In October 2003, The New York Times Magazine ran an article entitled “The Opt Out Revolution.” The article profiled several women who were dropping out of the workplace in order to be stay-at-home moms.
The women in the article were successful individuals who had decided that the place of fulfillment for them could not be found in the workplace and so turned their attention homeward.
A few weeks ago, a follow-up article appeared on The New York Times website entitled, “The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In.”
The basic gist of the new article was that some of the women who had opted out nine years ago now want back in the workplace. Due to changing life circumstances, divorce being the predominant example given in the article, they now have a need for employment. The idyllic life they thought they were pursuing came crashing down around them.
It’s a sad article for many reasons. It hurts to read the stories of women and men who have found happiness in the workplace and at home elusive.
The purpose of this article isn’t to give a theology of women or men in the workplace. I’m wary of simplistic statements about decisions families make as they strive to pursue God’s glory with their lives.
Let me just share three quick thoughts I had as I read these articles.
First, my heart aches for single parents who are faced with the difficulty of trying to provide all of the financial, emotional, and spiritual support for their children.
What an incredibly difficult journey some of these women have had to face. When they stepped away from the workplace, they had no idea that their world would so dramatically change in a few short years. I pray that God provides for them in profound ways.
Second, both women and men are pursuing joy in things that will not bring satisfaction.
God has called men and women to live sacrificially for the benefit of others. It is wonderful and godly as it is to enjoy your work but ultimate satisfaction flows from being obedient to God not in the work itself. If I cannot find joy in a mundane job, I won’t find lasting joy as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company either.
It doesn’t surprise me, then, to read that women and men found the workplace unfulfilling. What drove some of the women profiled home was not joy in a calling but fleeing from a place that hadn’t brought them joy.
In the original article from 2003, one person noted: “Among women I know, quitting [their job] is driven as much from the job-dissatisfaction side as from the pull-to-motherhood side.” I don’t know the hearts of these women, but there is a potential that there was not an honest assessment of the potential idols that were causing their unhappiness. One idol, children, may have simply replaced the previous idol of the workplace.
Third, families struggle to address the core issues that caused dissatisfaction.
In many of the situations profiled, my heart ached as husbands and wives acknowledged that they had been deeply unhappy for some time and had not really taken steps to address the heart issues that were causing that unhappiness.
One woman said of her husband: “He’d come home at night, and I’d want to talk about what was going on at school and with the other parents, and I’d get frustrated he was not finding it more engrossing.”
How tragic! A husband, who should find great joy in the lives of his children, found the home a place that was too mundane for his consideration. He had bought into the lie that it is in the sphere of the workplace that his worth will be validated.
The problem for women and men is not their presence in the workplace. In Proverbs 31 we encounter a woman who has a significant and profitable position in the community. The problem is why they make the decisions they do about involvement in the workplace. The Proverbs 31 woman’s delight is not in the prestige of her position but rather in the Lord.
Moms and dads struggle to find joy and satisfaction in the ministry to which God has called them.
The answer to the heartache I find in this article for both husbands and wives is an embracing of the self-sacrificial love to which God has called them.
For wives, this means seeing the home not as a place in which she “does her time” until she can really begin to live but rather as a place where she can joyfully serve her family in whatever way God calls her to do so. Practically, this means there may be a period of time where she decides to limit her time in the workplace. It may mean passing on opportunities to advance in order to fulfill her responsibilities to nurture her children and serve as a partner for her husband.
For husbands, this means seeing the home not as a distraction from the “real” world but rather as his primary sphere for ministry and the purpose of his work. Practically, this may mean that he passes on opportunities to advance up the corporate ladder. It may mean that he may abandon hobbies for a period of time because of the need to be at home.
For all of us, may we find contentment with what God has provided and joy in wherever He has placed us.