The first few chapters - a potted history of work - kept me glued to the page. They made me ask the question: How are our views on women, work and the home shaped by our culture as well as by the Bible?
What did Paul mean when he encouraged young married women to "manage their households" (1 Tim 5:14) and to "work at home" (Titus 2:5)? Did he mean women with children shouldn't do paid work? Or that our homes should be beautiful? I don't think so. The reason we sometimes conclude these things is because of a post-industrial view of work and the home.
Carolyn McCulley says,
With the dozens and dozens of magazines, cable shows, and Pinterest boards, it's no surprise if you think about your home as an expression of your identity. ...Did you catch that? For most of history, the home was a "place of productivity". Work was done in and from the home. Farming and manufacture were home businesses, led by mums and dads, their kids underfoot and working alongside them. Like everyone else, women worked in and from the home, in roles that earned money and roles that didn't.
That's not the concept of the home that most people have had throughout history. The home was a center of productivity. If we don't know that history, then we will read the biblical verses about the home only through the lens of our current experience - and potentially misunderstand the intent of these passages ...
Over the last several centuries, Christians have engaged in this debate about where women should be productive. When mainstream culture devalued marriage and motherhood, Christians (and those from some other faith traditions) rightly upheld these important roles. When mainstream culture overvalued the workplace, they also rightly upheld the value of the home.
The only problem is that our modern concept of the home is not the same as the biblical concept. ... For most of human history, the home was the original small business unit, the building block of a community's economic vitality. It was only after the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution that the home moved from being a place of productivity to a place of consumption.
What does this mean for the verses about women and work in the Bible? I'll be honest: I'm not sure. For a start, I haven't finished the book yet. But also, I don't think the answers are simple. This is going to take some time to process.
I still believe it's ideal for young kids to be cared for by a parent as much as possible. I think women will generally be the ones who do this, not just because of cultural norms, but also because that's the way God made us (Gen 2-3; Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:3-5). We only see this as a problem because our society teaches us to idolize "career". Managing a home and raising kids is work, and it's meaningful, hard, skillful work.
But I am coming to see that there is flexibility and freedom in the way this might happen. It won't look the same for everyone. I have friends I greatly respect who made the decision - one that I think was wise for them - to do paid work a few days a week early in their children's lives because it helped keep them sane.* And we don't all have the choice: I have a friend who's a single mum and has to work in a thankless job so she can support her family.
I also know women who stayed home full-time with their kids until they reached school age, then took on some work outside the home; and women who stayed home with their kids, pretty much full time, into the teen years (hey, wait a minute, that's me - and my son's chronic illness has made me very grateful I have this option). Not so they can devote themselves to the "home beautiful" (an idol just as potent as "career"), but so they can love and serve those around them, and those God has entrusted to them.
Jesus doesn't want us to store up treasure on earth: sanded floorboards, a successful career, or perfectly behaved children (Matt 6:19-24). He wants us to work hard at the tasks he's given us; and he want us to work, not for ourselves, but for him (Eph 2:10; Col 3:23). He wants us to live for our true home.
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* Two had depression; one is an extrovert, with outgoing kids who enjoyed childcare, who found she was much more cheerful and productive at home while working a few days a week.
Quote is from Carolyn McCulley's The measure of success, 46-47, italics mine.