Why You Do What You Do
About the Guest
Carolyn McCulley grew up during the liberation movement of the 60's and 70's. An admitted feminist when she came to know Christ, Carolyn's ideas about work and family pursuits began to change as she studied and meditated on the Scriptures. Carolyn, addresses the issues related to women and the workplace.
Carolyn McCulleyCarolyn McCulley is an author, speaker, and filmmaker. She has written three books —The Measure of Success, Radical Womanhood, and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? — and contributed to Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, and the forthcoming ESV Women's Devotional Bible. She has also written for numerous publications, including The Washington Post and Christianity Today, and her commentary has appeared on The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, Boundless, True Wom...more
Carolyn McCulley was a feminist when she came to know Christ. But her ideas about work and family changed as she studied the Bible. Carolyn, addresses the issues related to women and the workplace.
Why You Do What You Do
Bob: Many in the culture today are asking the question, “Can a woman have it all?” Carolyn McCulley says, “The question we ought to be asking is ‘How can women—and men for that matter—maximize who they are for the glory of God?’”
Carolyn: I think the fundamental flaw in both feminism and in certain circles of the church is we don’t talk about the entire arc of a woman’s life. We don’t talk about: “Well, what is the second chapter of your life to be? How are you investing and what is that going to look like for you, specifically, and the opportunities, and the gifts, and the talents that God has given you?” Since we don’t talk about the second half of life, then, women think, “I have to accomplish all of it in the first act.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Carolyn McCulley joins us today to talk about how a woman ought to measure her success in life. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know if this is true, but I think this may be our only guest who ever thought she was going to be a nun when she grew up. [Laughter]
Dennis: —a nun with a big screen TV. Is that right, Carolyn?
Carolyn: It is. It’s true.
Dennis: It is true.
Carolyn: Well, when I grew up, we didn’t have color TV. The only ones I knew who had it were the nuns that my mom would visit. So, when I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was like, “A nun,” because I thought—
Dennis: “This is the way to acquire the TV.”
Carolyn: It is. The funny thing about it is it sort of became a self-fulfilling prophecy because I am still unmarried, and I am a filmmaker. So, I spend all-day long looking at big color screens! [Laughter]
Dennis: —looking at screens. Well, that is Carolyn McCulley. She is an author. This is your third book. This is called The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home. Now, there is an explosive trio right there in this culture today.
Dennis: She is the founder and CEO of Citygate Films®—lives in Arlington, Virginia. You know, as we talk about women today and this culture, give us a bearing on the culture you grew up in, as a young woman. What was your perspective of women, work, and home?
Carolyn: Well, I grew up in the midst of the women’s liberation movement. So, the media coming to me all the time, as a little girl, was: “You can do it. Whatever you want to be, you can do it.” My mom was a fulltime homemaker, and my dad was active in the Air Force. So, we had a traditional family model; but I felt my own mother’s questioning of her role.
She’d been a newspaper reporter and in television before she married my dad. When she married my dad, she decided to be at home and rear my sisters and myself. This was what she wanted to invest her life in; but she felt questioned by the culture and then, also, by her headstrong oldest daughter who was absorbing everything that the culture had to say.
Dennis: Were you buying it?
Carolyn: Oh, yes. And I don’t actually remember playing house as a little kid. I played office. I was always large and in charge, bossing my little sisters around. I didn’t have a vision for the home, and I wasn’t going to absorb that from the culture. So, I went on and went to college and got a women’s studies degree. We were busy talking about what women should do.
So, that’s really the theme of all the books I’ve written—is this wrestling with “What are women supposed to be doing?”—whether it was through the lens of singleness or the background that I had, as a feminist, coming into Christianity—or even now: “What is this measure of success when it comes to productivity?” It is the “should’s” that are handed to women, inside and outside of the church, that are so difficult to wrestle with.
Bob: And can I just say, as we get started, that I think that the churches that I’ve been a part of and the churches that I’ve grown up in have subtly sent a message to women that they are supposed to just be quiet.
And that’s not the message we ought to be sending is it?
