Carolyn McCulley

A Labor of Love

 

Every four years, I find myself giving birth.

 

Unfortunately, not to a child but to a book. So I’m pleased announce I am writing a third book. I’m due at the end of the year but this baby won’t appear in public until January 2014 from B&H Publishing. We’ll figure out what to call it later on.

I’m also pleased to announce I’m test-driving some of the material at this weekend’s Christian Working Woman conference in Chicago. If you’re in the area, check it out. I’d love to meet you. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to introduce you to my co-writer, Nora Shank. She’ll be at home doing the heavy lifting while I’m running around talking.

So what’s the book about? Let me introduce you via the first draft of the preface. Read it and send your questions and comments. Just like with Radical Womanhood, I’ll be working out some of the material here with you all, the loyal readers. I look forward to your feedback! (NOTE: After test-driving this preface online, I’ve updated it for clarificaton.)

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In the age of science, truth oddly enough became one of its first victims.

Take for example, the idea that the earth is flat. We’ve all been taught that our ancestors believed this because church leaders promoted it. But in fact, the idea of a spherical world had been accepted as early as the 4th century B.C.[1] Anyone who has watched a boat sail over the edge of the horizon and return could never have believed the earth was flat. So where did this idea come from? Two books in the late 19th century promoted this idea to stigmatize Christian beliefs and support “scientific” thinking. After their publication, nearly every secondary-school textbook in America featured that “fact,” even if diligent study of historical materials and common sense dictated otherwise.[2]

Truth was squashed to serve an ideological agenda.

As 21st century women, we also have been handed a number of “flat earth” facts about our lives that we accept without question. Those beliefs are sometimes shared by the men in our lives, which makes this problem ultimately a human one. It can be hard to discern them except for one factor: you can recognize a “flat earth” fact by the one-size-fits-all box that it comes with.

I am passionate about calling out “facts” that are based on one-size-fits-all thinking. Especially when the advice is applied broadly to all women at all times, no matter their circumstances, location, training, gifting, or personal histories. Most importantly, I am passionate about calling out “facts” that don’t line up with the grace, mercy, and freedom offered to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ—especially for those who have never heard that good news! That’s why I wanted to write this book—to help women in many stages of life to think clearly about the God-given gifts and opportunities they have, and how to invest those individual and specific situations in light of the reality of eternity.

You probably picked up this book because you have questions about work/life balance. I’ve been thinking about the topic for decades myself. I grew up in the midst of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, studied journalism and feminist women’s studies in college, and then became a Bible-believing Christian at 30—which shook up all my prior assumptions about being female. I’ve worked all my life because I had to support myself as a single woman. I have a high view of marriage and motherhood, even though I’ve never had children of my own. And I’ve traveled extensively to other nations, where most of my American ideas and assumptions have been challenged. In other words, I’ve been all around the circle when it comes to the issue of being female and what we “should” be doing as women.

In a way, this book is the third in a trilogy. My first book explored the concept of being a godly, fruitful woman who was unmarried.[3] I wrote it when I realized I was carrying around a silly notion that “real” womanhood was somehow conferred on those who got married and had children. That concept collided with the truth of the Proverbs 31 woman—a passage in the Bible that describes an incredibly competent, financially savvy, generous, hospitable, loving woman who is fruitful and does good “all the days of her life” (Prov. 31:12). That passage is a portrait of wise living in many seasons of a woman’s life, an acrostic that was taught to a young future ruler by his wise mother so that he’d know both his alphabet and what to look for in an unmarried woman who would one day make an excellent wife. In other words, these are virtues that need to be cultivated in every season of a woman’s life, especially the early years. That insight revealed I had been deriving more identity from an adjective (“single”) than a noun (“woman”), which was not the emphasis I saw in the Bible. In studying what Scripture said about being a woman made in the image of God, I was released from my false concept that being single was somehow less feminine. (Less preferred is another matter. That’s where the trusting God theme came in.)

That project led to further contemplation of the meaning of womanhood and the publication of my second book, which was really the book I wanted to read as a new believer.[4] I wanted someone to explain to me the history of feminism—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and compare it with what I was reading in the Bible. How did our culture end up with so many contrasting definitions and evaluations of femininity?

