In college, my girlfriends and I asked a lot of questions.
Should I pursue a career if I know that ultimately I just want to get married and have kids? What if I want to work and have kids? If I make more money than my husband, can he stay at home? If I want kids, but I’m single now, is it okay to still pursue a Master’s Degree (or Law Degree, or PhD.) even though I may not end up using it? Can I do both? Can I have it all?
Fast forward 10 years and I still don’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of advice out there.
Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook and author of Lean In, a book on helping women reach their full potential would say yes you can have it all – by making smarter choices. She believes women unintentionally hold themselves back by basing decisions on future events that haven’t happened yet, instead of making the best choices now. Sandberg is a mother and a wife until her husband, unfortunately, passed away not too long ago.
Meanwhile, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor emerita at Princeton University, former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs, and former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department wrote a response opinion editorial in 2012 titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In 2011, 18 months into her new job at the State Department, Slaughter left her high-powered (and we can assume well-paid) job to focus more time on her family, including her then 14-year old son who was having trouble in school.
At a quick glance, it seems these two women are working against each other. Sandberg says women need to start making better decisions about their careers so they can reach their personal best. Slaughter, meanwhile, seems to take a more realistic approach to juggling both a demanding career and family. Both, however, say it’s possible under the right circumstances and with help. Whether that help comes from understanding husbands, as Sandberg suggests, an employer who offers more flexible or part-time hours as Slaughter offers, or as Katherine Zaleski recently wrote in an Elle article, her nanny.
Now, I don’t have any kids yet, but it’s an issue I began thinking about in college, years before I would even meet my husband. That’s because women are forward thinkers, especially on matters dealing with love and family. We want to know what to expect and what we can do now to get where we want to be.
But unfortunately, it sometimes seems like the Bible provides little help in this matter. While it is black and white on topics like murder, stealing, and adultery, other topics in life – such as career, family, and gender roles – seem to fall into a gray area.
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Here’s my take…
Because it is not spelled out, some Christians take that to mean they can do whatever they want – free in Christ! But this opens the door to a lot of unwise and presumptuous decisions.
The good news is that God has left us with tools to help figure out His will for us in the gray areas. His Word, though not black and white on all topics, provides principles and often boundaries to help us make decisions with confidence that we are in His will, regardless of our decision looks different than someone else’s.
He’s also left us with the Holy Spirit. In John 16, Jesus says, “It is good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you…when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
Every single or married woman will face confusing situations where we wish there was an easy right or wrong answer. But because Scripture tells us that God says “Seek wisdom and truth and your answers by seeking Me. I will guide you in the way you should go,” we trust that God will lead us in all areas, even the confusing ones.
In Ephesians we find a command to submit to our husbands, as we would to the Lord. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (NIV) (Ephesians 5:22-24)
You probably agree that as Christian women we must submit to Christ, but did you know we are to submit to our husbands the same way we would to Christ?
Our other example is the way the church submits to Christ, and that is how we must submit to our husbands. (The other side of that is that husbands must love their wives the way Christ loves the church! Yes!)
Now you may wonder what this has to do with career decisions. It means that your husband comes before your job. He and his needs are before your career. Complicating matters, let’s add kids into the mix. What now? Is your career pushed even lower? I think the story of the famous “Proverbs 31” woman sheds a lot of wisdom on this situation.
She is such a woman of character that she brings honor to her husband. Because of her wisdom, hard work, and love, her children praise her. Due to her excellent household management skills, her family never has to worry about food, or warm clothing, or shelter. She has done so well she even provides generously for her servants and has extra to help the poor. This wife and mother rise early in the morning and stays up late at night to make sure everyone is taken care of.
I think that’s important to note. Her family was her primary area of influence and responsibility. The fact that she had extra for the poor and was also a smart, savvy businesswoman on the side is an added bonus. While there are other industrious women mentioned in the Bible – Deborah the judge, and Queen Esther – the Proverbs woman is our ideal.
First Timothy 5:14 says a wife’s priority must be her family and her household must be “managed.” Titus 2:5 says, “keepers of the home.” That’s a black and white fact. But it never says women can’t work. The Bible never says you can’t both have kids and work. It just says to put your family first. You can work part-time, full-time, or even be a CEO, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your primary responsibility to your family.
