This past fall, the Census Bureau released a study with sobering statistics. “As the pandemic erupted in the spring of 2020, roughly 3.5 million mothers with school-age children either lost jobs, took leaves of absence or left the labor market altogether,” the Associated Press reported.
While many women have continued to work out of necessity, those who haven’t returned are reassessing what “work” should look like for them as the pandemic drags on. Some lament being trapped with their online-schooling children all day; others are finding the required shift in responsibilities to offer unexpected fulfillment.
Women have certainly left a vacancy in the workforce, but any stay-at-home mom will tell you she hasn’t left work behind. Her labor at home is just as demanding as it was in the office. As a reluctant breadwinner, I’ve learned this myself.
Seventeen years ago, I walked across the stage to receive my graduate degree while seven months pregnant, convinced a doctoral degree was just a stone’s throw away. But I fell in love, hard, with my baby girl’s big green eyes and discovered I had competing passions. I wanted to be a mom and I wanted to make something of myself, whatever that meant. I put further studies on hold, took contract jobs to “keep up my skills,” and embraced motherhood as best I could, albeit always with an eye toward what other women my age were achieving.
As it turned out, I grew to love my labors at home with four children. I discovered the dignity of raising little minds and the honor of shaping little hearts. I homeschooled my children for eight years, giving them the very best I had to offer, nurturing their instincts toward discovery and creative inquiry. I volunteered for their 4-H clubs and baseball teams, and I learned that my skills honed in the workforce could be used in myriad ways I’d never imagined. God had so much good work for me to do. And then, just as I was at my most content, my husband died suddenly.
Tasked with caring for my family alone, I have become a reluctant breadwinner. Not because I don’t love my work. I do. And not because I don’t believe in women’s rights or the value of women’s presence in the workforce. I’m reluctant because this was never the plan. My career desires of old never factored in breadwinning alone for a family of four children. I never envisioned juggling my love of motherhood and my responsibilities as a solo parent.
As I’ve returned to work with the wisdom born of hard times, I’ve come to see even more dignity where I once saw dirty dishes and laundry. And I’ve needed to remind myself of God’s truth about human work and flourishing as I’ve logged in each morning to my computer. Whether you find yourself laboring in the laundry room or the boardroom, I suspect you need these affirmations of your work as well.
One Call, Many Members
The Bible is clear that women receive the same call as men to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23–24). Grounded in this truth, there is no man’s world or corporate world, only God’s world. No calling is higher than another. We’re all called to love the Lord our God and serve our neighbor as ourselves.
Women receive the same call as men to ‘work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.’
Tim Keller writes in Every Good Endeavor that all our labor is “a vehicle of God’s loving provision for the world.” Whatever task lies before us, it’s an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those with whom we interact. Your work is an opportunity to glorify God. When you understand the collective call of all believers to labor in God’s field, you can do your work with joy and purpose wherever you’re placed. You can find reassurance that God is the one who issues the ultimate paycheck, an eternal inheritance of reward for obedience to his commands. We may be many employees, but we’ve all received the same work instruction.
While the world I grew up in praised women’s ambitions in the office, the churches I attended lauded women’s work in the home. Over and over, I was asked to choose one location over the other. But as technology has given us laptops, cell phones, and Zoom, the choice is no longer as stark as it was. And as I’ve returned to work after years as a stay-at-home mom, I see that God honors those who labor in his field as they faithfully engage in whatever work he has assigned to them. God’s favor isn’t found in only one place.
God’s favor isn’t found in only one place.
Tragedy has a way of reorienting our priorities and clarifying our vision. Over the last year, we’ve seen the pandemic highlight the value of jobs many once saw as menial. States have negotiated over which businesses to consider “essential services,” and many women have chosen to forgo career ambitions to serve sick or vulnerable relatives. Jobs once considered small or insignificant are infused with new purpose as we see work in the context of human flourishing and the common good.
Perhaps we have needed this reorientation. In a world that pits one against the other, we can remember that God calls different women to different spheres, placing each of us where we can serve him best. The world needs all of our labors in his name. No work location is remote from God’s intention. We can praise him in both places.
It didn’t take me long after returning to work to see how motherhood had developed crossover skills in my life. Years of answering my toddlers’ endless questions honed a gracious spirit that would be put to the test when replying to an irritating email from a colleague. Shuttling my kids to after-school activities demanded the same scheduling prowess as administering project management. I’d worried when I left work for motherhood that my skills would become stale, that I’d grow obsolete. Instead, I discovered that God hadn’t equipped me for a lifetime of work in a single sphere. In the office and at home, he was shaping me into someone who could give him glory through all of my labor throughout all of my life.
The world will tell you that some labor is less or more valuable than others. However, God assures us that even our smallest acts of work are offerings of worship. A cup of water given in Jesus’s name is service to Christ himself (Matt. 10:42). Even in the face of death, your faithful labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15). If we don’t see it that way, we must remember that our own blindness doesn’t reflect God’s truth. As many members of the same body, our tasks will each look different but are all indispensable to the fulfillment of God’s good purposes.
Performance reviews from a toddler are swift and unflinching. Results in parenthood come many years later—a lagging indicator, the metric of a job in which we’ve invested. Our career may or may not shape up the way we’d hoped. Whatever work looks like for you these days, remember that the results are not ours alone. They’re wrought in the beautiful partnership of God’s mysterious sovereignty and our faithful labor.
For each of us, work can become the medium in which we offer ourselves to God, says Keller. As those redeemed by Christ and shaped by the Spirit, this will always be our reasonable act of worship.
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