O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Motherhood: A Blog Fight, a Culture War, and Grace

A week ago, the blogosphere began buzzing about a debate that, to be honest, I thought maybe we’d moved beyond. Turns out I was wrong. The whole situation was about whether or not it was OK for Christian moms to work outside the home. Seriously. And people got really mad.

I have an opinion about it, but I’m a man. Instead I asked my sister — the notorious Mama Monk, Micha Boyett-Hohorst — to address it in a guest post. I asked her because she is a feminist Christian who has worked full-time in ministry in the past but currently stays home. Her excellent blog is about her struggle to maintain a robust spiritual life despite being a harried mom. Here’s Micha’s response to the whole moms-and-work kerfuffle:



Last Saturday, a little corner of Christian blogland erupted when Matthew Paul Turner
about John Piper’s video-stance in which he “discourages” most mothers
from working outside of the home. Not only did Turner’s blog flame up with
angry comments (from both sides), but several of the blogs I follow couldn’t stop
talking about the topic on Monday. While Turner’s wife Jessica continued the
conversation, Nicole Wick posted a History of Women’s Suffrage and Rachel
Held Evans questioned whether women are really satisfied
with the choices
we’ve been given. Among every conversation I came across, I found angry
mothers: Stay-at-Home Moms shouting Titus 2 at Working Moms (and Working
Moms pointing stubbornly at Proverbs 31).


That morning I sat at my computer in a post-Bible-bashing-induced funk
while my two-year-old son ran around the dining room table, T. Rex in hand,
singing, “Dinosaur Train!” I’m a SAHM who formerly worked full-time for a youth
parachurch ministry. Though I’m grateful for the opportunity to be home full-time
and though I’m in love with the life I share with my son, I often ache over the loss
of my life in ministry, a season when my gifts and passions so beautifully aligned
with my God-given calling, One year into my son’s life, I chose to stay home, not
because it was necessarily the most biblical option, but because 1) I could, and
2) it was right for our family in this season of our lives.


So, having been a member of both sides of this particular Mommy battle, the
big bloggy maelstrom I encountered was surprising…and disappointing. Call
me naive, but it simply hadn’t occurred to me that the same young, progressive
Christian population willing to read Turner’s edgy humor could be so convinced
that God always calls women to stay home.

That night I explained my frustration to my husband while I stuffed my mouth with
husband-made Caesar salad. (Authentic dressing with raw egg and anchovies?
Heck yes!) “I can’t help but think we’re having this discussion simply because we
live in a society privileged enough that some women don’t have to work,” I said
with a little strand of romaine hanging from my lip. “We can quote scripture about
women in the home all day long, but what does it even mean to work? And what
does it mean to be in the home?”


Even Piper’s video admits that our understanding of “work” and “home” have
changed drastically in the past 100 years. There was no reason to ask if it
was biblical for mothers to work before World War II. Mothers simply “worked.”

The concept of a Stay-at-Home Mom did not exist until sixty years ago when,
following the war, servicemen were given the chance to get an education, which
led to better-paying jobs, which led to a move from rural farmland into cities, and
subsequently to suburbs. Young, married women from rural backgrounds were
handed keys to shiny, new three-bedroom homes. The existence of suburbia led
to a new concept: the homemaker. The “American woman” who had always lived
among extended family and shared mothering tasks with sisters and mothers
and aunts while working on the farm or making ends meet in the factory, found
herself in a brand-new situation. She was isolated in her home, caring only for
her immediate family. Her work had downsized considerably. She no longer
needed to garden or butcher or collect the eggs. For the love of Betty Friedan,
she had a washing machine!


Three out of my four great-grandmothers lived on cotton farms in the 1920’s and
30’s, raising young children. Were they SAHMs? Well, yes, and no. Of course,
they raised their kids, hovering nearby while their eight children played with each
other. But they also worked. They worked as hard as every farmer’s wife in the
history of the world has worked. They planted gardens and milked cows and
stacked firewood and canned vegetables for the winter, all while raising babies.
Their kids played around them on dirt floors while they tore cloth for diapers.

