“Do you get paid for any of the work you do?”
I was caught off-guard and pleasantly surprised by her unusual phrasing of the question. “Do you work?” is a more typical rendering of the same inquiry frequently presented to women. While often asked innocently in an effort to distinguish between paid and unpaid work, the phrasing of the latter assumes the false premise that some women are workers and some are not.
The answer to my friend’s question is no. During this season of life, I am busy parenting three little boys, managing our home, and serving alongside my husband in ministry through writing, teaching, and counseling women. I am not currently paid for this work, but what I do each day is work, nonetheless.
As women, we often feel sensitive when it comes to our work. We wonder if what we do is meaningful. We look around to see if our work measures up to what the world says a successful woman should accomplish. We may question the value of our work, especially if what we do each day is unpaid and unseen. The striving to prove ourselves can feel endless and the satisfaction elusive. As women who follow Christ, are we processing and evaluating our work through a biblical lens? Are we using God’s standard to measure success?
Made to Work
Work is introduced in the opening pages of Scripture where we read about God’s six-day creative work, as well as His mandate to the first humans made in His image: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it . . .(Genesis 1:28). Humanity was gifted the joyful work of representing God in the world–expanding and caring for His creation in a way that propagated His glory to every corner of the earth.
The man was created first, but Adam was not designed to carry out the work God had assigned alone. Adam needed a counterpart who shared His humanity yet differed from him significantly–someone who complimented him perfectly and provided vital strength and support in the areas where he was weak.
So, God created the woman. Eve was made uniquely female and given the distinct role of “life-giver” (Genesis 3:20). Eve’s work wasn’t the same as Adam’s, but God sovereignly ordained that the unique and mutual work of both male and female would be essential to the fulfillment of His creation mandate. As daughters of Eve, all women are created to work.
Working for the Wrong Glory
Human work is good because it was a God-ordained part of life before sin corrupted the world. When we work, we image a creative God. But from the beginning, all human work was meant to be the joyful overflow of an identity firmly rooted in God Himself and tethered to the ultimate purpose of bringing Him glory. Because God is the good and powerful Creator of all things, He deserves all glory (Revelation 4:11). Human work was never about us to begin with.
But sin changed everything. Deceived by the serpent, Eve doubted the goodness of her Creator. She decided it would be in her best interests to pursue her own glory rather than God’s. As a result, all daughters of Eve are born with an insatiable desire to pursue our own renown.
The world (particularly the feminist movement) and even certain teachers who claim Christ validate the lie that work is about us. Chase your dreams! Built your platform! Get more followers! Make good money! Change the world! And, by all means, make a name for yourself! The culture at large projects the view that a life lived quietly– cultivating a home, caring for a family, and serving the Church– is, at best, unfulfilling and, at worst, a waste.
Sin has distorted our understanding of the value and purpose of work. No longer secure in our identity as daughters made in God’s image, we seek to root our worth in what we do rather than in who God says we are.
We long for our work to make us a “somebody”. But, ironically, work driven by desires for self actualization, the praise of others, or material riches doesn’t satisfy or endure. King Solomon had it all, and he says this is “vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Working from a Place of Rest
While we cannot free our own hearts from the endless pursuit of personal glory, Jesus came to earth in human flesh to do the work we are powerless to do. His cross-work on our behalf was completely and perfectly motivated by the will and ultimate glory of God (John 4:34). Jesus shows us the true purpose of all human work.
When we repent of our glory-thieving and, through faith, rest in Christ’s perfect work, our identity as children of God is restored. The Holy Spirit progressively changes our self-obsessed hearts, giving us the desire and ability to stop working for ourselves and, instead, carry out the God-glorifying work He has planned for our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10).
For women resting in Christ, there is no dichotomy between secular and sacred work. Whether it’s paid employment or unpaid service, all work is just a means to seek first His Kingdom and glory. Remembering our identity and worth in Christ enables us to prioritize the work God esteems with the right heart motives, taking our cues from the Word rather than the world.
What Does it Look Like?
There isn’t necessarily a “one-size-fits-all” mold when it comes to the work of women. While the motivation underlying our work should never change, the type of work we do will look different in the various seasons and stages of life. The work of the married mother will differ from the work of the single woman without children. There are numerous creative ways to use our gifts, talents, education and resources to bring God glory as life-givers in the world.
The Scriptures are clear, however, that God commands and commends the priority of home and family (Titus 2:3-5 & Proverbs 31). The indispensable task of raising up the next generation to love the Lord is critical in fulfilling the work-mandate given at creation (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Sister, the often monotonous and thankless tasks required in cultivating a home where children are fed, clothed, loved, and taught truth matters significantly to God and honors Him when done for His purposes.
And the hard work of hospitality, spiritual mothering (or discipleship), and service in the Body of Christ is just as significant and necessary as the work of physical mothering (Matthew 28:19-20). This is work for all believing women in all seasons.
These labors will not necessarily build up your bank account or garner you a huge Twitter following. But, in God’s economy, work that is unseen and unsung by our culture can, ironically, be the most world-changing. Work that insists we die to the pursuit of our own names and pour ourselves out in service to others for the sake of God’s name is revolutionary and eternal. As women rooted in Christ, may we faithfully tend the gardens He has assigned to our care and joyfully cast down any crowns of earthly achievement at the feet of our King– the One to whom all glory is due.