At Work

How Are Women Making Choices about Career and Calling?

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Editor’s note: Today we introduce Pam Lau, the newest contributor to the IFWE blog. She teaches communications at George Fox University and has been published on Christianity Today‘s Her.menuetics blog. Her latest book, A Friend in Me: How to Be a Safe Haven for Other Women, is available June 1st. 

We live in a culture where we are free to make our own choices. We choose what we will buy and where we will buy it. We choose our house or our apartment. We choose how to spend our time, free or paid.

With a tyranny of choices, our society demands we know what we want in our food choices, movie goings, worship services, work schedules.

Every day our choices reflect who we are, clarify our identity, and give us direction. Gluten free? Charismatic Catholic? Full-time working woman? Part-time volunteer? Available-at-home mom? Not much can trip us up more in our choice making capacity than being fearful of making the wrong choices—it’s almost paralyzing.

I’ve sold advertising. I’ve taught college writing courses full-time and part-time. I’ve stopped working for pay at times for more flexibility. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a writer. I’m a speaker. That means that through my vocation and calling, I’ve made and keep making choices—hundreds of them.

This business of choice-making is magnified ten times as Christians. No matter how long we’ve been following Christ, our choices matter. And if I’m honest, not enough Jesus-following women ahead of me in life are talking about the hard choices they’ve made whether single or married, children or not, executive level leadership or entrepreneurial pursuits.

As a woman in her 40s, I want to know how God is leading women in making choices to lead in their work and in their families. I want to know because not only do I work and minister with women younger than myself, I am also about to launch my oldest daughter into the world and her two younger sisters will soon follow.

However, I want to know because the first question younger women often ask me is, How did you know what choices to make about your work and your family?

I tell them my story but they need to hear other women’s stories, too.

How You Can Model a Biblical View of Choices

When I am paralyzed in making a good choice about work or a leadership position and the fear of messing up seizes me, I feel like I’m sucked into a vortex of restlessness and non-stop working. (Maybe that reflects me trying to overcompensate for being a woman).

Usually, the trance is broken when I hear about a woman in a leadership who is honest about the choices she’s made and how God led her every step of the way. It’s then I take my foot off the gas and re-make some choices in God’s presence.

Here are three questions for you to think about as you retell God’s leading in your own choices.

1. When did you learn to concentrate and pay attention to what was ahead?

Toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus talks in parables about staying awake and being watchful. He knew how easily we humans feel overwhelmed by our circumstances, robbing us of the joy of making choices for him.

Several years ago, I listened as a woman relative chose to say yes to a high- level leadership position when her marriage was crumbling. Questioning the timing of her choice, I talked with her privately and she replied, “At the time it didn’t make sense, but as I prayed I knew God was leading me to say yes. It was more about the future.”

Think about prayer in your own journey and how it taught you how to pay attention and how it renewed your perspective. Other women need and want to hear how you learned to concentrate at crucial points along your vocational path.

2. How did you accept that you could not foresee the future?

As I write this, my husband is finishing his 15th year in an executive leadership role at a university. Fifteen years ago, when he took the job, I chose to spend as much time with our three young children as I could.  That choice meant that I worked part-time, traveled little to speak, and worked hard at communicating with my husband what was happening.

Such a choice also meant that I don’t have a “career” like some define it. What I do have is a life with our family that I could never have foreseen all those years ago.

I also wrote two books – the second of which took several years to write – started my own LLC, and taught writing. When I said yes to that choice, I had absolutely no idea where the other million choices would lead me. At one point along the way, I had to accept the consequences of my decisions even as I trusted God leading me in them.

There’s a tension in making a decision when we are in the middle of living our stories. Think back to when you accepted that you couldn’t foresee the future. What helped you make the choice to say yes or no to a leadership role?

When you can identify what helped you, you inspire other women to stop trying to overcompensate.

3. Where does your confidence come from?

We can help women grow in their confidence that God leads in all of our decisions the more we connect with their doubt and vocational journeys. We need to tell them our own stories of education, calling, job promotions, job losses, family decisions, flexible work schedules, missed opportunities, divine moments, and risks when all the odds were against us.

