The calls from feminists to disavow marriage and parenting are deafening and selfish. But the worship of marriage by some on the religious right isn’t any better. Idolizing an institution isn’t any more godly than idolizing oneself.
The first time I remember fully encountering this misguided idea, which I will soon explain, was my senior year of college. I had heard the message before — implied in ladies’ cautious devotional books, littered on Facebook in religious boomers’ shares, and dropped innocently in conversation — but this particular instance is the first time I remember it really bothering me.
The ‘Higher Callings’
I had recently finished a difficult project, a lengthy and culturally sensitive one. I had been studying the transgender revolution for a year, unpacking all the biological facts and trying to understand the psychological realities of gender dysphoria.
This deep dive entailed reading article after article and journal after journal of convoluted case studies and contradictory statistics. After much writing and rewriting, I finally presented my findings to academics, peers, and other program attendees, and it paid off. I had successfully learned the ins and out of an immensely relevant movement and then helped others understand it too.
In response to my speech, one attendee, an older gentleman whose name I recognized, emailed me the next day. He congratulated me on a job well done and thanked me for addressing a challenging topic. He was quite kind.
I know he meant nothing but sincere well-wishes in his closing remarks, but when I scanned his last paragraph, I felt a pang of irritation, and maybe disgust.
May you know the Lord’s blessing and direction for your future ministry. Maybe the Lord would have you serve in your city council, or school board, or as a representative in our state. Or maybe even the higher callings of godly wife and mother. Or all of the above??
His insinuation — or, rather, outright declaration — that public service is an inferior vocation to that of “mom” wasn’t personal. To be clear, he didn’t offend me. But it troubled me that a person could make a definitive value judgment that a life of singleness or childlessness were necessarily less noble than one of married and parental bliss. What troubled me further was that a person could make such a declaration to an unmarried female.
But what troubles me most is that this belief is normal. To many married Christian men and women, the idea that marriage and parenthood is the highest good is as irrefutable — and as important — as the gospel itself. Surely they don’t realize the level to which they’ve elevated the covenant, but suffice it to say, if they talked about the gospel with as much enthusiasm and frequency as they do the divinity of marriage, we may have more people interested in the message we claim is of utmost importance.
I’m Tired of Hearing About Marriage
The position of an unmarried, Christian, career-aged female is so exhausting. And while it may come as a surprise to married women, the weariness isn’t a result of dispirited singleness, at least for some. Rather, it’s draining to fight misconceptions on every side.
Feminists are wrong; there’s more to life than career. Evangelicals are wrong; marriage isn’t God’s plan for everyone, much less on a third party’s timetable! And although many, unlike the man who emailed me, don’t articulate that belief in as few words, they imply it incessantly.
One of the most profound and beautiful metaphors in scripture is marriage, depicting the intimate relationship between the Son of God and his pure church, his bride. Further, biologically and anatomically, God created men and women for one another — for marriage and for bearing children — and as if it were not obvious by mere function, he explicitly tells us so. I will not take the time to go into the biblical importance of marriage and parenthood. That is an essay all its own, and these words are primarily for people who already acknowledge those truths.
So we conclude God instituted marriage and that it is good. In fact, the Apostle Paul intimates that most adults marry, but some do not, and it is here that an important qualifier must be introduced.
It is one thing to tell a wife and mother that she is fulfilling her highest calling in faithful parenting. It is quite another to declare to an unmarried woman that to be married with children is her highest calling. What should she conclude if she doesn’t get married? To a married woman, it may not seem a significant distinction, but to a single woman, it makes a world of difference.
Recently on Twitter, Lori Alexander, a self-described Christian lifestyle blogger, mother, and author said, “Raise your daughters from an early age that their highest and best calling is to be a wife and a mother! They will hear the opposite from culture.”
Raise your daughters from an early age that their highest and best calling is to be a wife and a mother! They will hear the opposite from culture.
— The Transformed Wife (@laalex2) July 18, 2019
Amended, Alexander’s tweet could offer encouragement and truth to fatigued moms. For instance, “You wives and mothers are fulfilling your most important duty, despite what you hear from the culture.” Or perhaps, “Teach your daughters from an early age that being wives and mothers is a noble thing! They will hear the opposite from culture.”
The message Alexander perpetuates, on the other hand, is far from encouraging. While critics have rightfully torn down this blogger for remarkably problematic statements before, I’m afraid this particular tweet of hers hits a mainstream Christian belief right on the nose: that beyond being objectively good, marriage and motherhood are indeed the highest calling, and consequentially, those who are unmarried or childless are fulfilling a calling of secondary importance. This idea is troubling for several reasons.
You Can’t Force It
First, telling young women marriage is the highest good leads to forced romantic compatibility. I’ve sought the advice of married women on occasion during seasons of relationship concerns, and it troubles me the number of times the counsel has been reduced to, “If he loves God and is a hard worker, that’s all you need.”
It is not. If one primary purpose of marriage is, in fact, child rearing, then it’s safe to conclude sexual attraction is necessary. Further, I’m no marriage expert, but compatible convictions, lifestyle, philosophy, and at least one or two hobbies may be helpful.
It saddens me that I know a handful of couples who received similar counsel and now face what is best described as mental unrest as they work through romantic incompatibility. I’m not so foolish as to think marriage is a cakewalk, but a good start might be setting more stringent standards than “ring by spring” merely to inch closer to “God’s ultimate calling.”
No. No. No. When your daughter becomes a wife and mother, that BECOMES her highest calling.
Raising girls to believe they cannot achieve their calling short of marriage and children breeds covetous single females and leads to forcing romantic compatibility. https://t.co/U851ep4sws
— Kylee Zempel (@kyleezempel) July 18, 2019
There’s More to Life Than Marriage
That leads me to the second problem. Telling women that marriage is next to godliness leads to their missing other opportunities. What if rather than stressing out single women by forever opening dialogue with, “So, do you have a boyfriend?” we encouraged their individual strengths and encouraged other spiritual growth opportunities?
Imagine how much healthier our churches, local communities, and country could be if we affirmed a young woman’s eye for detail in event planning, her managerial stature, or her skill in campus outreach or political activism, serving alongside wives and mothers. (Who knows — maybe it will be during her internship at a tech startup that a bright young woman will find Mr. Right. And maybe not, but that’s okay.)
Third, and finally, just as women are often called to be wives and mothers, they’re always called to be wise. And wisdom in the 21st century requires financial planning. To reinforce to young women the idea that “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage,” is to set some of them up not only for disappointment, but for fiscal failure.
Don’t stake your financial future on a man who isn’t in your life. Marriage doesn’t happen the day after college graduation for everyone. Rather, encourage young women to work hard, learn a skill, and save, regardless of relationship status. Assuring young women they’ll have a husband to take care of them isn’t another person’s place, and it certainly isn’t wise.
Marriage is good. Motherhood is good. But when we preach to single women that these are the ultimate things to achieve, we begrudge their God-given talents and achievements and set them up for disappointment when their timelines look different than baselessly expected. The wedded woman worshiping marriage is no holier than the feminist idolizing herself.
Earlier, I noted the Apostle Paul’s insights into marriage and singleness, but don’t miss the following principle just several verses later: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”
In reality, the character qualities that make you a godly wife are the same qualities that make you a godly friend, daughter, and sister. Don’t hinge character development on being the best “better half” you can be someday down the road. Maybe your highest calling right now is to be a godly wife and mother, so embrace that.
But maybe my highest calling right now is helping other women understand that godliness doesn’t always look like a diamond ring and a Diaper Genie, so I’ll embrace that too.