Careers and Marriage

When I was unmarried and out of college, I went to lunch with my future mother-in-law Bessie Wilson. She had been a missionary in Japan, and married Jim when she was thirty-two (he was twenty-four). I asked her whether I should be preparing to go to the mission field. I remember her wisely suggesting that I stay where I was. In fact, she told me not to rule out marriage (which is still our little joke).  And though I had not ruled out marriage, I didn’t want to just be sitting around waiting.

Many women ask me about the wisdom of pursuing a career since they don’t see marriage in the immediate future. Maybe you can go to lunch with someone like Bessie to help you sort it out. Meanwhile, let me suggest a few general principles to help you think about your options.

First of all, what are your gifts, opportunities, and desires? If you have a desire to pursue nursing, and you have the opportunity, then by all means go through the door that the Lord seems to be opening for you. If you can do this without putting yourself behind the eight-ball financially, then God bless you. When it comes to medical school, which is a much bigger and more difficult commitment, I would advise more caution because of the heavy financial obligations involved, as well as the serious time commitment. If you are in your last year of med school and you meet someone you want to marry, how will you feel about leaving med school? What about all the debt? The temptation will be to finish med school since you have already gotten this far.

Whatever career you decide to pursue, you should be willing in principle to drop it if the right man comes along. Remember, the biblical picture is for you to be a helper to your husband, not the other way around. But if you pursue a career that does not require such a heavy investment of time and money, you may find it much easier to drop everything when a husband comes along. And sometimes, depending on your circumstances, you may not need to drop it right off the bat. So consider these things as you invest yourself in a career. When it comes to law school or med school, it may be very tough to walk away. However, if you believe you could, then go ahead, keeping an open hand before the Lord.

But consider where this will take you. Will you be in a community where you can be a member in a faithful church? You don’t want to head off to the wilderness (spiritually speaking) for several years. If you want to be married, then you should want to be in a community where there is a possibility of meeting someone like-minded. My dad always told me that distance adds intrigue. But once you get there, there you are.

The other thing to think about is what kind of career it is. Is it consistent with a godly femininity? If so, that will rule out becoming a cop, a  road construction worker, a race car driver, a football coach, a bouncer, or a combat  officer (to mention a few). There is no reason on earth for a Christian woman to pursue such things. God has given women many gifts, talents, and abilities, so use them, and leave the men to use theirs. I realize there are many career choices that are neither masculine or feminine, but our society wants to (and has succeeded in) blurring the edges in many of the ones that are necessarily masculine. Christian women want to think clearly about such things and grow more feminine, not less,  as a result of their career choices.

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28 thoughts on “Careers and Marriage

  1. thank you for this post. i have wonderful husband and two girls… so far! i trained as a midwife. However, I recently given up to be at home full time as I felt the Lord wanted me to. But have wondered then why the Lord wanted me to do my training in the first place. Would you say then that some things are just for season? i love being at home and really feel that this is my purpose but sometimes the question above pops up! x

  2. “Remember, the biblical picture is for you to be a helper to your husband, not the other way around. But if you pursue a career that does not require such a heavy investment of time and money, you may find it much easier to drop everything when a husband comes along.”

    I must confess, I’m confused by this part of your post. Since we’re talking about a single woman, then her duty is as a daughter…why should she “drop everything” for her future husband? She isn’t married yet, she is still under the authority of her father (who, I am hoping, wouldn’t like the idea of her unfinished degree).

    I appreciate your posts, Mrs. Wilson, and always look forward to reading them. Thanks so much!

  3. Beautiful post. As the wife of a Marine Officer, I consistently see women putting themselves into situations which they ought not be. Typically women put in these roles end up bending to be something that the Lord never intended for them.

    Also, it is frustrating when my husband comes home and reports to me that a woman has cried at work because of the stressful situations placed on her. It is not my husband’s nor any other husband’s place to care for a weeping woman who should never have joined the Marines to begin with.

