The Red Couch: A Woman’s Place Discussion

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Red Couch - A Womans Place -DISCUSSION

I’m sitting down to write this discussion post to the gentle whir of the washing machine. The thunder of my son’s turbo crawling is absent. Dad is on duty and while they are away eyeing treasures at the farmers market, I’m free to write. This is the only “adult” work I’ve done in a long time and my soul is breathing in a new way.

Not that I don’t spend my days working—I carefully craft finger food (that is often flung across the kitchen floor), take nursing night shifts when teething pain hits, and am generally on constant alert for all of the dangers that my curious baby insists on exploring. It is a lot of work—and important work—yet parts of myself are in sleep mode and it is invigorating to wake them up.

I don’t know of a better book for taking a woman out of an auto pilot life than A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty. In a clear, steady voice Beaty engages in a complex conversation about women at work and at home, universal womanhood, gender roles, feminism, singleness, and ambition. Most importantly, she talks about how we approach all of this as Christian women.

Beaty introduces the book with this simple premise: every single person made in the image of God is given a call and desire to work by a God who is both a Worker and a Creator. She notes that the definition of work from the Genesis narrative is wonderfully expansive, including anything we do for our own “sustenance and benefit” (p. 71). Along with paid employment, think bread baking, knitting, blogging, berry picking, and shopping. (The list is truly endless.)

When I moved abroad several years ago, I spent over a year unemployed and in that void I realized the gift of work. Employment yes, but also tasks that give us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Writing turned up and buoyed me along. Use of creative energy is a beautiful thing God has given to us as humankind.

Beaty quotes Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf on page 66,

“Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness.”

Why we work felt like the heart of Beaty’s message, which she kept returning to. The reason we engage in employment (paid and unpaid) is to usher Shalom—wholeness and peace—into the world. Work is meant to be a blessing both for us and for others. More than a feminist liberation movement or Leaning In, the purpose of women at work (wherever that may be) is to further God’s Kingdom on earth. This is a high calling, motivating heart and soul.

Beaty writes,

“We were never meant to work just for ourselves or just for our families. We were meant to work so that flourishing, wholeness and delight would spread to the furthest reaches of creation.” (p. 78)

The chapter on motherhood surprised me, mostly because I wasn’t acquainted with the history around it. In my lifetime, American Christian and cultural ideals have painted the picture of a stay-at-home mom as the ultimate maternal achievement. But a brief survey of our history shows that women have always worked for the “sustenance and benefit” of their families. In addition, parenting was previously a joint venture between spouses.

Beaty offers mothers breathing space, approaching the topic with a nuanced dialogue that reflects the messiness of motherhood, offering her readers “buckets and buckets of grace” (p. 171) for however they choose to do it (or not!) The beautiful truth is that there is no “one size fits all.”

Combining paid employment and motherhood is a challenge for women the world over but especially in the US, where we are long overdue for an overhaul in maternity and family leave policies. When women are sidelined from careers for having children, the loss is real:

“ … What women bring to the table is not simply a feminine touch but half of humanity’s gifts, passions and experiences.” (p. 66)

Beaty didn’t just encourage and inform me. In her chapter on ambition she admittedly made me squirm:

“… I wonder if some Christian women avoid the crucial questions of ambition—what is my heart’s desire? In what direction do I set my will?—because they don’t know how they would answer them. Family, friendships, and others-oriented ministry become culturally acceptable ways to avoid a deeper ambiguity about who they are and what they are made to do.” (p. 215)

A Woman’s Place has given me a wide-angle view of my life as a woman. I’m approaching the gift of mothering at home as the luxury it is. I’m aware that I have many years of life ahead of me to contribute to shalom in other ways. I’m challenged to be more mindful of who I was created to be and the work I am capable of doing. I’m on a mission to seek my work, my way, my calling and vocation—to the honor and glory of God.

My son and husband are walking in the door now, looking tired and faintly pink from the sun. It is time for lunch and I have some work to do …

But before I go, I’d love to turn the conversation over to you:

What work are you doing at this stage of your life?
What parts of the book surprised you?
How were you challenged or inspired?
How do you think the church can become more relevant to working women, single women, and women in leadership?

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Liana Norheim
Liana lives in Los Angeles with her son and Norwegian husband. When she isn't swimming or singing with her little guy, she pursues Stillness and quiet. She occasionally writes about living between two continents at visionsofnorway.weebly.com
Liana Norheim

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