Ironically, when the Industrial Revolution arrived in the U.S., it began with textiles. The work that had been largely done by women in their homes was now outsourced to the large textile mills of New England. These mills, in turn, hired young women to work long hours and live in factory towns. By the end of the 19th century, a number of full-time wage-earners eclipsed what had once been typical of American productivity: the self-employed proprietor and the artisan. In the 20 years following the start of the American Civil War, the size of the U.S. industrial labor force doubled. Then it nearly doubled again in the next 10 years, between 1880 and 1890.
While children had been an early supply of factory labor, 19th-century movements curtailed the abusive practices surrounding child labor. That was good for the children, but it meant families did not work together to grow their food and sell their goods. If families could not labor together, then families had to decide how they would earn money and care for their children.
And so we come back to the current question: bedroom or boardroom? It may be surprising to many, but this question can be resolved in the Christian faith. The Bible’s Creation account calls men and women alike to be workers and to be fruitful and multiply. Then it says that work will be hard in a broken and fallen world. But there’s hope for something better!
Offering a beautiful portrait of life everlasting in a new heavens and new earth, the New Testament calls men and women alike to be openly ambitious—but to direct that ambition beyond themselves in treasures that will “carry forward” in eternity. These Scriptures prize marriage, children and family but remind believers that these roles are only for this life. They exist to “adorn the gospel” and point to eternal truths. But the roles that will carry on to eternity are in the family of God—as brothers and sisters in Christ and children of God the Father. So to define women solely by roles that end in this lifetime is theologically shortsighted. Jesus asks for all of that and then far more.
In His parables, Jesus repeatedly calls His followers to shrewdly invest what they have received. By giving illustrations where people receive different amounts, He makes it clear that this distribution is not even. The amounts are not important. Stewardship is. Jesus requires a hearty effort of His followers to invest those gifts and see them multiplied for His glory.
Therefore, women are to look at all they have received—the gifts, talents, time, opportunities, relationships and capacities—and determine how and when to invest them across the full arc of a lifetime. Not everything can or should be done at once. Even while living in a youth-oriented culture, we should be planning for fruitful stewardship in the second half of life.
Our culture creates identity out of productivity and rewards what it perceives to be more important or of greater status. That’s not what Jesus modeled for us, and this life is not where the greatest rewards will be given. How, then, should we measure success in light of eternity? The Bible says we should think as recipients who will one day give an account for how we managed what we were given.
In various seasons of life, we may work in highly esteemed professions or we may not be paid for our daily labors. We may be wives and mothers or we may not receive those relationships. Either way, those roles are not our identities. They are merely opportunities to be invested for the glory of God. Those things God gives us in terms of relationships and opportunities, He wants multiplied for the sake of His kingdom.
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