Comments and Letters
Dear Mrs. Chancey,
I have known of your site for some time, but only recently have I really delved into the treasures in it! All this seems so new to me, but I feel that what you write is true to God's Word. Now, I have a dilemma. I'm a 17 year old girl and living at home. We are a Christian family and believe in modest dress and head coverings. My problem is, my mother is looking seriously into becoming a real estate agent with my father's encouragement. It hurts me so to think that she might be getting a job, but I just don't know what to do about it. I pray, and I know that is important. But I don't know how to talk about it, because I still don't know enough about this subject of women staying at home. I have looked on your site for articles to show her, but I can't find anything that would be "just right." Do you have any to recommend, or any advice? I thank you so much for your time!!
Because of Jesus,
Thank you for taking the time to write! I am glad LAF has been a blessing to you. :-)
Now, I don't claim to be a total expert on this question (there are many opinions and viewpoints), so what I am going to share with you comes from my own experience, what I was taught as a child, and my beliefs on what God teaches us through His Word. Good Christian families can disagree over these things and still be Christians and friends! :-)
Here at LAF, when we talk about women not working outside of the home, some people misread us and believe we are saying a woman should literally never set foot out of her house for anything connected to business. This is actually not true. The Proverbs 31 woman makes "linen garments and...sashes" and takes them to the merchants to be sold (vs. 18 & 24 -- though she herself doesn't have to run a store in the marketplace). She seeks food from afar, meaning she goes out to find the best foods for her family (vs. 14). She buys fields and invests by planting vineyards that will take years of work to yield fruit (vs. 16-17). She is also active in her community, reaching out to the needy (vs. 20). She is certainly not "chained" to the physical house in any sense. The point is that she does not have a full-time career that is apart from her calling as homekeeper. All the things she does (even supplementing the family income through "cottage industry") can be done without working under another boss or neglecting her home and family. After all, her primary calling is to be a helper to her husband--not to another woman's husband. Verse 27 says, "She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." This gal is busy! She is able to keep up with all that is under her domain because she is literally the "guardian of the house," as the Greek word oikouros puts it in Titus 2:5. In 1 Tim. 5:14, St. Paul commands young women to "marry, bear children, and guide the house"--and the word "guide" (oikodespoteo in the Greek) literally means to be the "despot" of the house! A woman cannot be the ruler of her home if she is rarely there or if her chief concerns lie in a career that requires her to give her children to someone else to raise, neglect her role as helper to her husband, and let the culture of the home be guided by others (pop culture, peers, television, etc.).
With that foundational material behind us, we can move on to the particulars of your question. Now, let me be quick to say that LAF is not interested in creating a laundry list of "no-no" jobs for women. Ultimately, each family needs to prayerfully consider the issue of work outside the home for the wife or mother. I would argue that there are seasons in a woman's life when it is well-nigh impossible to consider any kind of work outside of the immediate realm of the home (see my article, "The Myth of Superwoman"). I'll speak personally here. I am a homeschooling mother with five young children. My primary concerns are centered right now upon training my children and helping my husband. I really do not have the time or the ability at present to do much in the way of outside ministry (LAF is still home-based and updated on an "as-we-find-time" basis!). But that doesn't mean I live in a shell! We try to throw our home open to others as often as possible, and we also desire to help the Body by taking meals to new moms or the sick. We do what we can do as a family. It wouldn't be possible for me to do more without leaving my children to someone else--not an option! But there are certainly seasons in a woman's life when she is able to do more outside work. My own mother has, at different times in her life, been a professional seamstress, upholstered furniture, designed two houses (which our family built!), made dolls to sell, taught sewing lessons, visited the elderly, taken meals to the sick, spoken to groups of women in various churches, and more. But she didn't do this all at the same time, and she didn't do it while her children were young. At some times, we have to drop things we enjoy to make sure we don't neglect the things that are the most important.