    What is even more sorrowful than this is when a woman who has joined the Corps gets married and has her first child. She is bound by a contract with the Government and cannot “get out” of the Corps to raise her child. Instead the child goes to Day Care starting at 6 weeks of age and she’s stuck pumping milk on her breaks, pining for the day she can mother and stay home with her children.

    Thank you, thank you Nancy. This post may seem offensive to some, but not enough young ladies hear this and the decisions they make regarding career can be detrimental to their future life.

  4. “”If so, that will rule out becoming a cop, a road construction worker, a race car driver, a football coach, a bouncer, or a combat officer (to mention a few). There is no reason on earth for a Christian woman to pursue such things.”

    It seems to me that there might be a place for female officers, not full time beat cops, but I would much rather have a female officer responding to a rape than a male. Maybe there is no way to do that in the current setup, but it might be a good idea in the future. Perhaps a woman interested in assisting those in trouble could consider a position as counselor, advocate, etc.

    Amen on the military being not the place for a woman.

  5. Nancy, thank you for posting this. While your message may be offensive to some (many), it is one that should and MUST be voiced and heard! I love how you encourage femininity in a way that makes it attractive rather than something to be avoided.

    And if I may encourage Aimee – I cannot imagine that your midwifery training will go to waste. Surely there are times and seasons to our lives, but certainly your training will be useful to you in your life as well as in the lives of your friends, family, and church. Because you are not professionsally using your training does not imply or mean that you won’t be using it at all. Be encouraged that you have chosen wisely knowing the Lord will bless you as you are faithful to your calling to be your husband’s helpmeet. Blessings!

  6. Following up on Lana’s comment, I actually had a friend who was a detective who specialized in child abuse/domestic abuse cases. But she still had to do regular cop work, too, such as policing public events. Really sweet girl, actually. It seems that a better setup might be some sort of adjunct officer setup where the woman’s role is limited to serving women and children who have been victims of crimes, but that’s not likely to happen in our culture.

  7. Actually, I think the idea of women officers for special “women-sensitive” functions used to be standard, but feminism killed it. In some of PD James’ older novels it refers to sending in a “WPO” (woman police officer) to deal with certain situations, and I think it happened here in the U.S. as well. It’s not so much a new idea we’ll never see, but an old one that’s been sadly discarded.

  8. Thanks for wise words, but might I petition for a post on married women without children or careers? People seem rather confused when they first learn that I’m married with no kids (would like some though) and no job.

  9. Natialie –

    You are a Household Engineer. You supervise how the home is run, you have servants (the washing machine, the dish washer, and anybody you call to fix things,) you are the master chef, you are in charge of your husband’s health and well-being, and have time for church activities. Check out Proverbs 31 for a more lengthy job description.

    You are not responsible for other people’s responses to your occupation. You are accountable to God for how you use your time. I love, love, love managing my home!

  10. Nancy,
    I always remember how you encouraged those of us in male-dominated professions (geology, forestry) to be as feminine as possible in our jobs. Instead of jeans-and-t-shirt uniforms, you encouraged us to wear dresses and do our hair and make-up (even just a little bit). It turned the world upside down without us saying a word! My roommate and I followed your advice and soon the men in our labs and classes were treating us with deference and respect–as well as dressing up themselves and cleaning their own act up (tucking in shirts, combing hair, no more cussing). I will never forget that.

  11. Nice ready !

    I support a woman’s choice to do either. As for myself, I discovered that being a housewife was not what worked for me. For the first year and a half of my marriage I did not work outside the home (I don’t have children) and I became pretty depressed. I’m back working now as a Paralegal, which I really enjoy, and l’ve learned the domestic life isn’t my thing…for now. I might feel very differently if children come into the picture, many women change their minds about staying at home once they have kids.

