospel act, a spectacle of crucifixion with Christ.
For a single mom who must earn an income, prioritizing Christ and the home may mean doing what it takes to provide for her kids’ needs and spending herself at work, then at home, at great cost to herself — to the glory of God and for the good of her children.
For a single woman without kids, it may mean considering cross-cultural missions or walking fearlessly into her job, while saving some reserves for the life of the church or investing in her neighborhood or opening her home — whether it’s an apartment or a house or a room — so she can share what she has, especially Christ in her.
For a married, stay-at-home mom of littles, it may mean seemingly endless physical tasks and training, laying down the pre-motherhood feelings of proficiency as she can no longer earn an “A” for her hard work or receive a promotion.
For the mom with a part-time job that helps financially but isn’t essential, it may mean laying that job down and the extra financial cushion so that she can intentionally sow seeds of the gospel in her children. Or it might mean keeping that job and using her gifts to serve others.
For the woman whose husband is facing long-term unemployment or disability, it may mean becoming the breadwinner or caretaker, shouldering a larger portion of responsibility than she had perhaps desired.
For a mom whose children are older and gaining independence, it may mean a shift in the type of work she does, bravely considering the options and doing things she hasn’t done in a long time, or trying something brand new.
Many Different Forms
Sometimes our circumstances aren’t ideal. Often they are not ideal. This isn’t heaven. And the call to lay down our lives will take different forms. But this is our calling, with its countless manifestations. Not because we’re the one who finally will save our kids or our family or our neighbors or ourselves. We’re not Christ. But we are Christians. We gladly follow the God-man who laid down his own life to meet our truest needs. We gladly echo his great sacrifice in our little deaths-to-self.
We seek to faithfully live the actual life God has given us, not the one we hoped for or wish we had. We take the principles God himself has given us — for work and dominion, the priority of the home, generosity and hospitality, caring for the children (and adults) God has given us (their bodies and souls) — and we apply them to the real life in front of us. Not the ideal. Not the fantasy. But the actual life God has given us.
The everyday lives of Christian women will not all look the same. Yet our hearts will be united more deeply than any exclusive gathering of women who work, or stay at home, or work from home, or any other category, because of our clinging together to Christ.
Make Much of Jesus
We understand what faithfulness looks like in our specific situation through the guidance God himself gives us in his word, by his Spirit, and through the counsel of our local church. Our covenant community, and the relationships within it, provide the context where we figure out what it means to apply biblical principles to our particular life. The matrix of God’s word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people is where we go to get wisdom.
Our work is not about us. It’s not about making a name for ourselves with a fabulous career or being superior because things went well for us and we’re doing it all “right” or trying to “have it all.” If we ache to make a name for ourselves — in self-glorification — we should remember that we serve the one whose name is above all names. He will not suffer us as competitors. And far better than making a name for ourselves, he’s written our names in his book, not because we have a great job, but because we’re his children.
So work really hard. Do amazingly good work. Excel in every single way that you can, in every single area that you can, with the self-forgetful happiness that can be found only when you’ve laid yourself down and are trusting in the name of a tireless, serving Savior. Trust the author of the Lamb’s book of life to guide you in every circumstance to every good work that he’s prepared for you.