I’m keeping a running list of all the aspects of my life as a woman in the twenty-first century that these last two waves of feminism have done a disservice. And if I also listed every responsibility and relationship in my life that currently demands more time than I have when all the hours in a week are considered, the two lists would come out pretty even. It’s no coincidence.
I wish I could say I always carry my “full plate” as gracefully and God-glorifying as I’d like to, but that would be a lie. It seems like there isn’t a single moment where I’m not tripping over my own feet and waiting with baited breath for the plate to tumble and crash into a hundred pieces...and sometimes it seems to. Sometimes it genuinely does, and I have to crouch down and pick up the pieces in humiliating defeat. But this very idea is so ridiculous: that we are disgraced as women when we cannot bear the weight that has been placed on us or that we’ve willingly placed on ourselves. We have a habit, as human beings, of placing all sorts of weights on ourselves that are not supposed to be there.
This particular weight has grown especially pressing as cultural idols of “girl power”, and the successful working women have been advertised and glorified to an extent that really concerns me. Contemporary feminism tells us we have a debt to pay–to oppressed women of the past, to women who have worked to address said oppression, and even to ourselves (as we apparently deserve more than we’ve been given or more than we’ve been brave enough to claim). Amidst all the noise, we’ve forgotten that valuable womanhood is so much deeper and broader than master’s degrees, pride-driven productivity, and “Girl Boss” coffee mugs. It’s even deeper and broader than homeschooling and Pinterest-worthy pie making. A twenty-first century approach to womanhood demands that we are what we do, regardless of why we do it. But this is wrong. And the “why” is more important than anything. I know I forget this more often than I fight to remember it.
While many women buy into the lie that they are rightfully honored and condemned according to their “what” and “how much” rather than their “why,” many other women have bought into the lie that in order to repair the damage done by this approach to work (which encompasses much more than the typical 9-to-5), they need to reject the whole concept entirely in favor of more explicitly spiritual endeavors. But when God first created and breathed life into mankind, He gave them a job to do, and it wasn’t to reject activities and pursuits that weren’t explicitly spiritual. He told them to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). This command is referred to in some theological traditions, particularly in Reformed theology, as the Cultural Mandate.
David Koyzis defines the Cultural Mandate with the statement that “as God’s image-bearers, we shape the world around us and adapt it to a diversity of uses.” We are tasked with the purpose of glorifying and enjoying God by establishing and participating in civilization. It is a massively incorrect and damaging idea that culture is something to be feared and fought against, in and of itself, rather than cultivated as God intends. Community is God’s idea, and the purpose of any kind of labor or seemingly-secular responsibility is ultimately to glorify God by serving and benefiting community in light of what humanity is in need of more than anything: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we approach our labor–whatever “labor” looks like in each woman’s circumstance–with this perspective, an eternal perspective, we are genuinely free to do excellent, fulfilling work with confidence that our success is infinitely more secure and lasting than any kind of public affirmation or personal satisfaction. We find joy and are released from our heavy yoke when we become more concerned with Christ than we are with the often unreachable standards of human beings (Col. 3:23)...and that includes our own standards.
The very nature of the Christian worldview is knowing it is universal Truth with a capital ‘T’. No aspect of reality is left untouched by it, and because of this, we have to stop separating the “faith” sphere from the “fact” and “function” spheres. As long as we live as though our everyday endeavors are incompatible with the reality of the existence of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we will labor in vain.
“For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” 1 Corinthains 3:9-15 ESV
What foundation are you building your work upon?