I believe when it comes to work and marriage, we are at a unique moment for women in the West. As a single, working woman, I can say we find ourselves facing two truths: First, women have more opportunities to pursue work and a vocation outside the home than ever before. The Industrial Revolution, the acceptance of women into higher education, the waves of women's rights movements of the past century, and the birth control pill have all ushered women into mainstream society in unprecedented ways.
Second, more people in the West are unmarried than ever before. We all have heard the statistics: According to 2012 Census data, about 44 percent of all Americans over age 18 are single, either never been married, divorced, or widowed. This is up from about 33 percent in 1960. So a half-century ago, one of three people were unmarried. Now it's closer to one out of two.
Of course, these two truths—about work and marriage—play out in Christian circles as well. The Census Bureau has not specifically polled U.S. Christians, so let me offer my own anecdotal observations. I'm seeing more Christian women assume positions of leadership and influence in the public square, as business professionals, nonprofit CEOs, academics, and artists. And I am also seeing a lot of Christian women stay unmarried into their 30s and beyond.
What do these trends have to do with the topic of women and calling? The truth is that for much of Western history, Christian women had a ready-made calling: to oversee their households, and to love others as wives, mothers, and caretakers. We don't know whether they were fulfilled or felt called to this work; even "fulfillment" and "personal calling" are relatively new ideas.
But I believe our unique cultural moment gives single Christian women a way to think differently about their singleness. To see singleness for a time, or for life, as what allows them to invest deeply into their kingdom work with the time and energy available to them. Jesus and Paul, we know, spoke highly of the gift of singleness, as a chance to devote greater and undistracted attention to their ministry. As more Christian women are both working full-time, and staying single for longer periods than expected, or for life, they will need a positive theology of work.
Before marriage and family, there is Christ's call upon our lives. This is wildly freeing news for all of us. Our lives do not begin the day we get married. Our lives begin the day God ushers us into his kingdom through Christ and invites us to participate in kingdom work.
For Further StudyDownloadable resources to go deeper
- Carolyn Custis James: What It Means to Be a Woman in MinistryeBook Format Available! Author and speaker Carolyn Custis James offers leadership insights for women.