The Good Work of Women, Part 2

“In discussing this highly complicated topic, I would like to pose two big-picture questions. The most important—how can I best serve and love my family? And second to that, what opportunities for ministry might this choice offer?”

I don’t know what it is about the start of fall that feels like new beginnings. Probably because I have spent all but a year of my life participating or working in academia, August is my New Year. And this year, it has me thinking about women and working. Maybe you are dropping off your youngest child at Kindergarten or (like me) finally starting to come out of the fog of baby-hood. Maybe you are marveling at the first signs of life growing inside you and beginning to imagine life as a family of three. At many stages of parenthood, the question arises: should Mom go back to work?

I’ve had this conversation now with several women, and though I am new in many ways to the discussion myself, I would like to offer a framework for thinking about what is a very complex topic, unique to each family situation. I should also add that although I am writing from the perspective of a mother, many of the same questions apply for those without kids, though the discussion is typically not “Should I work?”, but rather “What work should I pursue?”

With so many factors to consider—finances, personal giftings, the availability of work—it can be hard to know where to begin a discussion about who works, where, and how much. But before you get bogged down in the numbers, I would urge you to zoom out a little. In discussing this highly complicated topic, I would like to pose two big-picture questions. The most important—how can I best serve and love my family? And second to that, what opportunities for ministry might this choice offer?

Serving and Loving your Family

In my last post, I discussed the call we see to “home-centric” pursuits in passages like Titus 2 and Proverbs 31. But in today’s economy, where items like clothing, soap, and food are often more easily purchased at the store than made or grown at home, many families find that having additional income can be more productive for meeting the family’s needs than having one parent stay at home full time. I tread lightly here because none of my friends who stay home are weaving at the loom—they are engaged quite fully in childcare responsibilities, home maintenance, finances, ministry, and other very valuable tasks that help their family to thrive. These are indeed honorable pursuits.

But for other families, personal gifting, the age or needs of the children, or a woman’s professional training make working for pay a valuable contribution to the home.

While this contribution may be most obvious when it adds additional income to make ends meet, there are many other cases where having both parents work can offer benefits to the family. Do you get employee discounts or perks that amount to more affordable food or clothing? Does your company offer a robust insurance package so that your husband can pursue a freelance career? Would working 10-15 hours a week allow your husband to make a less aggressive career choice, freeing up his time to engage more fully with you and the children?

I encourage you to engage with these kinds of challenging personal questions, and when you can, involve a trusted friend or two in the conversation. Especially in conversations around money, I have found it invaluable to ask for outside input. Scripture is clear that money can easily become an idol. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 urges us to be content in our present circumstances and warns that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Money in itself, though, is not necessarily evil. Only a few sentences later, Paul offers encouragement for those who are wealthy:

“Charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (6:17-19).

So if your vocation does lead to lucrative financial gain, dream big about what God might do with the profits. This leads us to our next question...

Ministry Opportunities

The second question is personally inspiring to me as I stand in awe of God’s work in this world: what ministry opportunities might my vocation have to offer?

Again, Katelyn Beaty: “According to the mainstream secular narrative in the West, work is fundamentally about what it can give you rather than what you can give it” (50). But we know from the call in creation, through the Abrahamic covenant, and beyond, that God intends to use our work to bless the nations. This could mean that you pursue a career that involves a very direct blessing, like social work or education. But it also extends to the everyday work of the introverted computer programmer and the relationships built by the entrepreneur.

This brings me to Los Angeles. By nature, living in West LA (as in many cities) is financially challenging. There is a very good reason that many families leave the city—to find a better sense of balance in places where their dollar goes further. But as you consider where God might be calling your family, I would challenge you to look at Los Angeles through the eyes of a missionary. What sacrifices might God be calling you to make in order to live in this city and engage with the people here? Whether it is smaller living quarters, a different work arrangement than you imagined, or something else, listen to the encouragement Paul offers the Colossians: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:2).

All the while, we cannot ignore that parenthood is seasonal. There may be times when your ministry is almost entirely geared toward your nuclear family and offers no space for working outside of the home. This happens often when babies are born or children are young, in cases of special developmental needs or health issues, or when children need more attentive discipline or mentorship. It might range from a few months to a few decades.

Changing Seasons

The beauty of this two-question framework is that it makes space for continual re-evaluation. Sometimes in the neat and tidy boxes proposed in our culture, SAHM or WOHM or whomever, we are given the impression that we must choose only one thing or the other, that we will pick a camp and stay in it forever. But the reality (and why I think this “mommy war” is so laughable) is that women today shift quite fluidly between areas of vocation. It may make sense for a woman to stay home when her children are young and re-enter a traditional office job when they go to school. Or she may drop back to part time for a while. Or start her own business to provide the flexibility her family needs. And ultimately, those of us who are moms won’t always have kids at home, and some women will engage in the workforce for decades before they have children or may not have children at all.

As seasons change, I encourage you to periodically assess your situation. Is working still allowing us to provide for the family (holistically, not just financially)? Have our kids needs changed? Am I seeing a ministry opportunity that God might want me to pursue? Like the women we admire in the Bible and church history, let’s ask ourselves what it means to work with willing hands, in our context, with our gifts, to the praise of His glory.

The thought that Paul begins in Colossians 3 about seeking heavenly things, he concludes like this: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17).