I never intended to become a writer. It was one of those happy providences that I never saw coming. Amidst the lonely, and (crazily) quiet first year of motherhood, I began a blog and somewhere along the way found that I loved sharing my passion for the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ with other women through the written word. Over the years, writing has become a huge part of my life and my desire to spend focused time on it has grown.
Yet, there are many, many days when my passion for writing must take a back seat to my primary responsibility and calling as a mother to four children. And now that I am beginning the time consuming and labor-intensive job of homeschooling, the priority of writing has been even further downgraded. In all of these pursuits--raising children, educating said children, and writing--I am forced to constantly check and recheck my motivations, seeking to ensure that I am prioritizing what is most important. I must endeavor to bring my desires and passions before God and ask him to direct me in what I pursue first and with the most energy.
Indeed, this time of life is proving to be both chaotic and satisfying. Most days I feel like I've spent my entire day juggling various responsibilities. I don't successfully catch every ball I have in the air, but by the Lord's grace I'm getting better at keeping the rhythm going. Often the key to this juggling act, however, is simply putting down some of the balls.
This tension between serving my family and serving the outside world is not a new predicament for a woman to find herself in. In our culture, where the home and public sphere are increasingly segregated. It often seems as though we must choose one or the other because doing both well is a very difficult and stressful task indeed.
What results, is a hard decision that most women are forced to make between their talents and their fervent desire to raise their children. Some will choose to use their talents in the marketplace, while some will choose to stay home and use their talents with their children, many (most single moms) will have no choice in the matter.
In all of this, we are left wondering which is the right choice? Is there a right choice? What does the Bible say about work and family? What does the Bible say about a woman's role in the workplace and in the home?
Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank take this topic head on in their book The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work and the Home. Their book is unique in that it doesn't focus solely on homemaking, nor does it focus solely on working outside the home, but rather it endeavors to dig deeper into the theology of work itself and then apply that theology to the unique situations that women find themselves in in our day and age.
The book is divided into three sections: The story of work, the theology of work, and the life cycle of work. I will fashion this review in the same order.
The Story of Work
McCulley and Shank first take their readers on a journey through the history of women and work to provide some much needed perspective on modern day's great divide between the private and public sphere. They begin with recent history (the rise of industrialization and feminism) and systematically travel back to biblical times (when Christianity brought an unheard of dignity to the female gender).
Though personally, I would have preferred to take this journey through time in the opposite order, the information brought to bear on the topic of work was very profitable. In this unfolding narrative readers are reminded that work, homemaking, ministry, and motherhood have always been a part of women's lives, but the way in which all of these responsibilities interact has drastically changed as economies have shifted from relying heavily on home-based trades to workplaces that are both physically and ideologically removed from the home.
Whereas an entire family would have worked side by side in the family business in ancient times, today the majority of people travel away from their homes to engage in economic productivity. This has created an unhelpfully dichotomy between work and home life. It has also fostered a negative perspective on work done within the home that does not produce a monetary income.
This section was very informative. I enjoyed gaining a greater knowledge of the progression of women's roles in the workplace. It was inspiring to see how women in the ancient world were ambitious, productive, and key players in their local economies. It was also helpful to understand how changes in technology and the rise of industrialization have led to the difficult decisions women face during their child-bearing years.
The Theology of Work
Next, readers are challenged to take what they have learned from the history of work and sift it through the priorities and commandments of God's Word. A great deal of time is spent looking at the necessity and dignity of work in general. Work itself is something that we are all--as humans made in God's image--called to engage in. Work is not primarily a means of income, but rather a means of serving your fellow man, caring for creation, and bringing glory to our Heavenly Father.
In this way, McCulley and Shank draw heavily on Martin Luther's theology of vocation being God's means of providing for man's needs. We are all called to engage in this work and thus become God's hands and feet in the marvelous way in which he cares for his creation:
"All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government-to what does it all amount before God except child's play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things." -Martin Luther
Because all work is meant to benefit mankind and reveal God's provision, the work of a mother in her home raising her children and the work of a manager at the local grocery story--if done in obedience to God--are of equal dignity:
"Our daily labors--be they in the marketplace or home--are opportunities for us to love others though our efforts. What we are called to do is not as important as how we do it. Because our Creator is working through us to accomplish his redemptive agenda, He transforms our labors among the thistles and the thorns to transactions of love." -The Measure of Success, pg. 68
Other topics that are addressed by the Word of God in this section are rest, identity, and ambition. In each one, McCulley and Shank encourage their readers to place Christ as the focus and purpose of the work they are called to. The Lord is to be the ultimate boss of our work and the one to whom our work brings glory.
The Life Cycle of Work
A theme that is progressively developed throughout The Measure of Success is the theme of stages. Because women are created with the unique ability and privilege of being life-bearers, our lives will necessarily take on different priorities in different seasons. Motherhood is not something to be shunned by the modern woman, but instead, should be biblically prioritized and taken into account when planning for the future.
Though this is increasingly difficult in our times, readers are encouraged to view their life stages realistically and make the best use of each. A woman who gets married and has children will naturally need to expend more of her time and effort into child-rearing compared to a woman whose children are "leaving the nest" and freeing up more of her time for other pursuits. Viewing your life in these stages can be helpful as you seek to wisely steward the time and talents you've been given. McCulley and Shank spend time in each natural season of a woman's life and contemplate the different opportunities and limitations they present.
My Final Thoughts
Women and work is a tremendously important topic for Christian women (just as it is for Christian men). I am so glad that McCulley and Shank took the time to explore it and encourage their sisters in Christ to have a godward focus in their vocation. Their book has helped to broaden my vision for my own life and the callings I may choose to pursue as the Lord allows. It also encouraged me to properly view my work within the home as profitable despite its lack of monetary profit.
This book will be of great benefit to the homemaker and business woman alike as it spends time delving into both arenas and applying biblical wisdom to each. A few small critiques I have are:
1. I feel as though more time could have been given to the possibility of a woman staying in the home after her children have left the nest. What if a woman feels called to continue her work in the home, supporting her husband, and using her time to reach out in ministry. It is generally proposed in this book that a woman will seek to further develop a "career" when her time is freed up from the work of child-rearing, but many women do not go back into the workforce.
2. I would also have liked to see more interaction with how the role of "helper" to a husband affects a woman's pursuits. This role was affirmed, but there wasn't a lot of practical application of how that works itself out. Though the "team" mentality between a husband and wife was often referenced, I came away feeling as though more discussion could and should be had on how the role of a wife may affect the type of work she pursues--even without children.
3. Obviously you cannot address every single situation that every woman will find herself in, but I felt that single mothers may feel underserved by the section on life cycles. As the sole breadwinners for their families, these women are left without the luxury of focusing their energy on raising their children during those early years of motherhood. As an increasingly great many women in our age are found within this category, I would have liked to see some time devoted to them.
The Measure of Success is an important book for all women to read as we seek to submit our lives to the Word of God rather than to our society's expectations. There is no "one-size-fits-all" prescription within its pages, but rather a continual focus on using our gifts and callings for the glory of God and the good of our fellow man. For this reason I'm happy to heartily recommend it to my readers.
You can purchase The Measure of Success here.