Was anyone asking if it was biblical for my Grandma Johnson to be gutting the
chicken for dinner instead of playing catch with her very tall sons (those Johnson
boys had the longest legs in Oklahoma according to my Memaw)?
No. Because everyone knew she had to feed those boys. And because it
would be an absurd question to ask of someone in that situation and culture.


I’m not implying that applying Scripture to the discussion of the working mother is
absurd. In fact, it’s vital. The Bible is clear that being a mother is holy business.
(Ask the Proverbs 31 woman.) The Titus 2 passage that came up so often in
this week’s discussions simply states that a woman is to “love [her] children
and husband…and to be busy at home.” If we want, we can read that through
a feminist lens of rage. But whatever we may think of Paul’s feelings toward
women–and I can be as conflicted as the next Christian feminist–it seems to
me that Paul is simply saying we need to love our families and fight against
laziness. Among the women I know who struggle with their choices to work or
stay home, I can think of absolutely zero who are besieged with laziness. And
in that sense, this passage is a really an act of grace to those of us who daily
question whether or not we’re completely screwing up this motherhood thing.
Professionals or not, we’re all busy at home.


Of course, that argument doesn’t get us all off the hook. If I were going to argue
for a biblical reason women shouldn’t work outside the home, it would be that
God longs for us to know actual rest, something our culture doesn’t have the
ability to give us, especially when we can so easily agree that we’re run ragged.
I’d have to argue, for the same reason, that women shouldn’t work as hard inside
the home, either. Do you know any stay-at-home moms who get much rest? I
don’t. Between PTA and carpooling and volunteering and homemaking, there’s
stress at home, too. And that’s also a cultural issue.

So as much as I’m thankful that I was not raising kids when Grandma Johnson
was whipping hers into shape (I would have been a terrible beheader of
chickens), I also regret that our culture lost our sense of balance when we shifted
from shared work and motherhood into the either/or lens of our modern society.
We’re all talk about “options” for mothers; but really there are only two: work forty-plus hours a week or don’t. I could list the problems with the choices we’re given:
too few options of flexible part-time work or work at home, the ridiculous cost
of childcare, the lame six-week required “maternity leave” that forces working
mothers to spend half their professional days pumping at the bathroom sink.


I long to find some balance between the life of the mother I need to be and the
minister I am called to be. But, whether it’s a cultural problem to be remedied
or a fact of life, whichever path a mother takes, she will bear the burden of loss.
Neither choice is easy because neither choice is whole. Both require immense

So, until some genius can tell us there’s a way to do our work like Grandma
Johnson, digging in the garden while the kids run around us, I don’t think there’s
going to be an easy answer. Being a mother is always hard. Being a Christian
mother means we get the rare calling to offer each other grace in the midst of our


Thanks, Micha. Read Micha’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Comments read comments(24)
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Suzy W.

posted July 2, 2010 at 9:51 am

I was blessed to have opportunity to stay home with our kids while they were younger. While I was/am a great mom – I’m not so great on the household end of things. Yet – I am a great cook. Anyway – I struggled with guilt when I went back to school to become a teacher. My youngest had entered Kindergarten and it was “time”. But – I kept thinking I was wrong. Occasionally I still feel weird about being a “working mom” -but I know I am a better mom. My kids have not missed out and often times when their schedules allow – join me in the classroom as tutors afterschool. It’s a win-win. Thanks Micha for your well said blog. It helps more than you know. I would often quip to store people when a SAHM -“Yes I occasionally play outside, mow the yard or garden.”, when asked if I work outside the home. Stupid question really. Both are honorable positions.

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Janet Oberholtzer

posted July 2, 2010 at 10:00 am

Nice – balanced, I like it.
Favorite line is: “Neither choice is easy because neither choice is whole.”

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posted July 2, 2010 at 10:16 am

As a stay-at-home dad we get not only the “women shouldn’t work outside the home” but also “men shouldn’t stay-at-home.” I look at my life and I can see lots of reasons for God to be upset with me, but I don’t think staying home to raise my kids is one of them.

