Recently, a friend of mine was asked why she chose to work, and not stay home full-time with her child, even though her husband makes enough money to support their family. The question is unsurprising given the ongoing pressure on Christian women to prioritize home and family over career. It seems that Christian women are still expected to choose between the public and the private.
Being a more even-tempered person than I am, my friend sidestepped the question. Later, she asked me how I would have responded.
I work outside the home because it’s the best fit for my family and marriage. But virtually all parents are trying to do what’s right for their families. We all have different callings, and we all live them out in unique, creative ways. Some women pursue professional careers. Some women use their gifts and passion to build and refine their families and homes. Neither of these callings is less than the other.
In a very visceral sense, I would be a mess as a stay-at-home parent. My work is my passion and my life-blood. Denying that passion would make me feel as if a part of me was missing or incomplete. I would be less than a whole, healthy person, and certainly less than a whole, healthy mother.
I deeply need the satisfaction that out-of-home work provides. In that sphere, I am able to use my gifts and skills more fully than I personally could working in the home. But I realize that my story, and my gifts and passion, is not the only valid response to a calling.
The question my friend was asked is rooted in a misunderstanding of women’s equal value, ontologically and functionally, in God’s eyes. But I’m not going to debate gender equality in the Christian community today. There are plenty of brilliant people already doing that. What I’m interested in today is how this gendered question belies a complete understanding of Christian calling.
I believe that choosing to be a stay-at-home mom when God has called me elsewhere would be rejecting God’s good intention for my life. Of course, God may call us in different directions in different seasons of life. And we should heed that call. Likewise, a woman may sense God calling her to meaningful work in building and refining a home. Ultimately, we should work where God creatively designed us to thrive.
As a parent concerned with biblical gender equality, I want my child to witness me, a woman, obediently pursuing my full Christian calling.
I see calling as two-fold. We respond to a general call as Christians—to follow Christ, make disciples, and bring God’s kingdom to earth. And then we are equipped for what Ben Witherington calls our “specific human task”—sometimes our nine-to-five job and sometimes a separate passion or task. This is what I call our life’s work. There are many ways to respond to these callings, and the way we live them out will vary over the course of our lives.
For example, your nine-to-five job may not be your life’s work, but you may find ways to use your job to fulfill your general Christian call—to follow Christ, make disciples, and bring God’s kingdom to earth. And you may find ways to develop your life’s work outside of your forty-hour-a-week obligations.
We are given a unique mix of gifts and interests. We are asked to use these resources to uniquely contribute to the kingdom.
As an egalitarian, I believe women and men should be equally encouraged to discern and fulfill their callings— whatever they are and wherever they lead. This means that some men and women will best live out their calling by caring for their children full-time—and this should be commended and supported. But so should women’s work in preaching, teaching, engineering, medicine, writing, marketing, and performing. Women should be free to creatively express their gifts and pursue their callings.
I’m a minister and a chaplain, so I am often asked to describe my “call narrative.” I dislike this terminology, because we all share the same general call as Christians. What is more, how we live out our callings looks completely different from one person to the next. It may even look different in the same person’s life one year to the next!
A well-rounded theology on gifts, passion, and Christian responsibility indicates that a calling is not determined by gender, social location, or family of origin. Calling is determined by God alone.
Some women are creatively fulfilling their calling by pouring into their children as full-time parents. But let’s not assume that women all have the same calling. Ignoring the diversity of women’s callings creates toxic limitations, and these limitations are antithetical to filling our unique role in the kingdom of God.