Recently, there has been another dust-up about being a working mother vs. a “stay-at-home” mother (I use quotations because we all know that mothers rarely get to stay at home much) in the Christian blogosphere.
It started because John Piper (to give full disclosure, not a preacher that I listen to or appreciate) did a short talk on the importance of women remaining “in the home”. Then, a well-known writer and blogger, Matthew Paul Turner wrote a rather snarky but fantastic response. Since then, there have been many bloggers passionately writing their opinions about the question “Is it unbiblical for women to work outside the home?” in various levels of scholarship and opinions.
I have watched with a keen eye, particularly since I recently wrote this post about the the lack of respect that women receive in evangelical churches as leadership.
So here is my take.
I have never not considered having a career. I was raised in western Canada in the 80s and 90s. We all went to school with the full intent of attending university. My mother worked part-time for most of my childhood (not all) and eventually full-time when we were in high school. Also, I did not suffer from a lack of training in homemaking – both of my parents taught me how to do laundry, how to balance a cheque book, how to manage money, how to wash floor, make supper, cook a turkey dinner, clean a toilet and generally run a household. I say both of my parents on purpose – my father is the consummate laundry man but no one can iron a shirt like my mother. My mum taught me much of what I know about money but my dad paid the bills. It was a partnership between them to make sure I knew how to be a responsible adult.
I went to university and embarked on a career in financial services marketing. I was not even aware, to be honest, that there was a debate about whether or not women should be “working outside the home” which now sounds incredibly beautiful. I just worked. I had a job I liked, we managed our home and all was well. My husband was even a pastor at the time. Sometimes I felt some pressure from others to be more available for the “daytime ladies activities” because many churches like to schedule their ladies’ Bible studies for Tuesday mornings but overall, I didn’t feel much pressure or inclination to change the way things were for us.
Our lives have shifted over the years. Brian was a full time student again for a while so I worked and supported us both. Then I had a year of maternity leave for both of my children. Between Anne and Joseph, I worked full time again while Brian stayed home with our daughter full time and went to school. After Joseph, I wanted to be home with them full time and made the changes necessary to do so, even quitting my job. Eventually I added two days a week at a non-profit that I am passionate about but I am home most of my weeks, 5 days out of 7 and my husband is the primary bread-winner.
I have heard all of the scriptures, I have read all of the translations, I have read all of the position papers and the blogs. I have been yelled at and high-fived over my choices.
I am now a working mother again. And there are those that think I am in sin for doing so.
But here’s the thing: this is legalism, plain and simple.
Anytime that I try to make my interpretation of scripture or my personal experiences and revelations a rule, I impose legalism on others.
I am not far from God, nor am I deluded. I am not a man-hater, nor is my husband an effeminate doormat. I am a woman that deeply loves and follow Jesus. My husband is a theologian and, also, deeply loves and follows God. We have looked at the same scriptures they are looking at and have settled that we feel very differently than some others do.
I appreciate that some women feel differently. They are welcome to do so.
I simply ask for the same respect for my own decisions. (Too much to ask?) As a woman that loves God and loves her husband and family, I see that I am able to love them well, make a good home here in partnership with my husband and yet still work outside the home.
(Ultimately, I take issue with the phrase “biblical womanhood” overall. And that’s a whole other post.)
And I also take issue with the fact that we are not encouraged to seek God on this issue. When I tweeted (don’t you hate that word?) my solution for the issue: How about this solution for the working mum vs. stay at home debate? You do what you feel lead by God to do and I’ll do the same. Done. I was sarcastically asked if that meant I was going to completely ignore scripture.
Of course not. But I read Scripture and interpret it very differently than some. So then it does come down to this: are you open to Jesus? Are you open, in your heart of hearts, to having him speak into your life? That is not something to be lightly or playfully dismissed in my opinion. Either you know him and his voice or not. For some people that might mean working. For others, it might mean being home full time.
But ultimately, if we believe that Christianity is about a relationship, not a religion, than we have to give credence to people hearing the voice of God and following it for themselves.
And that is some biblical truth for you, free of charge.
So here is something else: Do you believe that God speaks today? Do you believe that you can be actively lead? If so, then encourage women to seek God on these things for themselves. And don’t assume that because you’ve heard from God for your own life that it means it’s a Rule for All Women to Follow.
Above all else, the thing I struggle with the most in this conversation is the flat-out judgment. Even if you disagree with me – vehemently, is there a way to disagree in love? Is there a way to disagree without imposing guilt and shame and hurt in the heart of another?
I will prepare my children equally for life – my son and my daughter. I will tell them both that they are smart. I will encourage both of them to pursue the life that they feel called towards – if that involves university or auto mechanic school or being a support to their spouse’s career or whatnot. I will teach them both how to keep a home and balance a cheque book. I will teach them how to respect people and their choices, regardless of sex or religion. I don’t mark many differences in how I raise my son vs. how I raise my daughter. Because ultimately, I want to raise them to be free to follow Jesus wherever he leads, whether it’s a boardroom for my daughter or a kitchen for my son. There is no shame in either path. There is only shame in knowing that you were created to do or be something and then not having the courage to pursue it with abandon.
So I work outside the home. I refuse to feel guilty for it. I am a woman that loves God deeply and loves her family wildly. Those two things are not opposed so I wish that some would stop trying to make them be so.