Periodically the subject of women working outside the home comes up in discussions with women I mentor. The question is: Now that this practice is so entrenched in our culture, is it a practice that honors God or not? The first thing we need to consider is the responsibilities that the Word of God gives to women. Only after this subject is understood can we determine whether a particular activity falls within the jurisdiction God assigns to women.
All the commandments of God have applicability to all people—male and female—although they will be applied, in some cases, differently for each gender. Second, where the Bible directly addresses matters pertaining to women, such as Proverbs 31, special attention needs to be given as to why certain aspects of a woman’s character and activities are highlighted. In the case of Proverbs 31, even though the speaker is addressing her son, the chapter establishes the Biblical characteristics of a worthy woman.
When it comes to adjudicating whether or not an activity (not just employment) is suitable and honorable for a woman to pursue outside the home, care must be taken not to resort to an either/or mentality. Too many people are quick to automatically conclude that anything other than a home-based choice is wrong. This sets up the caricatured perspective that a woman has to abandon any outlet of creativity or fulfillment other than the care of her family. God’s way doesn’t posit a conflict of interests in a woman’s life, but rather a harmony of interests. In order for a woman to stand with a clear conscience before God in the choices she makes, she needs to evaluate the trade-offs involved and determine if God’s law-word is being honored in her decision.
A personal story highlights this well. At the time, I was a wife and the mother of two children with my elderly mother-in-law living with us. As a result of some organizing work that I had done well, I was asked to consider a position as campaign manager for a lawyer who was running for city council. To say that I was flattered is an understatement. They explained that I was their top candidate for this position.
I was a homeschooling mom and actively involved in not only educating my children, but running and administering some of their extracurricular activities, not to mention my normal household responsibilities and transporting my mother-in-law to her medical appointments. So, I knew that this undertaking would be a challenge if I hoped to do all these things well. Nonetheless, with my husband’s approval, I decided to attend a meeting to discuss the offer further.
I put on my most professional clothes (something I hadn’t done for some time) and had a good meeting with the men of the committee. They explained that if the candidate won, I would have the option of running his district office. The men who were trying to convince me knew the buttons to push. They explained that this would be an opportunity for me to exercise dominion and influence local government to be more Biblically oriented. I told them that I would discuss this with my husband and get back to them.
Meanwhile, back at home, I had left my two children with a babysitter as I didn’t feel that my mother-in-law (in her late 80s) would be comfortable with them by herself. Whereas I expected that things might not be smooth, I never anticipated the disaster I found when I returned home. The babysitter had gotten on the wrong side of my son, and my daughter was crying hysterically. My mother-in-law was aggravated, and the babysitter made it clear that she would never work for us again. After I drove her back home, I noticed that I was almost out of gas and stopped to fill up my tank. Already frustrated and upset over the mess I returned to, I forgot the gas cap for my car. I only realized it when I got home and, in the short time that it took for me to return to the gas station, it was gone!
By the time my husband returned home from work, I managed to have everyone settled. He and I talked. We both decided that God had spoken through the circumstances of the evening, and we came to the obvious conclusion that, although I was capable to handle the job offered, this was not the right time. The next day, I called and declined the offer.
Pursuing this activity outside the home did not fall into the category of sin, in and of itself. The issue that became obvious was that I wouldn’t be able to address my responsibilities at home and do a good job for the candidate. If a similar offer were presented to me today, since my circumstances are radically different (all children schooled and grown), I could consider it.
Whenever a woman takes on responsibilities outside her home, volunteer or paid, she must realize that her role as wife and mother is primary. Too often, a woman who has paid employment elsewhere is under the authority of others who don’t have her family’s well-being as their top priority. So, for example, if her child is sick, rather than be the person who remains home to care for him, she may shuffle him off to daycare or school, sometimes even masking his symptoms. (Some daycares and schools allow children to attend who have fevers so long as they are not above 102 degrees!) Thus, money and job security end up trumping her role as mother. If she does decide to remain with her ill child, she may be sacrificing a project or potentially compromising her standing at work. In either case, there is a conflict of interests.
We need to remember that the primary “employer” in our lives is the triune God, and we must make His concerns and priorities our concerns and priorities. To do otherwise is to invite His judgment and displeasure. Whereas outside work can provide additional funds, a sense of accomplishment, and, at times, prestige, we must be more concerned with storing up the treasures in heaven that God promises to those who are faithful.