The Internet is ablaze with discussions surrounding Sheryl Sandberg's national bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Early in the book she addresses age-old conversations surrounding women and their choices concerning work and their relationships. She writes, "I was twenty-four and convinced that marriage was the first—and necessary—step to a happy and productive life." Like so many women, she "was encouraged to prioritize marriage over having a career."
As I read those words and considered my observations in the American church, I wondered, "Are we really having a marriage versus career conversation with our young women?" And if so, is that the conversation we should be having with young women right now?
According to Sandberg, "Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and careers. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they'll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as "work-life balance"—as if the two were diametrically opposed—practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?"
Yet the fact still remains that many Christian women—married and unmarried, young and mature, mothers and women who do not have children—are working. Many of them are working out of necessary and can't afford the luxury of the work-life debate, which makes me think, "When Christians talk about women who work, are we simply having a conversation about marriage versus career, or are we also having a conversation about marriage versus singleness?" Considering our context effectively changes the whole dynamic of the conversation.
In some Christian circles, the first consideration of marriage versus career views a woman's choice of having a career as selfish, particularly if she has small children. She has chosen her work over a "real" (some may say "godly") life. On the other hand, the second consideration—marriage versus singleness, is really a conversation about God, Christian values, and how we view our relationships (beginning with the family).
Think about it…What counsel and direction is the American church providing for young single women in today's culture? Are we expecting them to graduate high school or college and then make finding a partner and having children their number one priority? And what if a young woman's prince doesn't arrive right away? What if he never shows up? What should she do during her "season of waiting"? What if she can't have children? What advice do we give her then? I hope she works, and accepts that responsibility joyfully and graciously as a beautiful gift from God.