Tug of war. That’s what comes to mind when I think of this question. On one end of the rope, I see this narcissistic, household-consumed version of myself who dreams about Pottery Barn bedding and pre-school drama to the neglect of all the people beyond the four walls of my home. On the other end of the rope, I see this frazzled, crazy version of myself delivering homemade casseroles to every sick family in church while my own kids eat microwavable corn dogs in front of the TV.
How do we find balance? I always assumed I just needed to find the “middle of the rope.” Which is a very vague way of saying, “just try harder to be, well…balanced.” If you could see my schedule now, I think it would look fairly balanced on the outside. I serve in two different ministries at church, which helped me say “no” to serving in a third ministry outside of church. We spend a few evenings a week with others, and a few at home by ourselves. But the truth is, this isn’t really an outward question. It’s not a logical, “what does your schedule look like?” kind of question. It’s an emotional and spiritual question, often laden with guilt, presuppositions, and preferences. A heart question. And as we all know, our schedule can look ship-shape while our heart is in turmoil.
On Sunday night I dropped my kids off at our church nursery so I could serve at a youth event. It was a whiny, reluctant drop-off because “What?! So-and-so-friend isn’t here tonight?!” Being the godly mom that I am, I promised them each a cupcake when the event was over, and said good-bye. As the youth band played I thought about…my kids. And my kids, and my kids, and my kids. “Oh God,” I prayed, “I want to be present here tonight. I want to serve these high school students. Help me recognize that I’m called to more than just my family.” And as His peace washed over me, a new thought occurred. Maybe ministering inside and outside the home aren’t on two different ends of a rope. Maybe, in God’s perfect design, they actually work together to make us better at both.
Think about it like this: how do we become the kind of women who have the character and wisdom to shepherd those outside our home? By first being faithful inside our home. A reader once referred me to an article in which a married blogger was reluctant to have children because she didn’t want to shortchange her ministry. The blogger explained that when she got married, she felt like she took a “back seat” to her husband in ministry. The last thing she wanted was to have children and be rendered entirely invisible at their church. The blogger’s conclusion was to abandon gender roles, whereby she and her husband could do all things interchangeably.
The reader who referred me to this article was understandably confused by it. “Is this the right perspective?” she asked me. In my opinion, no. It’s not. I can say that with confidence because the Bible flips this perspective upside-down. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul instructs, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
Clearly, God is passionate about the home. So passionate, in fact, that one of the chief ways he wants women to minister to other women is by training them to be faithful in the home! How can we fulfill this mandate if we’re never home learning these lessons ourselves? In this way, our home isn’t an obstacle to ministry, it’s a platform and training ground for it.
On the flip side, I also believe that as we embrace God’s calling to serve those outside our home, we become better wives and mothers to those within the home! Think about it like this: what message are we sending our children if we’re constantly consumed with them? More importantly, is it a biblical one? Growing up, my mom imparted many lessons to me without ever saying a word. As she counseled sobbing women on the sofa, I learned that she was more than just my mom, and that there were things that were more important than playing tea party with me right now! I learned that there was great suffering in the world, and one of the ways we could love Jesus was by loving others.
So how do we find balance? I think it begins with that popular word we all love so much…submission. If you resent the way your family limits your freedom in ministry, you need to submit to the biblical truth that God has called you to serve your family, trusting that as you obey Him, He will groom you to more effectively minister to others. If you idolize your family to the neglect of the rest of the body of Christ, you need to submit to the biblical truth that the best way to love your family is to make Jesus primary, trusting that in doing this, you will be a better wife and mom. Either way, the answer lies in submitting our own preferences and personal agendas to Christ.
Clearly He has called us to both the home and those outside of it. That can only mean these two mandates are not at odds with one another, but rather, working together to make us the women he wants us to be. Forget tug of war. Instead, picture a bicycle with two pedals pumping in unison. One propels the other forward, and vice versa. It’s the only way the bike can balance.
If you still want some practical application, here are a few questions I’ve been stewing over as I check my own heart:
- Do I regularly meet my husband and children’s needs for love, attention, and affirmation? If they were honest, what would they say?
- Is the way that I manage our household a blessing or a burden to my family?
- Does it concern me when I hear that others are suffering? Does my prayer life reflect this concern? Do my actions?
- Am I open and sensitive to God leading me to serve others, or am I quick to assume “I’ve got my hands full”?
- Is there an area outside my home where I have felt burdened to serve God, but have not obeyed? Is there an area outside my home where my husband has challenged me to serve God, but I have been unwilling to even consider it?
- Has my husband, or a spiritual mentor, ever suggested I may be over-committed in ministry, to the detriment of my family or my own well-being?
- Why am I motivated to serve my family and others? Am I motivated by love for Christ, or love for myself?
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