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Shawn Wood

posted July 2, 2010 at 10:25 am

I wonder if we are asking the wrong questions? It seems to me this debate always rotates around a womens right to or not to do something…pretty selfish based question whether for a female or male. I wonder if we asked a different question or two if we would see in a different light?
1. What does the Bible say the outcomes of Biblical parenting should be?
2. Will my family and my child best arrive at these outcomes to by receiving 8-10 hours a day from my wife or by a daycare?
Those two questions may bring a different perspective to some families…sure did to mine.
Thanks for having the conversation – I believe the family and specifically a mothers essential role in it is too important to just say “to each his own” and biblical exploration is essential…

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posted July 2, 2010 at 10:32 am

I admire this look at mothers – which is an important job, no question – but I think the argument goes further than just mothers to women in general, including those who choose not to be mothers at all. How do I, a woman who has no plans of having children, even if I do get married, respond to my uncle who tells me that it’s my job to be a mother? Sure, it’s a full time job to be a mother, and sure it’s hard to find a balance between mothering and working, but this post seems too narrow in its scope. I think the argument goes far beyond mothers into womanhood itself – is it our duty to become mothers at all? Some have told me yes, and others have told me no. What I do know is that I have no desire to be a mother, to be either a Timothy 2 woman or a Proverbs 31 woman, as both of those women seem defined by their relationship to their family. I wish to be a woman on my own, serving Jesus in what ways I can.
We single women tend to get left out of this conversation.

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shawn smucker

posted July 2, 2010 at 10:48 am

great post. i don’t have a problem with people who share their own balanced preference in this debate, but i do resist those who think one option is morally better than the other. every woman, single or married, is in a completely unique situation (financial, marital, children or not, emotional, gifting, identity, etc), and to try to pigeonhole ALL individual women into one “solution” seems ridiculously simplistic.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 10:55 am

I’m the mother of a five year old son and I identify primarily as a stay at home mom. I also work part time for a parachurch university ministry. At a national meeting just a few months ago, a table of young mothers like myself were talking about what it looks like to balance marriage and ministry. None of us have it figured out, but we’re all trying, and we all agreed that we have a better chance at balancing our roles than our sisters in the corporate world.
It’s difficult and messy, just like most things that really matter in our beautiful but fallen world. I’m far from an expert at this, but I think an important step, that restores some of the good we lost with suburbanization and the isolation of the nuclear family, is to work to build a comothering community. I’ve called on a community of stay at home moms to help me when I have to be on campus and it won’t work to have my son along. I return the favor when they have things to do without their kids.
I agree fully that neither the choice to stay home full time nor the choice to work full time is whole. I wish there were a perfect way to balance them. If anyone has figured it out, let me know.
I think the questions Shawn poses are interesting, but I think (and it’s possible it’s only my own prejudices reading them) that he thinks he already has the one right answer to the second question. Children are not NECESSARILY always best served by 8-10 hours a day with a parent. It’s possible, though difficult, to make a daycare community a part of your extended family (I know this anecdotally, not by experience). And the fact is, in the culture of the Bible, the nuclear family was not the enclosed unit it so often is in the modern West. We, who often live far from our families of origin, need to learn how to form extended family networks. Why can’t daycare be a part of that?
One last thought, if you’ve made it all the way through…. this debate always seems to center on mothers, but this is a question fathers need to examine closely as well. The question we need to be asking is more like, “How do I balance my call to and responsibility in parenthood with my call to follow Christ (sometimes in a particular career)?”