    – Amy

  12. When it comes to the idea of walking away from an otherwise appealing career, I love G.K. Chesterton’s perspective. I know it’s been mentioned on this blog before, but I’ll just reiterate that in the chapter called “The Emancipation of Domesticity” from What’s Wrong with the World, G.K. Chesterton has some very encouraging words for those women who might be tempted to undervalue the role of wife and mother. Here are some of my favorite bits:

    [Woman] cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty [of domesticity] if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school mistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress; a house-decorator but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she…may develop all her second bests.

    …I doubt if [women] were ever tortured so much as they are tortured now by the absurd modern attempt to make them domestic empresses and competitive clerks at the same time. I do not deny that even under the old tradition women had a harder time than men; that is why we take off our hats.

    …Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.

    …If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home,…but if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes, and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.

    You can read the whole chapter here: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2007/gkchesterton_domwwww_july07.asp

  13. It’s never too late to do what is right when you realize you’re on the wrong path and heading towards disaster. I left my medical practice eight years ago after going through Reforming Marriage and Standing on the Promises studies with my husband (led by your daughter-in-law’s parents!). We’re still working through the consequences of our school debt (my husband is a physician), but God has profoundly blessed us in so many ways and we thank Him for our loving marriage, four children and lives in Christ.

    Bless you for sharing your wisdom!

  14. This is unbelievable. Your advice regarding a perfectly matched career is to “drop it” if the right man comes along? I have enjoyed a couple of your recent posts but this is beyond my understanding as a Christian, a wife, a mother and, yes, a professional whose career has sustained my self esteem and our bank accounts for many years. And as for those “right men,” good luck. The ones I have met who would have asked me to be this subservient would have/are abusive and use fear and power to run their families’ lives.

  15. I love this topic. Where where you 10 years ago when I was lost? I have a degree in Art. My regrets now being a domestic engineer is that I would have learned how to do something that enhanced our household or been good to do at home as an extra income. For example book keeping, hair dressing, seamstress, caregiver. Now I just have to learn all these on my own.

  16. Natalie-just another word of encouragement–use this time for all it is worth! I got married one July began a new school year teaching AND got pregnant in August… I worked through my entire pregnancy and then bam-There was a baby! I never really got any experience in keeping my home before I had children and believe me I had A LOT to learn! I’ve never regretted having children so fast but at the same time I always encourage people who have the opportunity to use this time wisely and learn learn learn! Learn how to do things! Aquire skills that will serve your family so that if you do ever have children you will be more prepared to serve them. If it is just you and your husband, there are endless ways to serve him and y’alls relationship. I hope this time is fruitful for you. And of course the world will not understand your choice to stay home, but that matters not. What matters is that you are using this time to glorify God and become better at what you are called to be!

  17. Having been brought up a feminazi, I didn’t have this sort of instruction as a young woman and needing an income, found myself in the Marine Corps. I can say that Christie hit the nail on the head. It was that experience that made me realize that feminism was just plain wrong, men and women are made differently, and have different roles. I found the whole experience to be frustrating because there were aspects of my job that I was perfectly capable of doing and others that no woman should be asked to do. I was once told that 90% of all women who enlist in the Marine Corps never make it through their first enlistment, with a medical discharge being the primary exit. There was a time when women were able to serve our country in auxiliary forces and still maintain their femininity. Not any longer.

    While I also had interests in becoming a doctor, I did not pursue a medical degree for the very reasons mentioned in this post–I knew at some point I wanted to be married, have children, and stay home with them, and didn’t want to be encumbered by debt.

    This is certainly a message that young women need to hear. Ladies, don’t let it stop with comments on this blog, but take it to other young women who need it!

  18. Great post! Too often we see women who ventured into very marketable and high-paying careers whose husbands require them to work. So even though she may be willing and wanting to “drop” the career once married, it’s hard for many husbands to let that large salary go, especially when it’s more than he could make himself.