Carolyn: No, and that also depends on your church experience because there are a lot of churches where that message isn’t coming from them at all. And the church that my mom attended and the one she raised us in—women were pretty much the only ones to be seen in the church.
Bob: They were the only ones showing up. So, I guess you are right. There is kind of this bifurcated message. On one side, it’s “Women should be in charge of everything.” On the other side, maybe, it’s a pendulum swing issue—where other churches are saying, “Well, women should do the Sunday school classes and the church suppers; but that’s about all the spiritual impact they ought to be having.”
Carolyn: And then, we have this sort of generational shift between older and younger. The younger millennial generation is really striving to alleviate poverty in this generation. So, they’re seeing the answer is to put women into developing nations to work. Yet, in some quarters, we hear—in the first-world nation, women should not work.
And I would hear that and think, “What we’re developing is a functional theology,” because, if it’s biblical, it transcends culture.
So, where are we confused on the issue of productivity? I prefer to use that word over work because we tend to think of that as just what you do to earn an income. And the Bible picture of productivity is much bigger than that.
Dennis: So, what was your opinion of marriage?—because the feminist movement pretty much attacked it. Did you buy that part of the argument as well?
Carolyn: Yes and no. I mean, when I was active in college, I was in a group that was very womanist in its viewpoint; but I was still the one over there going, “Well, all men might be the problem; but I’d still like a date with one of them.” I wasn’t connecting the dots between anger at men and lack of dates; you know? Maybe, there is a connection.
Dennis: So, you hadn’t given up on the institution?
Carolyn: No, but I wasn’t investing in it either. I remember there was a man I was dating who did want to get married. I was 23.
I wrote in my journal, at the time: “I don’t know. I have so much I want to do. I don’t know if I should get married.” I didn’t have a vision for it until I became a Christian.
Dennis: And your whole opinion of work—that came from the feminist movement as well?
Carolyn: Yes, because what’s tied into that image of—work is your identity. It was the central argument of the time—that issue of your productivity defines your identity / defines your worth—is very much one that arose after the Industrial Revolution.
So, when we—on this side of the last 200 years of human history—try to talk about the work and home without an understanding of what the original readers of the Bible would have understood or what the mass of humanity would have understood about productivity and parenting—then, we miss some very important cultural clues because this argument wasn’t around. Every one of us is expected to work. From little kids on, you didn’t entertain your children until they reach maturity. You put them to work as soon as they could contribute to the family income.
They were little kids—they were part of the farm; they were part of the family shop / the business or whatever. The idea of income was a family-generated one.
Dennis: And it was usually surrounded by the family at a location at home. So, you were learning what it meant to be a woman / what it meant to be a man as you watched your parents work.
Carolyn: And the examples that we have over history—we have some extremely productive women whose work made possible their husbands’ great thinking—so, Katie Luther married to Martin Luther—Sarah Edwards married to Jonathan Edwards. They managed the estates that produced the income that their families lived off of. Katie Luther is an incredible picture of productivity!
Dennis: Yes, tell them about the monastery that was their first home. I mean, I’d never heard that story.
Carolyn: They were—as a former nun and a former monk—when they got married and defied the cultural institutions of that time and decided to esteem marriage, as they saw it in Scripture, they were given the Black Cloister—which was this monastery—as a gift.
So, it was like, today, inheriting a frat house. And you would have to go and clean it up.
She was good at running this massive household that became like the local hotel on the Reformation tour. Everyone would come to their home for the news of the Reformation. After a while, she turned to her husband and said: “We should charge for this. We are feeding and housing these people.” That didn’t deflect anybody from coming. They still paid as guests.
Dennis: But it was her ingenuity, hard work, and vision, coming alongside her husband—that really helped him prosper, as you described.
Carolyn: Yes, and history has shown that some of the great thinkers are not the great budgeters. So, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther—they were often in debt; but God gave them good, productive, manager wives who could help dig them out.
Dennis: Okay, back to your story. I’ve got to ask, “When were the first seeds of faith sown in your heart that ultimately led to your conversion to faith in Christ?”
