By Phylicia Masonheimer, reprinted from Made to Flourish.
I was 25 years old and working full-time for a university when I got the news. My husband and I were delighted! What could be more exciting? As we set up the nursery, folded tiny clothes, and signed up for birthing classes, I began conversations with my employer to move my desk job to a remote position. This was seven years ago; remote positions weren’t quite the thing they are today. But I was determined to convince my supervisor that working remotely was a great idea.
After an in depth proposal and multiple reviews, my remote request was approved. I’d be able to work a job I loved and take care of my baby at home. It seemed like everything was going according to plan.
Until it wasn’t.
I soon learned that I was expected to remain at my desk for the full eight hours a day. I could not leave my desk without notifying the supervisor, had to remain on call, and was essentially chained to the desk all over again – this time in my apartment. Maybe I can make this work, I worried. I’m sure babies aren’t THAT hard to care for while on a call.
But as my due date ticked closer, I realized the expectations of my job and my transition to motherhood were at odds. I adored my work. I was doing what I loved and I was good at it. But I was struggling with how to show up well for my work and also prioritize the baby we were about to meet. Could I love my work and love my family at the same time? And could I do it well?
What the Bible Says about Work
For Christians, all life questions are run through the filter of God’s Word. This collection of books, written through thousands of years of history, gives us spiritual principles to live by today. While Scripture won’t explicitly tell you when to take a job and when to quit it, it does teach guiding truths about God, humanity, diligence, and stewardship.
Right at the beginning, in Genesis 2:15, we see God “[take] the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Note that Adam and Eve don’t fall into sin until Genesis 3. This means work preceded the fall. Work is not the product of sin; it’s a partnership with God’s creative nature. Sin made work difficult. Where the land (and economy) would have readily responded to cultivation, sin created resistance. It created pain and toil. In fact, the word used to describe “labor pain” for women is the exact same word for “toil” when God turns to Adam:
“…with painful labor you will give birth to children.” (Gen 2:15, NIV)
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it.” (Gen 2:17, NIV)
Men and women are both faced with a world of resistance. We face it physically, mentally, and spiritually. At the same time, both men and women are called to work, and in so doing they image God.
Ecclesiastes, written by a man who spent his life in pleasure, says this: “…everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecc 3:13) Solomon knew a thing or two about enjoying himself, but at the end of his life realized that toil — good, hard, diligent toil echoing the work of God – is a gift greater than leisure. Like God works, we work. It’s part of our design.
Solomon writes extensively about work in Proverbs, too:
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” Proverbs 12:11
“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Proverbs 13:4
“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Proverbs 22:29
If we turn to the New Testament, we see similar themes emerge. Work is assumed; particularly in an agrarian culture it was necessary to survival. Only the rich held the privilege of leisure. Jesus frequently teaches parables using analogies to work: treading grapes, harvesting grain, threshing wheat, shepherding sheep. We also tend to forget: Jesus worked as a carpenter for 15 or so years. Jesus, the God-man, who could create a world with a word, let himself sweat over wood and calloused his hands with toil. His disciples – who would one day become powerful speakers and ministers of the gospel – were fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers, and cloth merchants. And in the first few centuries of the church, it was the work of successful Christian business owners that often funded missionary efforts.
Based on what we see in the biblical narrative, it is not wrong to enjoy work. It is not wrong to want to work. I would go so far as to say enjoying work is part of our God-given design. Perhaps that is why Paul advised the Thessalonian church:
“And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
Stewarding Family and Loving Your Work
When we talk about the biblical nature of work, a question inevitably arises around stewarding family and stewarding work. Can we do both? It’s the question I was asking as a 25 year old young mom. Did loving my family require leaving a job I loved? Did God frown upon my giftings?
I think Scripture gives a clear case that work, though difficult in a fallen world, is the call of both men and women. Men and women partner together to build beauty into the world, echoing Christ’s character as they do so. Men could not do it alone; that’s why God created women (Genesis 2:18). And women could not accomplish God’s mission without the men. We need one another to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20).
But what work did God give Adam and Eve in the garden?
Two things were articulated to Adam and Eve. In Genesis 1:28, God tells them to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” In Genesis 2:18, we see that Adam was placed in the garden “to work it and take care of it”. And after the fall in Genesis 3:23, Adam and Eve are sent from the garden, and Adam (specifically) is to “work the ground from which he’d been taken.” When synthesized, these intentions and instructions reveal the mission of humanity: To create life. They are to create life from their bodies and to create life from the ground.
There are many scholarly approaches to this topic that I don’t have time to share here. What we can know for sure is this: the work “of the ground” (work to survive and make money) is never to take priority over the work “of the womb” (caring for children, whether biological, adoptive or foster). Both are meant to be stewarded well. Both reflect God’s creative character. Both are to be prioritized by men and women.
But only one of these “works” has a soul.
Let’s look back at 25 year old me. I wrestled with what to do about my job. I thought if I left it – if I quit my dream job to stay home with my baby – there would never be another opportunity. As I prayed over that decision, I realized that as much as I loved my work and felt called to it, I needed to trust God would provide a new outlet for me while I stewarded the soul in my arms. I quit, we moved away, and I was a stay-at-home mom for four months.
Shortly after I was approached for the exact same job with better hours, from home, with all the flexibility I needed. That step of faith was integral to the career I have today. Six years later I’m no longer in that job, but my husband and I run a ministry and business I built during the nap times of three small kids. God called me to the work of the ground, but he also called me (and my husband) to the work of the womb. It’s possible to love both, to steward both, and to honor both. As long as we stay in step with the intention of God – to prioritize the souls around us while we cultivate the talents he’s given us – our work will be the kind that lasts.