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:22 am

Really wonderful post. Thank you SO much for sharing this perspective.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:39 am

@Shawn and @Beth – I can speak from experience that it is possible to have a daycare that I believe exceeded my own ability to nurture and train my children during the 8 hours that I needed to work. In my opinion, having this option made me a better mother. I realize this was an ideal and unusual situation for me, one that not many have as an option, but I do think it serves as an antidote to the “daycare is always worse” argument. In this season of my life, the kids doing their crafts/lessons/playtime/naps/etc. under the watchful eye of their beloved caretakers is easily superior to the TV they would be watching at my house! : )
If I follow Micha’s example of the large, extended family of our past, the mother/child relationship was rarely a one-on-one experience. Mothers then didn’t have time to sit on the floor and play hours of learning games together. Often the children were left in the care of the grandmother while the mother tended to more pressing tasks. Or even the charge of an older sibling. I really believe in the idea that it takes a community to raise a child well. Some SAHM’s accomplish this by taking advantage of outside resources, so I’m not just saying working mom’s are better at this.
I’ve been a mom both ways. It is tough either way. But I believe God leads by seasons and each season has new choices to be made. And I believe my kids’ physical and emotional health is an important gauge of the choices I make. If they suffer, then I will search out a better choice for them and for me. But as long as they are growing and maturing and smiling, then I think I’m safe.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

Thank you for your perspective. I think you hit on something that has been missing from all of this discussion. My opinion is that most proponents of “biblical womanhood” are actually idealising a period of time in American history that really wasn’t that ideal (unless you were white and upper-middle-class etc.). I also appreciate the grace and kindness, authenticity and gentleness here. Unlike most of us, not a rant in sight. Thanks. (I shared on Twitter as well.)

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posted July 2, 2010 at 12:28 pm

@Felicity – Thanks for sharing your experience with a daycare that has been the kind of experience for your children and family that I attempted (pretty poorly) to describe.
@Dianna – Since this post specifically addressed a debate concerning motherhood, I can see how any woman without children would feel left out. I don’t think there was room for discussion of women without children under this topic, but I do agree that women without children (whether married or not) are unfairly left out of the discussion of women’s roles. Let me attempt to make my own developing thoughts clear: Our primary call as Christian women is to follow Jesus. Within this general call, some women are called to marriage. Some women are not. Some women (both married and single) are called to motherhood. Some are not. Being single and childless can be an incrdible gift that is too often not recognized. Even if the women themselves recognize this, the rest of the world (and particularly the Church) all too often does not. The fact is, when you have a family, a good deal of your time and energy is going to be spent on your family. This is a good thing, but it means you have less time and energy to spend on other EQUALLY IMPORTANT things. While I don’t believe in a celibate clergy generally, I can understand the benefit. The fact is, when a priest doesn’t have a family, his parish can be his family. This can be a very good thing.
I’ll end by noting two resources I’ve found useful. The first is a book, BALANCING ACT: How Women Can Lose Their Roles and Find Their Callings by Mary Ellen Ashcroft. The author is a wife and mother, and I’ll admit the book focuses on women in that category, but it does make some attempts to speak to single women without children. I first read it as a college student and have gone back to it countless times throughout the seasons of my life.
The second resource is a website, which is really more of an internet community: The Well contains articles, discussions, and more aimed at Christian women in the academic and professional worlds. I think it contains some things that could be beneficial to women outside of those worlds as well, however. I remember particularly an article written by a woman who chose, with her husband, not to have children. I found it enlightening.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Jason – Thanks for this post. I love being caught up in a 1950’s culture war. It’s awesome!
Micha – Thank you for the post. I loved it! And out street gang is going to ROCK.
Finally, for Shawn Wood – I see you cut and posted the same comment on my blog so I’ll cut and paste my response for you…
Since you cut and pasted this comment on both my site and Jason’s, I wasn’t sure where to respond. I’ll start here…
I think I am asking the right questions, especially in reference to our personal situation in our home, and I am asking God, along with my husband, about those questions.
As for scriptures on biblical parenting, I’m quite certain we are reading the same passages out of the Bible. I think that scriptures are crystal clear about parenting outcomes. I don’t believe it’s prescriptive about what biblical parenting in the 9-to-5, 21st-century family looks like.
As to your second question, we’ve certainly asked ourselves about child care, etc. and have made that decision thoughtfully and prayerfully (my kids have never been in day care, by the way), as have millions of other families. It feels to me by your last statement, unless I’m reading unclearly, that you are saying we have neglected to explore the Bible simply because we haven’t arrived at your conclusion.
Finally, I agree completely about the essential, unique nature of motherhood. It is truly my highest honor and one that I would never flippantly say “to each his own” on. We are all called into unique circumstances and situations in life, and God’s guidance and direction shapes and guides us in that. I have never seen two people have the exact same walk in my life. So for me it’s not about a cavalier, selfish “to each his own” live as you like decision. For me it’s about a prayerful, obedient searching of God’s will for my life and the life of my family in the place that He has us right now. And evidently the Holy Spirit is speaking into my family and my situation differently that He is speaking into yours. As He should be.