Carolyn: It was really a sovereign move of the Lord. I see that very clearly in my life.
My younger sister had been a Christian for a number of years, but I ignored her. I tuned her out.
When she went to live in South Africa for a period, I went to visit her—and this was right before the fall of apartheid. She was in a church that really made racial reconciliation an important aspect of their ministry. And their witness—the actual way they lived their lives—really ministered to me. So, when I heard the gospel that Sunday, there were a number of things that happened—but it was Easter Sunday, 1993. I knew that the Lord was working in my life.
One of the most immediate things He changed me on was my position about abortion because I did not know that there was anybody who did anything for women who found themselves pregnant. I was completely unaware of pregnancy centers. I was completely unaware of the caring side of the pro-life message. The second thing he changed me on was the issue of immorality—sexual immorality. That was just very clear in Scripture, and I knew I would have to change.
Bob: What took longer?
Carolyn: I would say sins that are more subtle—selfish ambition, pride, covetousness—
—things like that—that I was rewarded for in my media career—but it was actually in the course of work that I was changed. The office, for me, became the crucible of sanctification—understanding that my character mattered at work—that I was required to be giving a gentle response to other people / to serve others even when I was under deadline. That was the new revelation for me.
Bob: And that’s part of what got you stirring on this whole issue of “How does God view our productivity?”—that, along with the fact that now, you’re in your early 30’s—you’re a single woman—marriage wasn’t a prospect for you, at the time. You’re trying to examine, “Okay, what am I supposed to be doing for the Kingdom?”—right?
Carolyn: Right. So, my first book was looking at “What does it mean to be made a woman in the image of God?” If I was still single, what does that mean? And so, this theme still carried through, even to The Measure of Success—
—because people can assume that I’ve chosen to be a career woman because I’m not married. So, they’ll look at you and assume: “Well, you started a company. You must choose this.”
And I always want to push back on that as gently as possible that we are called to invest in what God has given us. I have asked Him for a husband and children, but He didn’t give it to me. So, my job is to invest what He did give me—what talents, gifts, opportunities, relationships—that I am to carry forward into eternity and to be able to say to Him when I see Him, face to face, “This is what I multiplied for your glory,” so that He will say those words that I so long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
So, we understand from 1 Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive?” So, women—whatever we’ve received is what we are supposed to be investing. The challenge in this generation is how to do that when we’re told by the culture, “You can do it all at the same time,”—and you really can’t.
But the Bible helps shape our priorities for us.
The one thing that would have been helpful for my time as a feminist in college was this debate that was happening among these groups. One side was called the Sequencers, and the other side was the Assimilationists or the Androgynists. The Sequencers were saying: “You know what? The radical feminist notion would have been to say, ‘Women’s lifecycles are different from men’s. Women should be allowed to get an education, start a career, jump off, and rear their children. Then, when they are finished with that time period, get back involved either in a career or a community volunteerism—whatever form—in the second half of life without penalty.’” But they lost. The Androgynists / the Assimilationists won.
And by doing so, what they said was that men and women have no distinct difference except for the obvious plumbing. The stress, therefore, for women began. The mommy wars got launched, at that moment. I wish, for the benefit of our general culture, that the Sequencers had won because it would have made it so much easier on young families now.
But those are the things we have to think about today, as Christians—is: “How do we honor the dominion mandate that women have to be productive and to be fruitful—to be parents in a society that says, ‘You have to give it your all—60, 70, 80 hours a week—or there is no entrance for you.’”
Dennis: I want to go back to how you found your mission. I think that is so important for single people—and married people too—but I think a lot of singles—because they aren’t married—they are kind of waiting to get on with life. Yet, you found your mission. You’re very excited about it. How did you determine what it is you are doing?
Carolyn: Elisabeth Elliot’s advice to do the next thing that’s in front of you was very helpful to me because there is a lot I wanted to do, but it wasn’t necessarily being presented to me. God wasn’t handing it to me. So, therefore, I needed to be faithful with the opportunities He had given me.