It is certainly possible for a woman to supplement the family income by doing work that does not remove her from her primary sphere of responsibility. We have a family friend who is a real estate agent. She helped us find our first home. She is an older widow who needed to supplement her income, and she is able to run a successful business right out of her own home. She does not have to neglect her family (grown children and lots of grandchildren) to do this. Yes, she does go out to show homes, but she sets her own hours and is still able to be hospitable and active in her church and a devoted mother and grandmother. We know other godly women who supplement the family income by tutoring, writing, editing, painting, selling handmade crafts, sewing for others, teaching music lessons, and more. Again, we're not here to make a "yes" list of "approved" jobs for keepers at home! To keep a proper focus, wives need to learn to ask themselves some basic questions any time they are confronted with a business opportunity that sounds like a good idea:
- Will it require me to leave my children in the care of someone else? If so, you can be 99% sure this isn't something you ought to be doing. God calls mothers to train their own children (yes, they can delegate to others at times, but they are primarily responsible to make sure their children are taught in a godly manner -- see Proverbs 31:1, for instance; King Lemuel's mother was the one who taught him about the ideal woman!).
- Will it require me to neglect my role as helper to my husband? Not every husband literally needs his wife by his side (as his secretary or accountant, for instance). In fact, most husbands go away to a job all day. But this does not make the wife any less a helper! We have such a narrow view of work today that we fail to understand that the woman's work at home is a help to her husband! Proverbs 31:11-12 says, "the heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." Because she is so faithful in her own role, her husband is able to be "in the gates" and not worry about how his wife is ruling the household. He knows she is going to "look well to the ways of her household" in his absence and honor him in his presence. What a gift!
- Will it place me under the direct authority of or require me to work in close contact with a man who is not my husband? St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:22-24 that women are to "be subject to their own husbands in everything" (emphasis mine). No other man has direct authority over anyone else's wife. And we surely don't even have to go into the sheer common sense issue of not placing men and women in close, all-day contact with helpers who are not their spouses. The rash of work-related affairs and even of Christian husbands running off with young secretaries is sobering and should give us all pause. No one is free from temptation, and it is not wise to court it.
- Will it cause me to neglect my duties to my local church body and my own neighbors? The answer to this question is perhaps a bit trickier. Today we have such a strange idea of "ministry" that we tend to think of all "important" work for the Lord being done elsewhere. We imagine going off to a foreign country and influencing another culture for the gospel before we picture showing hospitality to our neighbors next door. And, yes, some people are definitely called to the mission field. But the point is that every Christian is called to live the gospel daily. This is our most important "ministry." St. Paul writes in Galatians 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." It is very tempting to view far-away ministries as more important than our families and local bodies, but the truth is that if we are not faithful to serve and bless those closest to us, God will not trust us to be faithful to serve those far away (Luke 19:17).
As your mother and father talk through this issue, you can be praying for wisdom for them both. If you are invited to be a part of the discussion, you may also be able to ask respectful questions that will prompt your parents to consider the issue from another angle. This is an opportunity for you to learn to trust your father's wisdom and authority and prayerfully consider the possibility of your mother supplementing the family income. Most of all, look for ways that you can be a help to your parents as they make an important decision. I obviously cannot see the entire situation and am not qualified to comment on their final choice. If anything I've offered here is helpful, I am thankful! Just keep in mind that it is certainly possible for a woman to earn an income without violating her role as keeper of the home. There are things my own mother did that she quickly repented and got out of (too time-consuming, etc.). Sometimes you just have to try something to find out it doesn't fit! I've done this myself, and I continue to pray for wisdom and maturity as I consider the "extra" things I do in my own life (like selling patterns, writing, and editing).
God bless you as you seek to be a blessing to your parents!