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Shawn Wood

posted July 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Hey guys,
Just for clarification:
1. Nicole sorry is the cut and paste offended you…just did’nt have two opinions on the same issue so that was easiest…not meant to be impersonal.
2. I don’t think that I have all the answers to those questions for each family. I agree with Nicole that this is a situation that needs to be examined with each family and within the context of each situation. I just am under the completely biased opinion that those are the two questions to ask. If your answer is that being in a partnership with a daycare would take you closer to your Biblical Parenting goals that I think that would be the right answer.
My wife and I had to make our decision that was best for our family (by the way my wife works 6-8 days a month just for everyone that assumed I had the “right” answers)at this time in our life. We are also working towards goals that would get us even closer to where we want to be.
Hope that helps.

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Ken Grant

posted July 2, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Absolutely awesome post and a great discussion.
I just feel compelled to make this one observation (which frustrates some and offers relief to others) – while the bible offers a few words of advice on marriage, family, children – there is not one single example of good family relations in the entire bible.
Think about this for a minute, if we want to see examples of leadership, we’ve got details from Moses, Joshua, David, on up to Peter and Paul. If we want examples of administration, and how to handle political situations then we have Ezra, Nehemiah, the Apostles. If we want to see what an intense personal/prayer life looks like then we have the psalms and the example of Jesus.
BUT, if we want to see a good marriage – we do NOT find it in the bible. If we want to see a good parent/child relationship, it is not there – even Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, we assume there’s a good father but his oldest son is a self-righteous jerk and the younger son is an irresponsible party animal.
I hope this offers some comfort for any parents who might be beating themselves up.

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Fred Harrell

posted July 2, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Nothing to add… just applause. Micha, I’m proud to be your pastor. :)

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Cecelia Dowdy

posted July 3, 2010 at 7:16 am

This whole debate is very dumb. Also, what about the moms who have no husbands…could be divorced, or hubby could be dead? Are those moms supposed to live off of welfare instead of finding a job? Pray that God provides food for their kids instead of looking for work? It’s doubtful that they’d be able to make a living in their home – a miniscule few probably could – but, a majority couldn’t.

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posted July 3, 2010 at 9:30 pm

First of all, at its heart, this is not a theological question. Atheist parents argue over the same thing just as much. It’s a social/political/feminism issue, that just gets theology thrown on top of it as an additional argument when it’s discussed by religious parents.
The main reason why it remains a hot topic is that reasoning for both decisions often exclude the other – stay at home parents justify their decision because they see it as essential for proper kids upbringing, which by definition suggests that not having a stay at home parent results in more inferior upbringing. Those parents who pursue their careers see it more as an equality/feminism issue, and by definition label stay at home parents less equal.
It doesn’t have to be such a polarizing issue, but in practise it often turns into such. Additional kindle to already volatile topic comes from the fact that for many, having only one income is not financially viable. This is more an issue in the US where parents aren’t guaranteed paid parental leave and things like higher education often cost quite a lot.
I don’t see “biblical parenting” as anything else than just an additional argument to a discussion that’s based on entirely different things.

