John and I are not the only ones who wrestle with this topic, nor is it a new issue. Women through the centuries have struggled with their place in the church and how to function with a unique calling, especially one that moved them outside of the permissible. Catherine and William Booth, who co-founded the Salvation Army, are just one of the couples that have grappled through this topic.
Glorifying and enjoying God while also participating in bringing God’s kingdom to earth is a high calling for all of us. Figuring out how that unfolds in our everyday lives is quite another story.
This past Saturday our women’s group met at my apartment. We are of different ethnicities, ages, denominational ties and career choices. Some of us have children. Our commonality? We are all involved in planting churches with our husbands in New York City.
I wasn’t surprised that the topic of calling raised confusion or even contention between John and me. With responsibilities of ministry, motherhood, marriage, and career, what should we focus on? Both spouses often have to bring in a paycheck when living in a global city. When we have a choice in ministry, what do we choose? How do we do it all? These questions naturally lead to asking, what exactly is my calling? Even ten years ago, when I was researching stress and satisfaction of women married to church planters, the topic of calling was crucial. It’s still crucial today. Significant factors play into the confusion.
1. The meaning of calling
Does everyone have a calling, or just some people? Does one spouse’s calling trump the other’s? Or even, why is this an issue?
2. Personality, Desires, Talents
An introvert with behind-the-scenes talents will wrestle differently from an extroverted woman who has been preparing to go into full time ministry. The same goes for women who want to stay home and raise a family versus those who want a career while raising a family. Throw in differences of opinion, infertility, singleness, ministry, debt and a host of other factors and the topic can be frustrating.
3. Family of Origin
What we saw modeled at home will heavily influence us, regardless of whether it was a Christian home or not. We have core values of what feels right even if we won’t admit it. We may misuse or misinterpret scripture if someone or something touches an unexamined core value.
Since the fall of humankind, men and women have been master wielders of contempt. However, the misuse of scripture and power by misogynists may play a bigger role in women’s confusion than we care to admit.
Is this my calling, or his, or ours? When a woman marries, how does that impact her life calling? Is she supposed to give it up? Does a couple blend their callings or are they separate? How do we factor in life circumstances such as poverty, illness, or caring for a loved one when we have a burning passion for something else? And what about those who don’t have a sense of passion? Are they somehow bypassed when it comes to calling?
6. Interpretation of scripture
Through which lens do I view scripture? A systematic, grammatical-historic, historic-redemptive or other approach? Do I even know what these are and what difference it makes to this topic?
7. Spiritual Warfare
The six previously mentioned factors are usually enough to keep us occupied. Get close to debunking your own long- believed lies or bringing redemptive changes to any aspect of this world and be prepared for a fight.
Have I raised enough questions to confuse you even more?
Remember Ephesians 1:18-19? ….so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
When life seems unlivable, when we are baffled about what God is doing, when we don’t know what to do next, hold on to this: Jesus calls us to himself. Do you know what the hope is in this verse? It’s that we belong to him. We are called his. That’s not all. Have you received or heard of someone receiving a large inheritance? We, you and me, are the inheritance that Paul is talking about. Jesus gets us as his inheritance. This is astounding! Go ahead, check with your favorite theologians on this, if you don’t believe me. Everything else begins to fade when we meditate and let this truth sink into our souls.
There is a calling that centers us. There is an identity that grounds us and shows us how to live in the midst of the turbulent ambiguity of life and of ministry. I’m attending a Q workshop today on this very topic - Women and Calling! I’ll be writing more on this subject and with practical tools to help us through the web of confusion. Stay tuned.