In doing the research for this book, I was startled to discover I basically knew nothing about the history of the home. I had no idea that my understanding was derived solely from a 20th-century American experience, where the home was seen as a place to store your stuff and showcase your taste. I had no idea how profoundly the 19th century had influenced the role, place, and activities of the home. For most of history, the home had been a place of productivity and the small business unit of the local economy. By the 20th century, it became a center of consumption. The public sphere—the marketplace—was the valued sphere. The private sphere—the place of intangible investment—was the devalued sphere. Yet all the activities of the private sphere were the ones that awaited eternal reward: the cultivation of loving marriages, the rearing and discipling of the next generation, the care for elderly or disabled relatives, and the mission of outreach to neighbors and hospitality for the church.

So what about that public sphere? Having written about biblical womanhood, marriage, motherhood, and the private sphere, I was left with one more area to consider. Ironically, right after the publication of my second book, I plunged headfirst into the world of small-business entrepreneurs by establishing my documentary film company in the depths of the Great Recession. It was a brand-new lesson in trusting God for provision and wisdom to manage others. As I was busy trying to keep my company afloat, my pastor suggested that I consider writing another book, this time on the topic of women and work. Overwhelmed with daily tasks, I laughed at the idea when he brought it up. But it took root and began to grow.

At the same time, I was receiving emails and calls from a friend whose life trajectory was very different from mine, but who had some of the same questions about women and productivity. I had known Nora Shank for a few years while she was single, but now she was a 30-year-old married mother of two with a part-time business living on the opposite side of the country. Whatever Nora found in the news or the blogosphere about work, she forwarded to me. As my inbox grew and our conversations lengthened, I realized our divergent life experiences were a great reason to collaborate. So we began brainstorming about this book.

I think it’s no surprise that far more verses in the Proverbs 31 portrait are about productivity and financial management than relationships. The divide we created in the 19th century between work and home is an artificial one. In the biblical narrative, work is a co-labor of love. In response to criticism that He healed a sick man on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). His work was to glorify His Father and help others. Ours is the same.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many women about whether or not they should pursue a career. My answer is a qualified no. Not because I’m trying to hand someone else another one-size-fits-all box, but because our modern concept of “career” is a self-centered one. It’s ultimately about self-fulfillment and self-definition—how you are defined by what you do.

What should women do instead? Become good investors of what you have received. It is God who gives us the relationships, children, time, talents, interests, and tasks that fill our days and years. We can’t force these things to happen nor are these things our true and complete identities. We may be wives or mothers, but as important as these are, they are roles that end in this life. We continue on as children of God and sisters to those who have been rescued by Christ. We may work in highly esteemed professions or we may not be paid for our daily labors. Those roles are not our identities, either. They are opportunities to steward for the glory of God. Whatever God gives us in terms of relationships and opportunities, He wants multiplied for the sake of His kingdom.

So should women work? Absolutely! Women should work and work hard every day. As Christ-following women, the Bible calls us to work for the glory of God. But the location of where we work is neither the definition nor the measure of our productivity.

Is this a book about women working in the marketplace? Yes. Is this a book about women working at home? Yes again. What follows is our exploration of how that looks for different women at various stages of life. May you find much encouragement to be a creative, fruitful, and industrious woman in the pages that follow. Join us as we jump into the adventure of co-laboring with our Creator in loving others through our productivity.

[1] Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, Christine Garwood, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2007, p. 20.

[2] Stephen Jay Gould, “The Late Birth of a Flat Earth,” Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History(New York: Crown, 1996), 38–52.

[3] Crossway Books published Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred in 2004.

[4] Moody Publishers released Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World in 2008.

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Some blog posts are worth repeating. This is one of them. ~ CMC
Read the original post or comment at Carolyn McCulley’s blog.

 

Carolyn McCulley

Carolyn is the author of two books, Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World (Moody Publishers, 2008) and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred (Crossway, 2004). Carolyn is also a contributor to Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway, 2005), as well as to other webzines and publications. She is a frequent conference speaker for women’s ministry events and also maintains a blog, Radical Womanhood.