Wednesday, November 04, 2009

My Work Life isn't a Challenge for Just Me--and it's a Good Thing!

The last couple of months has been the beginning of a new phase in my life. For two months I have worked at a very strenuous and low-paying job in a nearby deli, and now I have given my notice to quit for the preservation of my health. I am going to continue to look for other work and will probably be working at least part time for the next few years at least. It may be typical of what is in store for me until I'm 80, for all I know! It challenges some unstated assumptions I have lived out in my life, and I don't know what God is trying to do this year. He's definitely got my attention; it's been a long time since I've faced so many tough issues in rapid succession.
My long-held assumption, in spite of the realities of our finances, has been that God wants me to stay at home and be a homeschooling, homemaking mom, in spite of my less-than-stellar homemaking skills. He has provided that I would not have to work in spite of what would in plain terms seem inadequate finances, and just lately that has changed some. Well, so far I'm still homeschooling, but it's been sandwiched in tight between work and sleep. God has provided for me to stay at home and homeschool for the last 20 years, which is all but 3 months of my Christian life. A month after I became a Christian, God made it clear that I was needed more at home than at work. A few months ago, it became clear that our family needed me in the workplace as well.
I'm not sure whether God is trying to show me something in this economic necessity, though I think He is. If so, it might be just how creative He can be in my life, giving me new vistas, new communities to interact with, all with the hope of glorifying Him. It might also be for the sake of showing my family something, and I'm not sure what that is either. Perhaps it is to challenge their assumptions in some regard.
One group who I think might be more heavily impacted than I would have expected is the homeschooling and Christian community around me. I was relating to my friend Vonna this morning that there have been a few whose mental gears I could almost hear grinding through the concept of my working. Was it that I had fallen into some financial sin? Was I out to prove something, to fulfill myself? Had someone in the family gambled away our savings? Was I unable to trust God for His provision? Didn't I know the Bible passage that clearly says that a woman should never work outside the home? (Somehow that passage doesn't come to mind for me right now; I can't find it, can you?) Maybe instead they were hoping that they would never come to that extreme a need in their own family's life, sort of like a pregnant woman hopes she will never need a c-section. Some, I think, were actually wishing they could extend their usefulness outside of the home to increase their family's income, but their home responsibilities were too great. And until this year, I don't think I could have done it either...sort of like I once thought I could never endure a c-section (though now that I've had two, I'm thankful for their existence!).
I've been surprised at the positive response from my family toward my work. Until just this year, Gary has always made it clear he wanted me to stay at home. This year the need was obvious for me to work. And this is the first year I remember him ever calling me a "great" wife. It was just a passing comment and I don't remember the context--maybe I was too stunned--but anyway, I'm pretty sure my willingness to work when needed may have helped him look at me that way. Katie facebooked me from Israel when she found I was working, "I LOVE you!" And Tim? He says he feels a little more normal, having a working mom. All the kids he knows outside of church have moms who work, most of them full-time.
I don't mean to say in my comments about gears turning that I think the Christian community around me has been condemning. I just think their thoughts of working moms have been challenged just a little. Surely they know I'm not out to "fulfill" myself (especially in my most recent job!). Many have offered to take Tim into their homes if I need help, or give him rides places; I've taken them up on some of those offers, too. What a dismally lonely experience it would have been for Tim at times without the help of loving Christian friends! It is an arena, though, where I think God is working to expand the views of those around us.
There is at least one Christian family ministry, and there are probably many, that would say that a married woman needs to stay at home under the protection of her husband, and an unmarried daughter likewise needs to stay at home under the protection of her father. I differ with this to some extent. Perhaps I am looking at this primarily as a product of my culture; I don't claim to be untouched by the present-day world around me. But I have seen Proverbs 31:10-31 used as an argument for a woman to stay at home, and I fail to see the clarity of that message. To me, it is more an impetus to feel free to be productive in the marketplace, to be a witness for Christ, to show diligence and responsibility, rub elbows with unbelievers, to bear witness to His goodness in words where a fitting opportunity arises, but without words, in all other cases.
So I have been around only non-Christians in the workplace. Only a couple of times I have known customers to be Christian by things they've said. In the workplace, I've heard swearing (though far less than I expected!), seen that my co-workers are smokers, drinkers (in their time off); they manipulate, complain, gossip, embrace Halloween, flirt, shirk responsibility (though all less than I'd expect). There are many things that happen there that you wouldn't see so much in church. I don't know what they've seen in me; I do let little Christian-ese sayings emerge once in a while, more to remind them that I'm Christian than anything else; I might say "hallelujah!" when things go right, and one time when I made a mistake, I said that I repent in sackcloth and ashes, all taken by my co-workers in a spirit of good humor. There is one man to whom I've had the opportunity to clearly witness. He finally got exasperated and told me the workplace was no place for that, though he'd brought up the subject. So I treated it lightly when he brought it up again, asking him if saying the word "Christian" was off-limits. And he was good-natured in return. I still hope for more opportunity with any of them, though my time is short there. If it weren't such hard work that my body can't take it, I would stay there. I love those people! I love them because God loves them, but also He's helped me to love them myself though they don't fit into that "Christian" mold. They are hard-working. My, they can do what I can't, sticking with a hard, low-paying job. I admire their diligence and their appealing attitudes. They tend to be encouraging and helpful, and I have no complaints except for the extreme physical demands of the work. Overall, it's been a great experience being there, and I'm thankful for this tiny and unrealistically pleasant glimpse God has given me of our unbelieving world.
I'll be finding another place to work. There will be new attitudes and probably less appealing co-workers, probably some who are downright difficult and cranky. But I may be working for who knows how many years, and I might as well grasp the idea of loving the unloveable, loving them to Christ. I hope that is what God has in store for me. He has me hemmed in to this place, and I am happy to walk in obedience on the path He has given me. I hope to see the fruit of it as I walk. And I hope that other moms will not fear the idea that God might have them work someday too--just like a c-section can actually be a very good thing! I've given birth to a whole new era in my life, and it's a surprisingly good thing--a very good thing. Hallelujah!
You have closed me in behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high; I cannot attain to it. Psalm 139:5-6
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