Does My Work Define Me?

Ruth Davidar Paul   |   November 13, 2018 

The subject of ‘work’ is a thorny one for women especially given the current brouhaha on feminism and a woman’s role. Does work define a woman’s worth (or even a man’s for that matter; but for the sake of this article I will focus on women and work)? How does God see your work? What is work ultimately? All legitimate questions and given the cacophony of opinions on the subject, one is apt to either consign everyone to the bottom of the sea or stick one’s neck out and receive a sharp set down for one’s efforts. Rather than pontificating on the subject, I can only share my own experiences with regard to this issue with any sense of conviction. So, here goes.

What do I mean by ‘work’? For the longest time, I automatically assumed ‘work’ meant a job that I was paid to do – something for which I received monetary remuneration. Yet, this narrow perspective underestimated or rather did not take into account all that I had done and was doing. I realised this when my husband pointed out to me that I had begun working several years ago. I thought he was pulling my leg, because I only officially worked (i.e. was paid a salary) for a few months before marriage, eventually working freelance for several years before joining a full-time job again two years ago. And having just given in my papers a couple of months ago, I was ‘job-less’ again so to speak.

Yet, according to my husband, I apparently began working as soon as I completed my Master’s and have not stopped since. When I asked him to explain himself, he said that after college, I had taken a year off to volunteer with a church in the UK – where I did all kinds of work but wasn’t paid technically, since it was voluntary work. Later, after marriage, I cared for the home and the family, juggling two jobs – being a ‘house-wife’ and a freelance content writer.  Once my daughter was born, I added ‘full-time stay-at-home mom’ to the work I was doing. Eventually I worked as an Editor for two years. Now, with a second baby on the way, there was more work in the offing. So, according to my husband, I began working right after college and haven’t stopped till date.

This was an interesting perspective for me. I had never considered all that he mentioned as ‘work’. In fact, I remember that I always sounded slightly apologetic when I had to introduce myself. The usual question – ‘So, what do you do?’ would throw me for a loop and I would mumble that I worked freelance. I was rather ashamed to be called a ‘house-wife’ or ‘stay-at-home mom’ because when I did describe myself as that, the amazed response I’d receive would be – ‘But what do you do during the day? Don’t you get bored?’ It’s another matter that I have never once felt bored during all these years. Rather, I’ve enjoyed having the freedom to choose the freelance work I have done, leaving me time to read and paint and write and think and to care for my family – perhaps it’s my temperament (or I’m just a victim of the patriarchy who doesn’t know any better, as a hard-core feminist would aver!).

Yet, I can still recall that during the two years that I worked full time as an Editor, I was always pleased to introduce myself; I never suffered any embarrassment, but would state my work with a sense of accomplishment. Hearing my husband’s perspective held a mirror to my own foibles. This thought that I was somehow a ‘useful’, ‘valuable’ member of my family and society because of the fact that I received a salary was an insidiously deceptive one. My work (based on the money I earned) did not define me. Yes, God wanted me to lead a fruitful life but He did not measure it monetarily. I was the one who tended to do that.

Even as I pondered on all that this meant for me as a ‘working woman’, I found myself wondering if these deceptive notions had been carried over into my relationship with God. Surprise, surprise, there they were. All lined up and ready to twist my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Of course, with God, I did not measure my ‘work’ monetarily, but rather by the effort and time I put in. Yet, it was the same basic premise – if I could measure my love and service for God, I was a more valuable member of His family. How foolish! The Father does not sit around assessing my value to Him based on the amount of time I spend reading the Bible or doing ministry or anything ‘Christian-y’ – He loves me for me, because of Jesus’ sacrifice that renders me of inestimable value. So simple and yet so hard to believe and live out.

This fact was brought home to me rather profoundly when I found myself ill immediately after I stopped working towards the end of September this year. I had been excited about having time off to focus on my pregnancy and was looking forward to ‘doing’ several things – I had a long list involving ministry and personal stuff, and nothing was going to stop me. Or so I thought. Finding myself suddenly on bed-rest for nearly a month made me want to pull my hair out in frustration. My emotions ranged from ‘Life is so unfair’ to ‘Why me, why now?’ Mingled with the self-pity and sense of hopelessness (I was afraid I would be laid up till the end of February when I am due) was a deep despair that I was not doing anything of value. Basically I was lying in bed, eating and sleeping.

I felt so sorry for my husband and daughter that I would apologise to them almost daily for my ‘use-lessness’. Neither of them could understand why I was apologising though – my daughter, cause she is only four years old, and my husband cause his logical mind said that if a person is ill, the person should rest. Obviously nobody expected me to do any ‘work’. Yet, to me, it went deeper and that was when I realised that the insidious lie that my work defined my worth had become so ingrained that it was affecting my worldview.

Something I read by Amy Carmichael helped put things in perspective for me. She was someone who had spent several years in fruitful ministry when a fall rendered her bedridden for twenty years. Her book Rose From Brier was written during those years, when the thought of being ‘laid aside’ or ‘set on the shelf’ instead of being busy in the Lord’s work were insidious doubts.

“No soldier on service is ever ‘laid aside’; he is only given another commission...never, never is he shelved as of no further use to his Beloved Captain. To feel so, even for a moment, is to be terribly weakened and disappointed...[T]he soldier must let his Captain say where, and for what, He needs him most and he must not cloud his mind with questions. A wise master never wastes his servant’s time, or a commander his soldier’s—there is great comfort in remembering that. So let us settle it once and for all and find heart’s ease in doing so. There is no discharge in our warfare—no, not for a single day. We are never hors de combat. We may be called to serve on the visible field...[o]r we may be called off the visible altogether for awhile...That dreary word ‘laid aside’ is never for us; we are soldiers of the King of kings. Soldiers are not shelved.”

This truth lifted my despondent spirits and filled me with joy. My worth and my identity do not depend on my work. I might be working 9 to 5 or I might be a stay-at-home mom. I might receive wages or I might not. I might be confined to the bed or I might not. Regardless of the circumstances, my Heavenly Father sees my life as being of value and worth – and He will provide the tasks for me to perform in various stages of my life. I only need to trust Him implicitly.

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Ruth Davidar Paul is a freelance copy editor and content developer, who loves rummaging through used books stores and collecting old books. Apart from filling her home with overflowing bookcases, she enjoys deep conversations, jigsaw puzzles, painting, and daydreaming. She currently lives in Chennai with her husband Abhishek and their children Abigail, Jordan, and Amy.

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