She sat across from me in my office, trying to decide what to do next—grad school or get married. And then she said it. “Well, a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother…”
I was a little taken aback. At the time I was single, in my mid-thirties, completing a PhD. If she was right, I’d not had an opportunity to even pursue my “highest calling.”
My first question was, “And why do you think that’s a woman’s highest calling?” Now it was her turn to be taken aback. She’d never actually questioned the statement—she’d been told it long ago.
My second question was “Is it in the Bible?” She was a Bible major, so she realized that no, it wasn’t.
“So then, what about women who are single? Unable to get pregnant? Are they relegated to a lesser calling?”
She paused. . .
“Why is one calling higher than another?”
That’s the deepest question. Why is a call to wifehood and motherhood higher than a call to celibacy? What about mothers that aren’t wives? And wives that aren’t mothers? And those who are neither wives nor mothers?
Does God look down at all the women in the world and choose one saying, “I’ll give you the highest call,” disapprovingly look at another, and say “You’ll have a lesser call”?
In my Old Testament class, my professor stated that “the knowledge of good and evil” was an Ancient Near Eastern euphemism for knowing and judging differences. Creation had differences—plants were different sizes, animals were different colors, and there were anatomical differences in male and female. But, those differences weren’t judged as higher or lesser than another, until they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first action the man and woman take after eating is to cover their differences with leaves—they decided different wasn’t good and needed to be hidden (Gen 3). And throughout history, differences have been judged—sexism, racism, classism, more—different means good or bad to us.
But does it to God?
Does God look at us and say “higher” or “lower” or just delight in our differences?
Certainly some callings seem to have a greater measurable impact on society as a whole or the course of history. Does that mean they’re higher? Should we measure the impact of what we perceive to be our call, and if it seems small, seek another call in order to be “higher”?
I think Paul reflects the heart of God when he writes about the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul states that all parts of the body are necessary and need each other. No part should look down upon or reject another part.
“As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor 12: 20-26 NRSV).
And even though he says to strive for the greater gifts, 1 Corinthians 13 states that without love, the exercise of any of these gifts is meaningless.
Love? Jesus talks about love, no? He answers a question about the greatest commandment with, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-40 NRSV).
Hmmm. Everything hangs on these two commandments of love. And Jesus’ example of love is giving everything up to serve humanity.
So, what does this mean for my calling?
Let’s remember that our first and primary call is to be a disciple of Christ—one who emulates Christ’s actions and seeks to do as he called us to do. Our vocation is secondary. Always.
As part of the body of Christ, we each fulfill a calling that is an important part, though it may be different from others’, whether it’s as a doctor, mother, administrative assistant, wife, salesperson, lawyer, server, etc.
If we are disciples of Christ in those vocations, then we do it loving God, loving others, and giving everything up to serve humanity. That means we don’t perceive our vocation as either higher or lower than another—rather, we are faithful to do our part.
So, what is a woman’s highest calling? To be a disciple of Christ. And the second is like it, to be faithful like Christ in whatever vocation to which God leads her.
That was the conclusion of the conversation with the student in my office. And she decided to go to grad school first, and then got married. While she may be a wife and mother now, she does not perceive it as the highest calling—it’s just her calling, and she’s being as faithful as she can to it.
You see, I don’t think God looks at us and says “higher” or “lower.”
I think God delights in our differences.