Mrs. Jennie Chancey
I've enjoyed reading the various articles about women working on your site. May I suggest that it might be helpful for ladies like my mother to hear more about what widows can and should be doing with their lives. Honestly, we are confused as to whether she should be working. She just turned 60 but prior to that, felt that God's word says she should work if she's able, to support herself. Now, after 60, she still feels she should work since she can. Her children, including me, would all take her in, but she would like to keep her paid-off large house, and feels in order to make property tax payments on it, she must have additional income (other than my father's life insurance) to pay for it. What is the church's responsibilty in this? Was it nothing before she turned 60? We daughters can afford to take her in, but we cannot afford to pay for her property tax and utilities. She was willing to remarry, but that's not her place to pursue a man, and God has not sent another in the 7 years since my father passed. It would be hard for us to tell her to give up her house as it holds so many precious memories for her and she loves to have all her children be able to stay there for the holidays. She has not been ready to take boarders in either, though. She loves her job (home health physical therapy) and feels it's a ministry. I can't see where it is wrong for her to work for pleasure if she likes now, not being bound to her husband and her children being grown, but maybe it is wrong. But what I can't agree with her on is that the Bible says she should be working-even if she was still under 60. My husband's and my understanding of the passages in Timothy is that she is simply not to be lazy and to remarry if given the opportunity. Now, if she was under 60 and did not yet have another husband, what was she supposed to do until the church provided for her after age 60? I don't know, but it still doesn't say she should work. It just saddens me to see her feel bound to continue working. I'd rather see her do it if she must for fun without feeling like she can't quit or go on vacation whenever she'd like. I know you are unable to respond, but hopefully these questions will be food for thought for future articles that may benifit other women who are in our situation and equally confused. Thank you for reading and God bless you. ~ Mrs. Lisa B.
Thank you for the thoughtful note.
What we learn in Numbers 30 is that an older widowed woman was, indeed, often the head of her household (her vows stand, since she doesn't have a husband or father to nullify them). She could inherit land and manage it (like the Proverbs 31 woman) and pass on an inheritance. (We have detailed verses and exegesis about this in our FAQs.) The description of the older "widow indeed" in the New Testament shows that she is busy not only about the home, but in the community, helping the saints, welcoming strangers, and making the gospel beautiful by her good works (I Tim. 5:9-10). Some of the widows in the early church served as the "hands and feet" of the diaconate by taking meals to shut-ins, serving the poor, and preparing clothes for the needy.
However, this doesn't nullify that fact that children are commanded to provide for their own widowed mothers (also in I Tim. 5). No widowed woman should ever feel she must work to keep body and soul together. That would demonstrate a lack of care from her family, which maligns the gospel. But older, godly widows can be involved in much work that is good and helpful (like doing caretaking for the elderly through hospice care, working as midwives to support mothers, catering, writing, editing, teaching younger women the skills they need to be diligent homemakers, etc.). Being paid doesn't mean a woman is sinning! Having a career mentality that rejects home and family is the problem.
Putting family and the church last in order to pursue more "fulfilling" work shows that a woman is not a "true widow" but one who "lives for pleasure," as St. Paul writes. If your mother's focus is upon helping and supporting others without abandoning her family or becoming caught up in a career, that is wonderful. Older widows are often made to feel they have nothing to offer the family, the church, or their community. Nothing could be further from the truth! And while not all fulfilling work is paid work, these women shouldn't be made to feel guilty if they are paid for doing work that is appropriate for older women and a blessing to the family and the Body (and an adornment to the gospel). I think perhaps the focus should be upon how children can bless their widowed parents (monetarily and otherwise), making sure their parents know they are supported and wanted in the home. Godly grandparents are so needed in this anti-family, anti-aging culture. What treasures of wisdom they can provide us!
