Working Women/Women’s Work: A View from the Heartland

By Susan Lawrence

The sky is the limit . . . unless you live in a snow globe.

My dad dreamed big for me. Dad would frequently say, “You, know, if you wanted, you could . . .” followed by yet another option for a job or hobby. I would have to live a dozen lifetimes to accomplish all he dreamed and schemed for me.

Some of his ideas were a bit outlandish. Even though I knew I probably would never become a world champion downhill skier (we lived in central Illinois) or train exotic animals (farm animals were enough for me), I didn’t feel limited. My first thought was never, That would never happen . . . it’s impossible. Instead, I’d pause to consider, Is it possible?

Yes, it is. It all is.

My dad invited me to glimpse life not constrained inside a snow globe—where life looks complete, but the dome-shaped sky isn’t really the sky, and the plastic ground isn’t a firm foundation. Instead, he encouraged me to check out the real sky, which soon seemed limitless, and a firmly grounded faith, which was stronger than I could imagine.

office meetingSeeing Possibilities

I carried that outlook into adulthood. As my faith has grown, so has my appreciation for the way Dad prepared me to see possibilities instead of obstacles. It’s not too difficult for me to see that all things are possible with God, and that I don’t live in a fabricated world of self-imposed limits.

Of course, not everything that is permissible is beneficial. God puts boundaries around us for our protection and his purpose. If we could go anywhere, we’d lose focus of where he intends us to spend the time, energy, and resources he’s given us. There’s plenty of territory for each of us to explore within the boundaries he’s given us—plenty of possibilities. His boundaries aren’t an imposition at all when we settle in and find contentment and purpose where he’s placed us for a season. His boundaries don’t limit us as much as they invite us to explore the freedom he gives us.

God-established boundaries are one thing. Church-imposed boundaries, even when we intend them to reflect God’s boundaries, can become a distortion. When we impose boundaries without looking at the breadth of Scripture, we get into trouble. Worse yet, we discourage others in their faith and misrepresent God.

Mixed Messages

In many churches, young girls and women get a mixed message that, though everyone is gifted, there are some gifts God wouldn’t give to women, so if you think you have that gift, you’re probably mistaken, or you have to use it among specific age groups or outside the church.

Paul wrote that he didn’t allow women to teach or have authority, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t gift women for teaching and leadership. There are too many examples of teaching and leadership among women throughout Scripture: Miriam, Deborah, Mary, and Priscilla to name a few. (In the book of Acts we read about the importance of Priscilla’s corrective teaching of Apollos. Yes, I know the argument that what she did was not actually “teaching,” but when we begin paring words to the extreme, I think we should be cautioned about the path we might be taking.)

I’m not leading a charge of women’s equality in church. Complementing one another, whether it is across genders, denominations, age, or in other ways we prefer to see differences, is the key. I believe we are each to seek God’s presence and purpose and submit to it, and we must encourage others to do the same.

God never changes, but his prompts throughout our lives do. As we rely on him, we change to be more like him, and we are therefore more sensitive to the changes he wants to make in us. As we let go of our preferences and assumptions, we place ourselves in a posture to learn. As we learn, we will change.

His foundation won’t change, and his possibilities won’t change, but he will change us—often in surprising ways. There will be some things he uproots. As we wrestle with him, he exposes our weaknesses and strengthens us.

Christian churches sometimes assess Paul’s personal preference as a mandate from God and refuse to allow women in teaching or leadership roles. Most Christian churches take a morphed approach, making it possible for women to teach children and perhaps young adults . . . but an adult class? That’s too far for some.

Women might be allowed to pray and read Scripture in a worship service but are told not to add any personal reflection.

Women might be allowed in some ministry leadership positions and to serve on staff as a coordinator or director, but there are lines that can’t be crossed, regardless of the individual woman’s calling and gifting.

If you take an honest look at many women’s responsibilities, you’ll find teaching and authority. Often, we simply rationalize what is allowed and what isn’t while claiming adherence to the same Scripture through a variety of approaches.

Each Person

I’m not advocating we make a big issue about men’s and women’s roles in church. We can focus so much on an issue that we lose sight of people. We generalize individuals into categories.

Instead, I believe we should make a big deal about each person’s role in the church. Quit making it about what a man can do and what a woman can (and can’t) do, and wrestle with God’s intentions for each person. Be humble. Listen well. Help others.

Do we really want to tell our daughters and granddaughters that no matter how God is leading them, they simply cannot do certain things? What does that teach them about God? How do we reconcile with them that God generously gifts them but will hold them back in areas that use those gifts? How do we reconcile the same thing in our own life and faith?

Restraint and obedience are essential for all of us, of course, but when our control issues get in the way of inviting people to explore the specific freedoms, responsibilities, boundaries, and restraints God is giving them, aren’t we playing God? He uses us in each other’s lives, but he is the ultimate reality check. We don’t have to be threatened by someone else’s exploration and growth. God handles the responsibility of authority just fine.

God can do whatever he wants. It will always be consistent with his will, but he has surprised us over and over again throughout history and our lives. He will continue to do so if we’re willing to open our eyes and consider the possibilities instead of living inside our self-imposed or culturally constructed snow globes.

Let God show you life beyond the snow globe.

Susan Lawrence serves as small groups and communications coordinator at Taylorville (Illinois) Christian Church. She speaks at conferences, retreats, and leadership seminars and writes studies, devotionals, and ministry resources. Her most recent book, Pure Submission, explores examples of submission throughout Scripture.

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