I’d like to honor the single Christian woman who is working late tonight instead of being taken out to dinner. (But, please keep reading even if that’s not you. If you’ve ever been disappointed with God, I hope this encourages you, too.)
The longing for family
A 38-year-old, single Christian friend of mine told me recently that she got a promotion. The only problem, she said, is that she’d rather be a stay-at-home mom, “packing school lunches.”
This isn’t someone who’s simply dreaming about the greener grass on the other side of the hill. This is a gal who has sought to steward her talents for God’s glory. She earned a graduate degree and is in a job leveraging her strengths and bringing about great flourishing around her—both in and outside of work.
But the natural longing for family of many Christian women like my friend is real—it’s God-given. This is why stewarding your vocation as a single Christian woman can be confusing. As you apply yourself and advance in your career, it can feel like you’re getting further away from marriage and family. I’ve heard women say:
I’m afraid that if I pursue my work with vigor that it will signal to God that I’m less interested in marriage and family;
I’m afraid that my Ph.D. scares men away.
As someone who was in this demographic for many years, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what I have learned along the way.
1. Choose to be fully alive.
Christian singles, and others who similarly wait on God’s timing for something, have a choice to make. We can either keep our hearts alive to the Lord, or turn away from him and kill our desire.
It’s comforting that scripture recognizes the often-hard reality of life this side of heaven—that there is longing and disappointment:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Prov. 13:12).
What do women long for? While women do value significance and meaning in their work, they also long for intimacy in relationship.
Seeking intimacy with the Lord has sustained me in the “now, but not yet” aspect of life and God’s kingdom. The Bible instructs us to be honest and pour out our hearts to the Lord (Ps. 62:8). This way, we keep our heart alive and its longings close to the surface, though painful. As we open our hearts to God and his will, he can pour out his love and give us both a vision and a desire for what he is calling us to do today.
An additional benefit of choosing to be fully alive is that it has a ripple effect on our relationships, family, and even our work.
2. Be fully female.
God has made us uniquely male and female, in his image (Genesis 1:27). The fact that he has you in the office and not at home nurturing children right now is not a mistake. Not only are you designed with specific talents unique to you, your perspective as a woman adds richness to a work product that otherwise might only have a male perspective.
While women have different strengths, being fully feminine may mean letting an empathetic, nurturing side show through as you interact with colleagues and add your input to projects.
God has also designed many women, like him, to be strong protectors of the weak and vulnerable. Author Carolyn Custis James writes that the Hebrew word for “helper” (ezer), used to describe women in Genesis 2:18, can be defined as “strong helper,” even like a warrior. Without the work of women, our society would be a much different place.
3. Know God.
When years pass and longings go unfulfilled, some single women begin to lose enthusiasm about growing their skills on the job and lose faith in God’s loving character.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, we learn how important it is to put our faith in who God really is. Many people learn from this parable we are to invest and grow our talents for God, not “bury” them. This is true. But few understand how it also teaches that trusting in the true character of God compels us to serve him well. The servant who buried his talent said,
”Master,’ he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground” (Matt. 25:24-25).
The wicked servant buried his talent because he didn’t trust in the character of God. If we serve a God of love, who gave his one and only son on our behalf, can’t we trust him with our hearts and our vocation?
4. Know Your Purpose.
When we have a transcendent, God-given purpose, everything looks different. I’ve seen single Christian women go from tears and slumping in their chairs to sitting up straight with hope in their eyes when they are reminded of their identity in Christ and their purpose. Each one of us, no matter our marital status, plays an active role through our work in God’s master plan of restoration through Jesus Christ.
This is where churches can do better in coming alongside single women, not just to comfort and encourage them as they live a single life, but to challenge them in their calling.
The topic of Christian singleness and vocation, like life’s most pressing and difficult questions, deserves a rich theology. Whether we’re packing lunches or sitting at an office computer, we owe it to ourselves to wrestle with the Lord and dig into scripture to reflect deeply and soundly about our vocations.