I would encourage your mother to be actively involved in the lives of your children and in her own church. In her church body, she can find out about the needs of the saints and "wash their feet!" Then if she has a desire to minister to the elderly or infirm, encourage her in that, reminding her that she carries Christ to the people she serves and can bear witness to His grace and mercy through acts of sacrifice and love. She can also be a spiritual mother to younger women who need a Titus 2 example and desire to emulate godly older women. The key is to keep a proper focus on the purpose of all work: to glorify God and affirm the roles He has designed for us. God has called women to be helpers (just as His Holy Spirit is our Helper--it's not a lowly role!). He has called us to delight in the leadership of men and not attempt to usurp their proper authority by becoming career-minded and "growing wanton against Christ" (I Tim. 5:11). A godly older woman who models the beautiful, holy submission of Christ's Bride in all she does is a shining example and an encouragement to all who see her good works and praise God.
May the Lord bless and lead you as you seek to support your mother and encourage her in her God-given role as mentor, servant, mother, grandmother, and witness for Christ.
Mrs. Jennie Chancey
Since you have linked to Vision Forum Ministries' Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, I was wondering if you could help answer a question about them. My question is about tenet #14 which says, "While unmarried women may have more flexibility in applying the principle that women were created for a domestic calling, it is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion (industry, commerce, civil government, the military, etc.). The exceptional circumstance (singleness) ought not redefine the ordinary, God-ordained social roles of men and women as created. (Gen. 2:18ff.; Josh. 1:14; Jdg. 4; Acts 16:14)"
Since I am single, and don't have a husband or father to support me, I have to work. But this tenet seems to say that it's wrong for me to work. Am I in sin by having a job? But what else could I do? I kind of like having food to eat and a roof over my head! :-P I totally agree that a wife should stay at home, and I think it's great if grown daughters can stay at home 'til they're married, too. But I don't understand first of all why it's wrong for single ladies to work, and second of all, what we're supposed to do if we're not allowed to work.
I am still trying to understand all of these issues, so please forgive me if I am asking a really dumb question that I should already know the answer to. I really want to obey God, even if it's hard, but I am really confused about what His will is for single women and working!
This certainly came at a timely moment! I am just getting ready to post answers to the question of women working outside the home on the site. I will add your letter and my response, since that may help "kill more birds" with this "one stone!" We do seem to get this question a lot. :-)
To start out, let me draw your attention to the exact quote from the Tenets of Patriarchy: "[I]t is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion" (emphases mine). The point here is not that women never set a toenail outside of their homes (whether married or single) but that they do not pursue careers that force them to compete against men, work in intimacy with men who are not their husbands, or usurp a man's God-given authority. In my earlier response to the young lady who asked about her mother working as a real estate agent, I mention briefly one of the reasons it is not a good idea for women to work intimately with men. God has called women to serve as helpmeets to particular men--not all men. I am called to serve my husband; I am not obligated to help any other man on the planet, nor can any other man directly command me to serve him. Prior to my marriage, I served as a helper to my father, working as his research assistant (he was a historian) at home. The one time I worked outside of the home prior to marriage, I worked with women, and my supervisor was a woman. I was not placed in close, daily contact with a man.
Now, we mustn't be silly-headed about this concern and simply assume that every boss is going to run off with his secretary. Yes, there are plenty of strong, godly businessmen who have maintained their honor in the workplace when it comes to fraternizing with the opposite sex. But there is also an increasing lack of regard for propriety as the sexes mingle in the workplace, and affairs are not at all uncommon (in fact, a recent issue of Newsweek demonstrated that infidelity is actually a growing "trend" that has been exacerbated by workplace "hookups"). At the beginning of creation, God assigned specific roles to men and women in order to create a division of labor and strengthen the family. The woman's role as helper is not secondary at all; in fact, God said it was "not good" for Adam to be without his helpmeet. Adam was not complete without Eve. But this does not mean that all women should seek to serve all men in all areas. When God created our roles, He also assigned us to particular spheres of rulership. Wives he assigned to be "despots of the house," guiding the culture of the home, instructing the children, caring for the needy, supplementing the family income through cottage industry, and managing the family estate with wisdom. Husbands he assigned to be providers "by the sweat of their brow," working out in the world to take dominion publicly and put a roof over the family's head. Together, the husband and wife make the home the foundation of society at large: a micro-world where they rule wisely and well and build a firm footing for the next generation.
