Living Post-Fall: Partners, Not Competitors

by Sarah Ago | April 15, 2016

This is Part 2 in a series exploring the consequences of the Fall on men, women, relationships, and the world. See Part 1

The post-Fall declarations of “pain in child-bearing” for women and “eating food by the sweat of your brow” for men have real consequences in our everyday lives. Men and women often experience those consequences in unique ways.

How do we transcend these realities in a way that is in line with kingdom redemption for men and women? How can we support each other as male and female in living out the joint creation mandate?

Personally, I have felt the pain of motherhood in drastic ways, and those experiences have awakened me to the challenges many women face.

I wrestle with the all-encompassing nature of this amazing responsibility that God has given me. I want to give my children the best of myself. However, I also work hard to maintain my identity outside of parenthood.

The depth of sacramental sacrifice required for the journey of parenthood has, at times, left me reeling. I have frequently asked myself questions such as: Am I fulfilling my ministry to both my family and the church in a way that gives my best to both? Should I be going on an overseas mission trip when I have a nursing baby at home? Who am I when my identity seems wrapped up in sleepless nights, endless sicknesses, and hours of rocking my babies in the dark?

The task is not easy, especially when some within my evangelical subculture regularly question my choice to work at all in this stage of my life.

I find that shepherding the people of God and shepherding my own family is a beautiful blend of ministry. But balancing both callings is certainly wrought with the challenges of our post-Fall reality. 

Similarly, men struggle with the consequences of, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food,” in their own unique way. Many cultures tell men that their identity is found in providing for their families. This imposition upon their destinies can create a longing for more or a questioning of their purpose in life. It can also diminish the importance of their presence in the lives of their children and reduce them to simple paychecks.

Many cultures treat men who devote themselves to their children with suspicion. The church even shames them using 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially family members, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever!”

Never mind the tremendous provision of love and stability, and the endless meeting of needs that a “stay-at-home” dad gives his children day in and day out! Somehow, these acts of service don’t qualify as “providing.”

When we look back to the pronouncement of the consequences of the Fall, we see the glorious joint mandate of meaningful work and raising children suddenly divided.

Many women and men today struggle to maintain their identities outside of these two responsibilities. Often, one area suffers an imbalance.

Women often struggle to find identity outside of relationships. Additionally, women's work opportunities are often limited upon becoming a pregnant, nursing, or a part-time working mother.

Men often struggle to find ways to balance family in the equation of their lives, sometimes throwing themselves into work in order to fulfill a role they believe encompasses their “masculine” identity.  Culture also tells them that they should not be too soft, and that being with children is “women’s work.”

The struggle with work is not exclusive to men any more than the struggle with parenthood is exclusive to women. These identity issues can certainly go both ways. However, we often see a common thread in the real-life experiences of the sexes that follows these patterns.

Our kingdom vision reminds us that we need to hold tightly to Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. No longer are we bound by the Fall or called to perpetuate the effects of it! We are called to live in a redemptive reality, one that is contrary to worldly division.

No longer is our identity found in either working or parenting, or in any other action. Our identity is found in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Men and women are on the same playing field. We are neighbors, living out this complex mandate of creation care together. The challenges are still there. But, now we are on the same team and can face the challenges together as equals. The enmity between us has been broken down!

Practically, I can live out redemption with my brothers by letting them know that I care deeply about how the Fall impacts them.

I can advocate for men to have paternity leave and to have limits on expectations for out-of-town trips when they have small children. In doing so, I am elevating the importance of their responsibilities as fathers. In turn, my brothers can open doors for me in the workplace that are often reserved for men. They can refuse to bench me because my time with my young family is taking a prominent place in my schedule. In doing so, they are elevating the importance of my responsibility as a minister.

In these simple ways, we can unite to actually fulfill the creation mandate as partners, not competitors.  

Disclaimer: Many women either cannot or choose not to have children and thus do not struggle with identity issues as mothers. This article is not meant to prescribe a universal life experience to all men or all women, but rather to examine the struggles many women and men face after the Fall.