And it doesn't help that well-intentioned articles on the guilt mommies face trigger dialog that reinforces the idea that the "best" solution is one with mom at home but it's okay for mom to work "if she has to in order to feed the family."
No matter what the situation, whether mom stays home, works because she has to, or works because she wants to, the loser is the mom who feels guilty.And that guilt traps us, keeping us from being the women we were made to be.
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So what's the answer?
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
God prepared our "good work" for us well in advance and we were created to fulfill it! This tells me that my talents and personality and preferences were specially planned in a way that makes me able to do whatever work God has for me.
The Good Work for You is Not for Your Sister
My sister can bake circles around me and always keeps her hubby well-stocked with goodies. I order pizza and Chinese take-out or beg my husband to cook. My mom is a seamstress. I can barely sew on buttons. My sister-in-law home schooled her 5 year old son last year. I put my two-year old in day care.
It's EASY to feel guilty for not matching up.
But I have been able to enjoy a career that supports my family and provides a public service at the same time. I have been able to build relationships with young women at the start of their careers who need encouragement and mentoring. I have had the opportunity to talk about my faith with nonbelievers in the workplace.
Some moms are called to a career. Some are called to a job for a time. Some are called to be at home. But God's the one who has made the choice and given us the right skills and desires for the path He leads us on. When we are obedient to God's direction, guilt is unnecessary.
The Good Work for Now is Not for Tomorrow
My mom was never able to "not" work - she always had to have a part-time job whether at home or outside the home. And then about 15 years ago she stopped working part-time and identified her career. The time was right for a change.
At times mom homeschooled all five of us, put some of us in public school, or put some of us in private school, depending on what was the right choice for the family at the time.
It's natural to look upon our current situations as permanent. For example, I tend to say "I am a career mom." But only God knows if at some point I will be a stay-at-home or work-at-home mom. When we know that our current situation is transient, we do not need to "borrow" guilt from some unknown future lifestyle.
The Good Work Requires Lifelong Prayerful Consideration
If the work God has for me is different than what he has for my neighbor and if the work God has for me is for the moment, not five years into the future, then I can only know what that work is by consulting with Him regularly. We have a tendency to pray "What is your will for me" with the expectation that we can get an answer once and for all, but I see no precedent in Scripture for that.
Instead, we need to seek daily for God's guidance regarding what Good Work he would have us do, and in faith believe that He is guiding us, whether it feels like it or not. It may be that today he is calling you to have a full-time career. Or maybe today he is calling you to work that mundane job with a cheerful spirit. Or maybe today he is calling you to help your little one learn fractions.
Whatever it is, it is a Good Work He has planned and has prepared you for, and if you are seeking his guidance frequently and responding in obedience, you can serve with freedom from guilt. We can leave the false guilt behind us and freely serve God doing today's Good Work.