But as far as mission, I always loved “show and tell” from the time I was a little kid. I never got passed that.
That’s why I am a filmmaker because I love “show and tell.” I also remember writing and producing a little neighborhood play, when I was five years old, and taking it from porch to porch and charging 25 cents a viewing. So, I’ve always been about that. But when I became a Christian, the Lord showed me that those skills were to be used for His glory to help tell stories that encouraged others and inspired others toward His faithfulness.
Dennis: And did you wobble on your way to finding that mission, or did that become really clear in your 20’s and as your 30’s emerged?
Carolyn: No, I wobbled. I really wobbled. I really invested in the 20’s—in the definition of career—that’s about maximizing yourself. So, even today, when I speak and people come up and say, “Should a woman have a career?” I’ll say, “No, but not for the reasons you think.” I’m going to say, “No,” because career is all about you: “How can I maximize my identity and my value?” And the answer would be the same for believing men and women. You’re here to love and serve.
So, when I became a Christian and started to learn what it meant to work alongside a creative God who is always blessing His Kingdom—that people even who believe in Him, and who don’t, and His creation—He’s answering prayers and providing. He asks us to labor alongside with Him. This was really a revelation to me that my work was not about glorifying myself. My work was about being a part of answered prayer. And this is what Luther means when he talks about the doctrine of vocation—that our labors are really oriented toward love—not to self-maximization.
Bob: You know, I remember reading about Luther, and the Protestant work-ethic, and this whole idea of a vocation—this was actually years ago when Chuck Colson wrote a book, along with Jack Eckerd—head of Eckerd Drugs—called Why America Doesn’t Work. It was about the work-ethic. That’s the first place I came across the idea that vocation really comes from the word that means to be called to do something. They said, “There is a difference between a career and a vocation,”—like you just said.
Career is more focused on the ladder you’re climbing—vocation is on: “What are you called to do?”
And I think a lot of people—and maybe, a lot of women look at a vocational path or a career path—and they think, “I don’t want to go too far down that because what if I get married and have kids? Then, do I just give up on that path? Do I set it aside? Do I try to juggle both at the same time?” And so, they just say, “Well, I’ll just do something that’s not really a calling while I’m waiting for what I really hope is going to happen.”
Carolyn: I feel great sympathy for women, especially younger women, caught in this dilemma—trying to figure out “What am I supposed to do, and where am I going to go?” When I became a Christian at 30, and I had my eyes opened to the value of the home and being a wife and mother, I tried to prepare myself for that. I began to develop a freelance writing career so that I could be at home, and I could write as necessary and transition.
Kind of picture me like a spider in a web. Here I am, waiting! [Laughter] So, five years later, it was like: “Okay, well, I guess I need to go find a fulltime job! You know, I’m still not married.”
I feel for that transition and I feel for that—also with many of my friends who get married and they are now home with their babies—that sudden shift of identity is a challenging one for women—even when it’s something they’ve prayed for and asked God for. Being at home with a baby is a very difficult task if you don’t have your eyes set on eternity. It’s hard to get past the “Is this all that my life is—is changing diapers?”
Bob: Well, and especially if, prior to that, you have become emotionally-invested and you’re really excited about this vocation or about this productivity that you are involved with. Then, all of a sudden, God throws a man and a baby in front of all of that. You go: “Wait! I don’t want to give up what I was really passionate about two years ago.”
Carolyn: —which is why that sequencing concept would have been so helpful because you think about your life as an investor. Investors are always balancing their portfolios for expected volatility and expected return. That’s what women have to think about, in terms of the gift mixes that they have too. Children introduce this kind of turbulence in your life. So, it’s hard for you to plan. You have to think through: “What is your balance mix—‘What am I going to invest in now? What’s going to be simmering on the back burner for later on?’”
I think the fundamental flaw in both feminism and in certain circles of the church is we don’t talk about the entire arc of a woman’s life. We don’t talk about: “Well, what is the second chapter of your life to be? How are you investing? And what is that going to look like for you, specifically, and the opportunities, and the gifts, and the talents God has given you?” Since we don’t talk about the second half of life, then, women think, “I have to accomplish all of it in the first act.”