  19. And yet…where would I be now without that degree? I have the means to secure excellent health insurance and enough money to feed my family. I left the workplace after starting my family, worked on my role as a feminine wife and mother, and believed that would be my role for the rest of my life. Then my husband woke up paralyzed one day from a staph infection. His business partner stole the operating funds while he was in ICU and that business is now gone. He has spinal damage that may prevent his ever working again. We hope and wait. But in the meantime I praise God for this job, for the college education I have, His provision for my family, for the laws that allow me to work and the laws that protect my leave and salary. So many women suffer without these provisions, here in the US and all over the world. My husband’s insurance expired on the day that my new job’s benefits were activated. Who has aim better than the Lord’s? It is not the life I would have chosen but it is still a life of miracles. I am still my husband’s helpmeet and mother to my three sons, though it looks a little different than I expected! :) Thank you for your posts!

  20. Thanks for this post! I am a young married woman with no babies and no full-time job and I LOVE it! It’s a dream come true for me! My husband is in his medical residency program and the Lord has led me to have a flexible schedule but be investing in the lives of others by starting a dog grooming, walking, and training business. Through it I’ve been able to organize my time to be home when he is home, but I’ve also been able to get to know many in our neighborhood downtown Chicago. God sure knows what He’s doing! 😉

  21. “Remember, the biblical picture is for you to be a helper to your husband, not the other way around.”

    But aren’t you helping your husband if you make a good income? And mustn’t it necessarily be the other way around if your husband works and provides a home for you?

  22. I found your choice of words at the end of the third paragraph to be rather one-sided. “The temptation will be to finish med school since you have already gotten this far.”

    Temptation? As if that would automatically be a *bad* thing if that choice were made? As if you should without question resist such an urge, and immediately choose to drop out of medical school if you are ever in such a situation? I beg to differ.

    My sister is a medical doctor, as well as being a loving, wonderful wife and mother. God called her to be a doctor. God also called her to marry the man she married and to have the child that she has. She met her future husband and fell in love long before she finished medical school. They chose to wait until after she had graduated with her MD degree before getting married.

    To state that she should “give up” her medical career to better serve God and serve her husband is ridiculous. The woman described in Proverbs 31 definitely wasn’t just sitting around the house doing nothing. She was a woman of business, helping her husband. Re-read the chapter if you doubt that. A career as a medical doctor is a wonderful career for a woman who is both a Godly wife and mother to have. Not all women are called to be doctors, but for those who are, it is foolish for them to give that up just because the Christian society is telling them that they can’t be excellent, Godly, loving, wonderful full-time wives and moms as well.

    I would say the same for women who are lawyers as well.

  23. I am wondering what the world would be like if every married woman quit her job and stayed at home. That is a huge reduction in the workforce, and a huge loss of talent. Women do a lot of amazing things at their jobs on a day-to-day basis… both in technical aspects and emotional aspects. I support women who decide to stay at home after marriage or having children, but if every woman did that, I think the world would be less advanced, and men would be stressed and over-worked trying to pick up all the tasks that women workers used to perform. Women tend to be smart, dedicated, and reliable… the world needs us in professional roles as well as family roles! And I see nothing wrong with husbands devoting equal (or more) time to raising children and keeping a home. Just a thought!

  24. When we define women as wives and mothers, we tell single women that they are waiting for their true calling to begin. This post has clearly ignored women like Deborah, the Proverbs 31 woman, Lydia, and Priscilla to name a few. I do not believe in androgyny and believe that God has created humanity as male and female in a beautiful way that reflects the unity and diversity of his triune nature. Where we get into troubles is when we start to tightly define masculinity and femininity by by our twenty-first century upper middle class American norms. There are whole parts of the world where a woman has no choice but to work in order for her family to eat – does that exclude her from godly femininity? I believe being a stay-at-home mother is a beautiful thing. I was raised by one, and perhaps will be one one day. But saying that God has called all married women to be stay-at-home mothers and all single women to wait to be stay-at-home mothers is an tragically narrow view of God’s plan for women.

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