But where do single women fit into all of this? First of all, the Bible has no concept of a "single" woman in the broadest sense of the word. No one, in fact, is treated as "single" in Scripture. Psalm 68:6 says, "God sets the solitary in families." In the previous verse, He declares that "A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation." Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded His people to take the fatherless, the widow, and the "stranger" into their homes and treat them like family members (see Deut. 16:14 and 26:12 for starters). In the New Testament, James writes, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble" (James 1:27). Paul writes that a man who does not care for the widows in his own family is "worse than an infidel" (I Tim. 5:8). While single women are not necessarily widows and orphans, they often find themselves in similar situations. Women who come from non-Christian homes may not have the support of their parents to remain at home. Some may come from broken homes and have nowhere to turn for support. That this is all too common in the modern American church is nothing short of tragic. We deny the gospel when we do not take care of those who are alone (widowed, abandoned, outcast, foreigners, etc.). The long and the short of it is that, rather than wishing a young woman well and telling her to go out and fend for herself, the Church should leap upon the opportunity to offer support in Christ's name. When we do it to "the least of these, we do it unto [Christ]." When we refuse to help, we lose our chance to serve Christ in a very tangible way.
"But I don't have a supportive church like that!" many single women cry. Or, perhaps, you are a single woman who has no call to marry ("born a eunuch," as Christ said). Are you just supposed to twiddle your thumbs in a corner somewhere? Most certainly not! God has provided many outlets for single women to serve Him and bless others. There are professions which, in my opinion (and I think Scripture backs up this view) should be uniquely female--like gynecology, midwifery, woman-to-woman counseling, etc. There are spheres of ministry uniquely suited for women. Look at all of the wonderful things the women in the early church did: making clothes for the needy, taking meals to others, teaching younger women, supporting the ministry of the church body through hospitality, etc. The helper role we are called to fill (whether married or single) offers many avenues for meaningful work -- work that does not require us to compete with men for jobs they are uniquely suited for and called to fill. To give you just a small idea of the work single women can do to earn money, here is a list of the things some of our regular writers (both married and single) do: Catering; painting portraits; teaching, writing, and recording music; coordinating weddings; sewing professionally; designing patterns; making floral arrangements; photography; counseling women through a crisis pregnancy center; website design; graphic arts and/or publishing; editing; writing; serving as doulas or midwives; serving in the homes of fellow believers; transcribing or accounting in a home office; serving as a receptionist for a father. This is just off the top of my head, but I think you can get the picture. These women are all able to do meaningful work (much of it paid; some of it unpaid) without "working alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion."
The key is this: men and women have complementary roles. Trying to blend those roles or swap them has not led to greater happiness or peace in our culture (as we can clearly see all around us). We need both halves of the whole to make humanity complete. When we try to put everyone on the same side of the scale, we don't get equality--we become unbalanced! The woman's role isn't less intelligent, less worthy, or less important than the man's. In fact, it is "not good" for the man to be without his complement! So in all that we do, we need to seek to work within our God-given roles (whether earning money or not), enjoying our complementarity and the wisdom of the God Who created us in His image.
I hope something here is of help to you! Once again, I have to state that I am not claiming to be the "expert" on this issue or to understand every unique situation fully (I am not able to walk in your shoes from here ;-). But I truly believe that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 3:16-17). Whenever we need an answer, God's Word is there. We just have to be willing to study, cross-examine, and consider the context as we seek direction. And God will give it to us! His desire is not that we stumble around in the dark but that we "walk in the light as He is in the light" (I John 1:7 -- see also Eph. 5:8).
God bless you as you seek to serve Him while single!
Mrs. Jennie Chancey
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