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Stephanie Anderson

posted July 3, 2010 at 10:16 pm

@Micha – as always, my heart resounds with your beautiful words, and I am continually grateful that you are courageous enough to be so honest.
I think…well, I don’t know what I think. But as I journey on the adventure of parenthood, learning what it means to be “Mom,” I encounter many kinds of moms/parents. I have found that while there are many sub-categories, most parents fall into one of 2 main categories: Standing by what is “Right” and Standing by “Whatever Works for You.”
I believe I fall under the latter.
I have watched and been heartbroken as I’ve watched so many mothers get caught up in judging other parents over what they believe is “right” or “wrong.” The issues are numerous: co-sleeping, working outside of the home, utilizing day care, allowing children to watch TV, discipling, not discipling, homeschooling, public schooling, letting a child Cry It Out, comforting a child to sleep, letting a child eat fish. It goes on and on.
While the bible has words for some (or many) of those issues, and science/research has even more, I have found that people NEED to do what works for them.
I love being a Mom – but it was a hard adjustment for me. Even after almost 2 years, I struggle with many of the aspects. Due to our situation, I currently stay at home. But I do not have an opinion on whether that is the most “right” of choices. I do it because, as Micha so eloquently states, it is what works for me right now in this current season of my life.
Science states that it is dangerous to co-sleep. But I have some friends who HAD to co-sleep, or their children, some for medical reasons, WOULD NOT SLEEP. Ever. While I didn’t do it, I cannot judge them for their decisions for this very reason: whether we like to see it this way or not, if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes being a mom/parent involves simply SURVIVING. Yes. I said it. Some days, I just need to survive. It doesn’t mean I love my child less, it’s just where my mind and heart are at the moment. And it’s what I do to be the best parent I can be. I survive – I DON’T GIVE UP.
Therefore, we do what is best for us. We were all created in the image of God, yes. We were also all created different. Some of the moms above stated they were just better suited, better PARENTS, when they worked outside of the home. HOW CAN WE JUDGE THAT? It could mean judging God’s very plan for that individual’s life. Some moms, heck some DADS, were uniquely knit together to live the life of a stay-at-home parent. That is God’s plan for them.
Perhaps instead of arguing over the theology, we need to adjust our understanding of God and embrace the way He is working uniquely in each of our lives!
Thanks again, Micha – and for everyone who has left a comment to enlighten me!

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posted July 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

Awesome post.

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posted July 10, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Micha…awesome post. Thank you.

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posted July 13, 2010 at 10:09 am

I think it’s a mistake to turn the stay-at-home-mom of the post-WWII American suburban boom as the default example for the kind of roles Piper and other complementarians advocate for women. While women (mostly of lower socioeconomic classes) have always worked outside the home, a great number of women in centuries past (including our grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers) did indeed work primarily in the home. Working on family-owned farms, cottage industries, and other home-based economic activities qualifies as an at-home job, along with cooking, cleaning, sewing, and childcare. The real issue for advocates of Biblical gender roles comes when a mother’s primary focus is not on her family and the home, but on meeting the needs of a job under an external authority.
Regarding the discussion about a “Biblical family”, it’s true we do not have any shining examples of perfect families in the Bible, but we do have the illustration of the ideal function of marriage in the relationship between Christ and the Church as illustrated in scripture.
Just some thoughts from the “other” side. Great discussion!

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posted July 14, 2010 at 9:57 pm

You stated early on in your entry that,
“Though I’m grateful for the opportunity to be home full-time and though I’m in love with the life I share with my son, I often ache over the loss of my life in ministry, a season when my gifts and passions so beautifully aligned with my God-given calling.”
But the disconnect happens when you bring your grandmother into the picture, your example of well-balanced working woman who is also a mother. It seems as though you assume that your grandmother felt complete planting gardens, milking cows, stacking firewood, and canning vegetables for winter and of course, raising cloth-diapered babies as well. But what if she felt just as incomplete as you do? Why do you assume that just because she was busy, that she did not ache over some personal gifting of hers that was not able to be expressed through hoeing vegetables?
Hence, any and every task will seem menial if your motives are wrong, for you will constantly be pining over something you feel has been lost or stunted in it’s development – such as a ministry of some kind within your church etc. However, if your motives are always for the well fare of your family, whose charge has been given to and your husband by God, and also for obedience God, then you will feel complete, whole, satisfied.

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posted November 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

wow…awesome post..thanks for sharing…I really enjoyed reading all of your posts…

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Contessa Krajewski

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