At Work

The God-Given Dignity Of A Woman At Work

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Vocation, meaning “calling,” can come in unexpected forms. For women, especially, we find that our callings are not monolithic, but an organic collection of intertwining roles, various callings we seek to simultaneously enact in the course of our daily lives and often changing through life’s seasons.

The brilliance in it all is that any form of a woman’s work takes on a specific relational orientation. Eve was made from the very start already in relationship to Adam, who conversely had taken a long time to realize he was alone and had relational needs. She was to be his “helper” in his work. Eve was created from Adam’s side and presented to him face to face, thus totally equal to him, so we are mistaken if we see her helping as a subordinate role. The Hebrew term for helper is often ascribed to God and particularly applied to a situation in battle. It’s more like a “savior” or “partner” or a helper without whom work would be impossible.

Part of Adam and Eve’s important work was to “be fruitful and multiply,” something in which a woman obviously has an important role. But beyond the literal labor of childbearing, all women seem to have an amazing capacity for relationship and for bringing life to those around them. That particular genius is something we need to bring into whatever we find ourselves doing. That means in the home, out of the home and in the carpool line.

Single women, too, are good at finding connection with families and friends, and they often find ways to be part of a family by teaching Sunday school or keeping up with their siblings. And single moms heroically take on their own unique burdens while deeply loving their kids.

There is so much fuss about women balancing work and family that we forget to see relationships as part of work. In fact, Psalm 127 reminds us that all our anxious toil and sleep deprivation and career “work” is actually secondary to the importance of heritage and how familial blessing can actually benefit us in the public square. This is why Hilary Rosen’s accusation that Ann Romney, a campaigning wife and mother of five sons, had “never worked a day in her life” was so irritating. But this doesn’t make a career unimportant, as many women in the Bible worked hard—such as Lydia selling purple cloth (Acts 16:14). The question is not so much about balancing work and family, but about balancing the work that a career takes with the work that family takes. And everyone has a different solution.

I have done it all. I have been a working single woman. I have pursued every imaginable combination of balancing family and career—part-time, full-time, stay-at-home mom. I think only you and your husband can know what’s best for your family. The truth was that the particulars of “balance” changed with every season of my life—there was no magical formula. But there is amazing opportunity. What an amazing country we live in with the freedom to even have options. Women now earn more degrees, own 9.2 million businesses, generate $1.4 trillion in revenue and employ 7.9 million people. Plus, we maintain the awesome gift of fertility, and we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit available in a personal, intimate way. It’s an amazing time in history to be a working woman.

So here is the point: You have to find meaning where you are. At the risk of giving a cliched “bloom where you are planted” lecture, I want to emphasize that you have to see the beauty and dignity in everything you do.

This isn’t to say there won’t be suffering. Some days, your work to the Lord involves getting out of bed—doing the bare minimum is all you can do. Some days, an overwhelming sense of failure may hit you; you know your work is valuable to the Lord, but you made some mistake that means you have to learn that your work, though important, is not your identity and worth. And as you wrestle with that paradox, you can begin to grasp the depths of grace.

After a long exploration on toil, vanity, futility and the meaninglessness of life, a rather depressed writer of Ecclesiastes comes to a more hopeful conclusion:

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

This is the take away lesson. Despite the toil and the pains of the curse, there is great dignity in work and great dignity in womanhood. You are the “helper” of your ultimate bridegroom Christ. Your work is a gift to God and a gift from God — for your flourishing and the building of His Kingdom. Enjoy that gift.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in a special report by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and The Washington Times entitled, ”Faith at Work: Individual Purpose, Flourishing Communities.” Reprinted with permission.

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