This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.
For the next several weeks, Urban Faith will be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.
In an article on The Gospel Coalition site titled “What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?”, Jackie Knapp reflects on conversations she’s had with old friends looking back on their 20s. Apparently, life after college wasn’t quite what they had envisioned:
From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn’t know their 20s weren’t all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn’t expect these years to be so hard.
The specific tribulations that afflicted some of her friends—“infertility,” “devastating breakups,” “marriage conflicts,” etc.—are not universal experiences. Still, many recent graduates will experience a similar gap between their expectations of life after college and reality, asking, “Where did I go wrong?”
But life after college can be just as good as any other life stage if you know what to reasonably expect.
There are three major spheres of life that are especially germane to a discussion about recent graduates (and soon-to-be-graduates)—work, friendships, and romance. In each of these areas, know that God is not absent even when post-college life isn’t what you hoped it would be. The points I make here are inspired by Erica Young Reitz’s fuller treatment of the subject (including other topics such as family, finances, and more) in her excellent book, After College, with today’s focus being work.
Doubts and Anxiety About Work
The pressure to find a job after graduation is exacerbated by thinking that if you can find work—any work at all—you’ll be satisfied. (Those who have been struggling in their job search are especially likely to believe this.)
As good as it is to have a job, though, work can have its disappointments and frustrations beyond having a demanding boss or catty co-workers. The job opportunity you searched so hard for could turn out to be something mundane that doesn’t draw on your education or unique gifts, or you could have an interim job such as a Starbucks barista or a grocery store cashier.
But even if you get a job in your field, you may begin to have second thoughts about your chosen career path, wondering, “Is this really what I want to spend my life doing?”
In either case, even the blessing of having a job quickly becomes clouded with doubt and despondency.
But those clouds can be dispersed with a proper understanding of both our particular work and God’s broader calling on us.
Seeing Work Through a Biblical Lens
First, to rightly understand the nature of our work and calling, we must be familiar with the biblical story of the world we inhabit. Reitz divides this story into four parts—Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration—and characterizes them as follows:
- Creation: “God created the world and everything in it, including us, his image-bearers.”
- Fall: “Sin entered in, bringing a curse to all of creation.”
- Redemption: “God sent Jesus to die and rise again to save us and the whole world from sin and death to reverse the curse.”
- Restoration: “God is bringing his kingdom (perfect order) to every inch of this world, and we get to be a part of it!”
This is a heavily condensed version of IFWE’s four-chapter gospel, but the points relevant to our discussion can be easily applied.
When God created the world and pronounced everything in it good (Gen.1:31), he did not then retreat into seclusion and leave the world to its own devices. In his great love for what he has made, he continues to sustain (Heb. 1:3) and provide for (Ps. 104) his creation, even at this very moment. Also, when God created Adam and Eve, he tasked them with caring for creation as well (Gen. 1:28).
What this means for you and your work is that you, too, are an agent of God’s loving sustenance and restoration of the world, even if the part you play in it seems small in your eyes. This is why Martin Lutheremphasized the dignity of all work:
The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone.
To return to our earlier examples of seemingly menial work, the espressos and lattes a barista makes help other people stay alert so they can do their jobs well and he or she helps provide an environment where the community can gather. A grocery store cashier empowers people to get home with the food they need to live and feed their families.
These jobs, which on the surface appear to be cogs in a machine, are performed by people who are every bit as valuable to God in these positions as a doctor or a teacher. And the “machine” they are part of would not work without them.
As Reitz says, no matter what our job is, God’s care for his creation through human agents means we get to:
Join Christ daily, wherever we are, in his ongoing work of caring for the whole creation: people, institutions, communities and the earth itself. Our purpose begins the moment we wake up and interact with the world.
Indeed, this “should give us a reason to get up in the morning”—no matter what work God has put before us.
This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. The original article can be accessed here. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.