When women hear our honest stories of the choices we made under God’s guiding hand, it encourages them to sink into the sovereignty of God. They can hear the wisdom others gleaned from the tyranny of choice and the tension of uniquely following Jesus.

As you look back over the choices you made, do you recognize how God nurtured more confidence in him?

Parker Palmer writes that vocation comes from listening to our lives and trying to understand how we can share our stories:

That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for “voice.”

As a person listens to their own life, he or she responds from their own deep pain and loss, from a faith and belief that Jesus is his or her life. That’s how they can intuitively make decisions in a broken and messy world.

“Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear,” Palmer concludes. I’ve learned to listen better for my own calling by hearing how other women ahead of me in life have listened well to their own lives and shared their stories.

Sounds like something Jesus modeled for us during his time on earth. He was always listening to his Father and then sharing what he heard with his listeners.

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  • Jennifer

    I also wonder how my vocational decisions will affect my daughters as they go into an economic world where it is more and more difficult to survive on one income. My college daughter questioned me yesterday when I was going over everyone’s summer chores. “But I’m working full-time this summer.” I had to explain that most people who work full time, also have household responsibilities. I’m afraid they are in for a rude awakening! I am thankful that I had the flexibility (like the author) to make job decisions throughout my children’s lives that were appropriate to their needs and the needs of my husband. God does not always provide that option. In this modern era, I pray that we in the body of Christ would give grace to our sisters while encouraging decisions in the best interest of our families.

    • I like how you phrased that, Jennifer! “In this modern era, I pray that we in the body of Christ would give grace to our sisters while encouraging decisions in the best interest of our families.” Just yesterday a woman told me how we don’t talk honestly and openly about the fact that managing a family well while working takes incredible focus and skill. Where do women learn these skills accept through one another? Thank you for joining in this important conversation! Pam Lau

  • Heather

    I accepted Christ at a young age, loved Jesus, went to Church but what I am teaching our girls ages 13 and 6 they need to seek God and ask what His Will for them would be. I loved working fast paced, very goal oriented, college, career, promotions. I, Heather, wanted to work with the elderly, I wanted children by 26 years of age, I would continue to work in health care and dreamed of being in corporate roles. That happened but my heart was empty. Notice the “I” is used to much:) My husband and I went through three miscarriages, then blessed by our daughter who is now 13. Time stood still, I had slowed down and fell madly in love with this beautiful gift from God. My maternity leave drew me closer to God, meaning sitting to read his word and seek Him. I went back to work, and went into Church, my first time in a prayer room, I knelt down before the Lord and prayed to be a stay at home Mom. The Lord was faithful he grew our faith in walking by faith not by sight. As we begin to set out on this journey, my prior employer had flexible hours that came at the right time, lots of time home with our daughter but just a few hours when self employed business was slow. That was a beginning to growing closer each day with the Lord. Now she is 13 and I have been home with her, we have been through more miscarriages and then blessed by God’s faithful love as we were anointed and prayed over and have another beautiful daughter 6 (faith lessons). My answer is seek God for your future, pray with your children, ask what are His plans for your children? If you already see a missionary in your child, keep planting those seeds. If your child truly has the gifts to be a teacher, encourage her, it is not so much the salary but staying on God’s path. We have to seek Him and use our gifts, have courage to move when He show us a path. No job will give us the same fulfillment as what God has called us to do. When we operate with God we operate on His vision. My heart is for children and working with our Church, girls and the tween ages. I thought it would be healthcare and business. Seek Him in all you do! Don’t follow the world, friends, just keep following and growing to serve where you are just like Jesus would. I admire all stay at home Mom’s, working Mom’s. Doing what God calls us to do brings Joy! I really enjoyed your article, I am now after being at home for years and so thankful for this role looking to find work using my gifts doing what God has called me to do. I have a huge student loan debt to pay in something I want use, slow down and pray and listen. His love for us is amazing!

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