by Dr Tam Wai Jia
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.
As a sole breadwinner wife who preaches and runs a nonprofit organization, married to a very muscular-and-masculine, Iron-Man-Finisher, stay-at-home-dad, I’ve had more than my fair share of unsolicited advice to shrink back from public leadership in order to “protect my marriage”.
Most of the time, I gently steer the conversation away.
But every now and then I feel compelled to explain: Both my husband and I are secure in what God has called us to do, who He has made us to be. For us to solicit for or turn down ministry opportunities for fear of what other people might think of us wouldn’t feel right.
In Sheryl Sandberg’s worldwide bestselling book “Lean In”, she writes, “The image of a happy couple still includes a husband who is more professionally successful than his wife. If the reverse occurs, it’s perceived as threatening to the marriage.”
When I read that, my jaw dropped. I was not the only one.
I listed the potential assumptions made:
1. If a woman is too prominent, it is because she is overly ambitious.
2. To save and protect one’s marriage, a woman should shrink back from the public stage.
3. A woman with an ambitious public profile will find it to be harmful to her marriage in the end.
As a mother of two young daughters, I wanted to know for myself if I was really a Bible-rebelling, raging feminist inside, or if this fire within me had more to do with following God’s call, even if it pushes back against society’s cultural ideals.
If I had to give my daughters, whom I trust God to grow into bold women of God, advice about this, here’s what I’d tell them:
Cliff is a God-fearing man with the same fiery call to missions as I, but when he proposed, my heart sank. The thought of me needing to cull my surgical career to attend to the needs of married life seemed unappealing.
“I’m just not that kind of woman,” I thought.
Then we considered that both of us had some significant medical challenges, and I faced the real possibility of early widowhood. Would marriage hijack the call of God on my life?
But God sees things differently. The right partner is not the one who ticks off all the checkboxes by worldly standards. Rather, he is one who loves you as “Christ loved the church”(Eph. 5:25), one who is willing to give his life for you and loves you as his own body (Eph. 5:28).
That man will desire to see you hit the highest mark God has for your life. He will be secure in his identity to release you to pursue His will; he will not be selfish. He will celebrate your success, not cringe.
Cliff has been that man. Secure in his identity in Christ, he reminds me that his security is in God alone and not measured by how public his ministry is or how his career compares to mine.
Yet, marriage is hard work. And it’s true that demanding careers and busy ministries can knock the wind out of even the strongest of marriages.
Ephesians 5:33 encourages wives to revere our husbands. Honoring and respecting him can come in various forms — creating an atmosphere of warmth when he comes home, listening to him share, affirming him in his strengths.
In marriage, we are called to “submit ourselves to one another in the fear of God.” This includes surrendering our ambitions. Over the years, as I turned down what seemed like great career opportunities to prioritize Cliff and my children, God did not shortchange me. Instead, in His time and way, He propelled me further.
Recently, I turned down an overseas call for humanitarian assistance to prioritize Cliff and my kids. Yet, with tears in Cliff’s eyes, he said, “You’ve sacrificed much for us and this time, God spoke to me to support you 100%. I’ll look after the kids for 6 weeks. You have to go.” Our children, likewise, blessed us.
Today, I write this from Eswatini, at my first deployment as a humanitarian public health consultant with the World Health Organization and United Nations to assist with the COVID-19 crisis, with Cliff and the kids back home in Singapore.
When we make decisions in line with God’s will, against worldly logic, it will amaze us to see how He promotes us in ways beyond our imaginings. With joy, we can say “Lord, You alone are my portion and my cup, you make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5)
With that, we need not fear what others might think.
We can cling loosely to our personal ambitions, yet hold tightly to God. We can afford to “lose out” in the corporate rat race to prioritize family over work, yet boldly pursue His call for our lives to hit His mark.
Woman of God, don’t let anyone tell you to shrink back for the sake of what others might think.
Instead, surrender your ambitions to God alone, let Him choose your life partner, and watch Him propel you into the fullness of the destiny He has for you.
Wai Jia is a Singaporean humanitarian doctor, author, international speaker and the founder of Kitesong Global (www.kitesong.com). She is married to her best friend and life coach, Cliff. Together with their two little ones aged 5 and 3, they desire to serve the poor in developing nations. Follow her on Instagram @tamwaijia and at www.blog.kitedreams.org.