by Dr. Beth Felker Jones
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
Ok, here’s my big confession:
As a mother of four and a full-time professor for over twenty years, I have not been who I wanted to be, either in my work at home or my work outside it. I have not been the mother I wanted to be, and I have not been the teacher-scholar-writer I wanted to be.
I did the work and I cared for the kids – I also failed to do the work and I failed to care for the kids.
As much as it has worked, it hasn’t been me “doing it” all by my lonesome. Through grad school, pregnancies, and jobs, my husband, mom, and lots of people and factors not named have been doing along the way with me.
Sometimes when I was with my wild kids, I wanted nothing more than the solitude of my writing desk. And vice versa.
And sometimes when I was with my kids, I never wanted to go back to “work” at all. And vice versa.
It’s not possible to have it all or do it all. The gift of finitude has been knit into being human, reminding us, always, that we can’t do it all.
The job has suffered for the kids and the kids have suffered for the job. But, as Christians, we know that while suffering is never to be glorified, it’s also not something to be avoided at any cost. The goal of much contemporary parenting may be to protect kids from any hint of suffering, but the goal of Christian parenting is to make disciples for the One who suffered and died for our sake.
Oh, how I wanted to have been better, done more, poured out more,both at home and at work. The tempter mocks, “You’ve failed. You should have done so much more.” This is not totally unlike the temptations of Jesus in the desert, wherein Satan kept pressing Jesus to reject his human finitude, and so to reject his human dependence on the Father in the Spirit.
But, I’m a human as God created humans to be: finite. I can’t be everything. Only God can.
I wanted the kids. I wanted the job. I wanted both of them with my whole self and I would have been worse for them if I hadn’t had both. I wouldn’t have flourished or been faithful if I hadn’t had both. And the kids and the job aren’t two separate things. What I’ve been to each has been shaped by the other. For the worse but also for the better.
The number one question young women want me to talk about: Can I have a job and be a mom?
Would I say, “no, because you can’t do it all.”
I would not.
Instead, I’m learning to say, “praise God, you can’t do it all. So you’re free to choose faithfulness the best way you can imagine it. You’re free to muddle through.”
God called me to both kids and career. God knew and loved my finitude and God walked with me through it.
I’m not enough. You’re not enough. Only God is enough. In Christ, our finitude is enough. In Christ, love multiplies like loaves and fishes.
Here’s what I’m NOT saying: “Have a career, so you can experience the gift of finitude.”
What I AM saying is this: “We’re all going to experience the finitude, the working-moms and the stay-at-home-moms both. We’re all going to flounder and fail and experiment and be surprised by what we didn’t know.”
I remember being 25-years-old and spending an afternoon with my preschooler in our little rented house near the university. The sun was out, burnishing the floorboards and warming the sleeping dog. It was a good day. And I remember thinking, “I don’t think we’ve messed this parenting thing up. I think we’ve gotten it right so far.”
Ah, 25! I see that 25-year-old, thin and delusional, and I know that she was so ignorant to all the trials that would come. I love her in her finitude.
How could she have made it through to today if she’d persisted in thinking she was enough?
How could I have learned to love the children well in their very finite finitude if I hadn’t had to learn my own finitude so fully?
How might I have stumbled over the stumbling block that is the infinite God becoming finite for us if that God hadn’t walked beside me in my tears and my insufficiencies?
Here’s what I want to say to young women, contemplating all the ways God might be calling them to love and work: you won’t be enough. If you have kids, you won’t be enough. If you don’t have kids, you won’t be enough. If you stay at home, you won’t be enough. If you work outside the home, you won’t be enough.
Embrace what God is calling you to:
Relax into the truth that you won’t be enough. The good human life is a finite life connected to the infinite life and love of God.
Praise God who will be enough, who will be beside you, who is all in all, whose grace is always sufficient. For we are creatures who were made for grace.
Adapted from Beth Felker Jones’ post on Substack “I Don’t Know How She Does It”.
Beth Felker Jones is a Professor of Theology at Northern Seminary, a Mom, cat-owner, and more. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss Beth’s weekly posts at Church Blogmatics.You can also find her on Twitter & Facebook, and more of her books on Amazon.