Dennis: Bob, earlier, summarized the extremes of the church—
—telling women to be quiet or telling women they can have it all. What is your best advice today—given where you’ve come from and now having been a believer / follower of Christ for more than a decade?
Carolyn: I believe it’s very important for us not to hand one-size-fits-all boxes to each other because our Lord doesn’t either. He points us very clearly to the importance of choosing the better portion. We have this wonderful illustration with Mary and Martha, when Mary goes and sits at His feet, which is presumptuous of a woman, at that time—to sit at a man’s feet as though she were his disciple. Martha is anxious and troubled about serving. Jesus says, “You are worried, but Mary here has chosen the better portion.”
And I think that anytime that we look at the work that we do, and the stress behind it, and our identity with, and the expectations that others have on us and that we have for ourselves, we are going to be troubled and anxious; but if we sit at Jesus’s feet, we will have chosen the better portion.
When we sit at His feet, we will understand how our Shepherd is leading us. That means our lives are going to look different from the lives of the women next to us because He didn’t give the same things to every woman.
We have to trust Him to lead through our lives and to have confidence that we hear Him and we’re not responding to the “should’s” that everybody gives in different quadrants of our lives—in the media, in the church, or other places. It requires biblical wisdom to sit down and say, “What have I been given that I need to maximize for His glory right now?”
And if you have a husband and children, you can see that clear priority in Scripture. And if you don’t, then, you have other things to minister in. Then, all together, we’re all supposed to be ministering and investing in the body.
Dennis: What I hear you saying is: “Comparison is a real trap—
Carolyn: It is, for sure!
Dennis: —“but fulfilling the purpose of God in your generation”—which is what it was said of David in Acts, Chapter 13. It says, “After he fulfilled the purpose of God in his generation, he slept,”—he died.
And I think that’s all of our mandates—for us to evaluate our lives in light of the Scripture—not only how we live, but the trajectory of our mission, and what we’re about and what we’re called to do—as Bob mentioned earlier. Those are the matters we need to concern ourselves with and we need to train our kids—our children / our adult children—to think the same way.
Bob: And I think the point that you make over and over again in your book—that’s an important point for us to really think about—is that our thinking on this subject has probably been a lot more shaped by the culture we live in than it has been by meditating on Scripture. What you’ve done in your book is look careful at what the Bible has to say about success—about work, about vocation, about what we’re here for. And we need to be thinking, biblically, about our calling, as women and as men.
The book that Carolyn has written is called The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home. It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Want to encourage our listeners: “Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of Carolyn’s book.” Again, go to the website, FamilyLifeToday.com. In the upper left-hand corner of the screen, there is a button that says, “GO DEEPER.” You click that button. There is information about Carolyn’s book available there. You can order it from us, online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to place your order—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
I don’t know how many of our listeners had a chance, earlier this week, to go see the video that’s up online that shows the graduation ceremony from the Wrightsville Prison commencement, where about a hundred guys had gone through the Stepping Up® small group series.
And Dennis, you went down and gave a commencement address and handed a diploma to each one of these guys. It’s really a powerful video. It’s a great story—great to hear how God is at work, behind prison bars, helping men step up and become men, helping husbands capture a vision for how they can love their wives, even in desperate situations like prison, or how they can still pass on a spiritual legacy to their children.
And I just want to thank FamilyLife’s donors who helped make resources like Stepping Up possible. You make this daily radio program possible—our website—all of it—by helping to support the work that we do, here at FamilyLife Today.
If you haven’t seen the video, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I Care.” You’ll be able to see the video there. You can also make an online donation, and we appreciate your support of the ministry. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation by phone.
Or you can write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR 72223. And again, thanks so much for partnering with us, here at FamilyLife Today. We appreciate your support of all that we’re trying to do here at this ministry.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to continue our conversation with Carolyn McCulley about how we measure success in life. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope to see you then.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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