Of course, many of you already know how difficult that is. This is where hard choices and sacrifices come into the mix. Only a wife and her husband can decide this, but that is where you will need the Holy Spirit’s help in figuring out what is best for your family, and whether a career may be negatively affecting your family (and the same goes for husbands and their career decisions). You must give the issue to the Lord and humbly submit to where He leads you. There are many different situations out there and probably no two families will look the same.
But what if you’re single?
Chances are you’ve at least begun to wrestle with these questions. Should I pursue a ‘career’ if I know that ultimately I just want to get married and have kids? Will grad school be a waste of money? What if I want to work and have kids? How can I plan now?
The problem is that sometimes we’re asking questions before we need to. In Matthew we’re instructed not to worry about tomorrow, it comes with its own set of troubles. And since the Bible never says women can’t or shouldn’t work, when we’re single it seems we have the freedom to go as far, and fast, as we want after our dreams.
And I know about having dreams. In 7th grade, I decided I wanted to be a TV news reporter. So in college, I pursued degrees in communication and political science while also working for my school’s (very little) TV station. Months before I graduated I drove to stations in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to meet with news directors asking how to get a job. After college, I worked, for free, in several stations as I inched my way up. I had a dream, I had a passion and I gave it my all.
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At one point I even considered a graduate school for broadcast journalism and had my sights on American University. It sounded amazing. I’d move to Washington, D.C., and learn even more about the field, plus, the program included an overseas trip. Looking back I realize I didn’t really want the degree. I was just struggling to make it in the reporting world and was looking for a way out of it while still giving the impression I was “chasing” after my dreams.
What ultimately led me to decide against pursuing the degree was the cost – more than $50,0000 at the time. As exciting as the opportunity looked, I couldn’t justify putting myself in that much debt when I was unsure it was my real calling.
That’s not to say I made the right decision for all women. I just made the right decision for me at the time. Maybe God does have a plan where He is going to take you to the top, and that includes higher education and a high-profile career. Just remember to be wise, and as the Bible recommends: examine yourself.
One way to do this would be to look for a motive. As I’ve already said, maybe God has planted this amazing dream in your heart, but it’s in competition with another dream, or not with a pure motive.
Perhaps you want to work, but only because you feel you’ll be bored at home alone with kids, not able to afford that bigger house you want, it brings you a sense of worth, or you like the admiration you receive.
These are wrong motives for wanting to work.
But then again, you may be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Maybe you want a husband to provide because you’d rather not worry about the bills, and instead want to get pedicures every week instead of dealing with co-workers. These are also the wrong motives for wanting to stay home. Referring back to 1 Timothy 5:14, this would not fall under “managing” your home well.
So ask why you want to work. Is it a God-given dream, or is for your own pride? Does working interfere with your ability to serve God? Does NOT working take away your ability to serve God where you know He wants you?
Too often our identity is wrapped up in what “we do.” I’ve lived in D.C. for five years now and the first question people always asked after your name is, “And what do you do?” It creates an atmosphere where you feel immense pressure to impress those around you with your job title. It can also create immense pressure to keep working or feel like you don’t belong in this city if you do choose to stay home.
Are you more concerned about what others will say about you – or God’s plan for your life? Ultimately our identity is in Christ, not in our job, or lack of.
But if all lights are green to go after your passions and dreams, go after them with all you’ve got! And don’t forget to thank God for giving you that dream in the first place.
Of course, for others of you, the thought of going after your “passions” and “pursuing your dreams” is laughable. You’re just trying to make ends meet every month. Pursuing your passions is not even an option. But maybe you’re also trying to follow God’s plan for your life and sick of people looking down on you for working so hard, or having to put your kid in daycare while you try to keep your head above the flood of bills.
Maybe you’re single and would do anything to have a husband to take care of you or have the opportunity to pursue what you really want, but that’s just not where you are at right now. But by providing for yourself when no one else will and taking care of your family – you are living in His will and doing the best you can. Take comfort in that knowledge and go to God daily with your requests.
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Be cautious of people that tell you that a Christian woman can’t or shouldn’t work. Or that she shouldn’t pursue her passions wholeheartedly. All across the Bible, we see this is just not true. But be equally cautious of people that tell you a woman should work to prove her worth and that she should always put herself first. That we know is unbiblical. As women, we don’t like to be told we can’t do it all. Just because we are able to do multiple things, doesn’t mean we should.
On the flip side, as long as we’re following God and His Word, we don’t need to worry if we’re always making the right choices or not. As long as we’re willing to surrender our decisions to Him – and lean on His understanding – we can trust He will always direct our paths.