Last year, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on women and vocation. The theme was Women in Academia. Last night, I was invited once again to participate on the panel. This year’s theme was Spiritual and Biological Parenting. There were four panelists in total. Three of us were mothers and the fourth panelist was a woman who has served in youth ministry for 25 years and did not have kids of her own. We talked about challenges, joys, and attitudes. We talked about how parenting fits or doesn’t fit with God’s calling on our lives. What follows is my main point that I made in bringing my perspective. It is a mash up of the notes that I took in advance and the comments that I made off the cuff while participating in the discussion.
I think one of the most dangerous messages in the church today is that a Christian woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother. This is at the least bad theology, and at the worst heresy. A Christian woman’s highest calling is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Anything else is nothing more than an adjective. And so, that means that if my husband becomes more important in my life than my relationship with Christ then I have, in a way, committed idolatry. The same goes for my kids. If they become my all-consuming, then there is something wrong there. Now this isn’t to say I don’t love my kids and I don’t give them my full attention, but they are not, and will not be, the sum of my existence.
Especially given the life-stage I am in (mom with pre-school kids), I see a very dangerous trend where moms spend 24/7 with their kids and have no identity apart from them. On so many levels this can be unhealthy, not just for their Christian faith but also for their marriages. What happens when the children leave home and it’s just the husband and wife together again? Will they have anything in common? Will they even know each other? And the problem is that many of the “Christian” parenting messages out there seem to promote this absolute, obsessive imbalance as being “biblical.”
That being said, if I would to try to explain how being a parent fits within my calling to be a disciple of Jesus, then I would say that my children are precious gifts that have been entrusted to me by God, and my job is to be a good steward of the gifts that He has given me.
My identity and calling are not dependent on my being married and having kids. As someone who struggled, and still struggles, with infertility, I have had to learn that whether I am single or married, have kids or don’t, that doesn’t change my calling. I am called to be a faithful disciple of Jesus, to follow where he leads, and to obey the Holy Spirit as he works in my life.My identity as a disciple of Jesus is grounded not in my marital status or the number of children I have, but in the person and work of Jesus. I am not more Christian because I have kids, nor I am less of a Christian if I don’t have kids.
Are there ways parenting and my vocation conflict? Well, when we’re trying to juggle class and kids, Chuck’s job, and the cost of babysitting, it feels like a swirling vortex of conflict. But at the same time, this short term pain and chaos has a long term benefit. By pursuing my calling, by getting my degree I will be able to serve and provide for my kids (and coming from a single-parent home, this is hugely important. Too often women don’t think about the “what if something happens to your husband” be it divorce or death and you are on your own to provide for your kids?) and be a model for them of what it means to be an obedient disciple of Jesus.