For me as a teenager, Mother's day was a wonderful experience at church. I looked forward to it because it was a lot of fun. There were always little prizes and awards and everyone was happy for the mothers in the congregation. Over time, I think this has changed, for good or for bad, and perhaps it's for good. Perhaps the pastors in my church weren't as sensitive as they should have been because Mother's day is not necessarily a good experience for some. When we think of Mother's day, we think of mothers, but of course not all women are mothers. There are a lot of women who cannot have children, and my sister-in-law is one of those. That's very painful for her. Mother's day can also remind people of the loss of a child or the loss of their own mother, and that can be a very painful reminder. Still, others did not have a good relationship with their mothers, and some mothers were bad mothers. So, there are some people who do not celebrate Mother's day for that reason. In fact, if you are struggling with this today, Pastor Patti is going to remain up front for a time of prayer with those who would like to come forward and pray with her.
The social context has also changed from when I was a kid. Just about everyone was an at-home mom. That was really the context of the New Testament. Women didn't have the freedom economically to work outside the home, and so they worked in the home. Today women do work outside the home. In fact, there is a vast diversity among us in this congregation today. I read an article in Focus on the Family that took all four perspectives: the mom who stayed at home, the mom who had a business in the home, the mom who worked outside the home, and the single mom who was forced to work outside the home.
The surprising part of the article was that two of the four women interviewed felt shunned by the church or felt as though the church treated them as outsiders. Of those two, who do you think they were? The single mom, and the working mom.
I am careful about using the term "working mom" because that rips at-home moms. In our idioms and our culture, the term "working mom" means mothers who work outside the home. But at-home moms say, "Where does that leave us? Don't we work?" You can see how hard it is to speak on Mother's day. It is not an easy thing to do anymore because the audiences are very diverse, and you can't possibly address all the different issues and all the audiences at the same time.
Today I would like to address the working mom in particular simply because so many times they feel as though the church favors the at-home mom. I don't know if that's true or not, and we ask the question whether the Biblical model for motherhood is the at-home mom. If not, is there a Biblical model for the working mom, the mom who chooses to work outside the home. I think there is, and we find that in Acts 16: 11-15, 40.
What guidelines are there in scripture for the working mom? What you will discover in the process of dealing with this passage are insights for all women and for men as well. The principles applied to Lydia's life apply to all of us.
Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth. She came from Thyatira, which was the center of fabrics and dyes, particularly purple dyes and purple cloth. She is a woman who works outside the home. She is perhaps the owner of her business, she is a mother, and she is a Christian. We note from Proverbs 31 that the virtuous woman is an entrepreneur. She makes money outside the home. She helps pay the bills.
What guidance do we have? Let's look at this passage together:
What do we see in this working mom's life? First of all, Lydia is very industrious. She is a very hard-working woman. Notice that she is from Thyatira but she is living in Philippi. She works with purple fabric, it is a royal cloth, and it is very costly. Lydia has a home in Philippi but she also has a home in Thyatira. The two cities are about 250 miles apart. So, what you have is a picture of a woman who is running a purple fabric business who has a headquarters in Thyatira. She has gone to Philippi to restock the outlets, to open a retail business, or to supply a retail company, and it is likely that she has other retail stores throughout the vicinity as she travels up the coast and around from Thyatira to Philippi. Her second home in Philippi is quite large. It is large enough for herself, for her whole household, which would include servants, children and grandparents, and the ability to house at least six more missionaries. This tells us that she is very wealthy. To own a large house one had to be very wealthy, but she owns two houses which means she has worked extremely hard. There is no other way in that day and culture to own two homes. She is a very successful businesswoman.
Is that a problem? No, it's not because scripture commends diligence in our work. Proverbs 31: 15-17 describes the virtuous woman. She gets up while its dark, she considers the fields and buys one, she works the field and plants a vineyard, she sets about her work vigorously and her arms are strong for the task. This is the picture of a very diligent worker. Proverbs 10:4 says, "Diligent hands bring wealth." That's exactly what happened in Lydia's life. I Timothy 4 is set in the context of the at-home moms. Paul tells the at-home moms that they have to work diligently. Don't be idle. Idleness is death to an at-home mom, so work diligently. II Thessalonians 3:6 warns against idleness because if you are not busy at home or at your work, you tend to be busy in other people's business and starting gossip. You need to work, work hard, and pay attention to your own life. There is nothing wrong with a woman and a mother working hard outside the home and being successful.
However, scripture does talk about how we make our wealth, its priority in our lives, and what we do with this wealth. Everything here applies to men, as well. If we work outside the home, it is God's will that we be diligent in our work. We need to be a witness for Christ in how you conduct yourself in the workplace. It does not honor God for you to be a very poor worker so that people hate the fact that there are working women in the work force, simply because they allow their family lives to interfere with their work.
Colossians 3:23, "Work as unto the Lord and not to men." The verse before it says even work when the boss is not looking or when the board is not looking. It is God's will for at-home moms to work diligently, to work hard. It is God's will for men to work diligently and work hard at their jobs. However, so often for at-home moms the complaint is that they are bored. If you are bored, invest more time into your children, and invest more time into your home making it even more beautiful. Invest more time into service or volunteering or in skill development or to help lower the overhead in your home or to take more responsibility from your husband. It may mean that you simply need to take a part-time job or start a business in your home or take each job that you do to the next level of quality. Whatever you do, work diligently. This applies not only to our work life, but diligence applies to the raising of our children and the home.
If you choose to work outside the home, then it is important for the husband and wife to have made the decision to split the domestic duties 50/50. How you work that out is between you and your husband. You cannot do it all.
The person who has the toughest role in this whole thing is the single mom because she has no one to divide the work with her when she gets home. It is important for parents, grandparents and the church to help the single mom out, to give her a break, and to lighten the load in her life.
Diligence does not mean working massive amounts of overtime. That's stupidity. That's not diligence. That's serving money over God. Diligence is working, not longer, but smarter. I learned this in college by watching the study habits of my friends. It took some of them two hours to prepare to study. First they got their books out and set them up, then they would go get some munchies, then they would go to the bathroom, then they would talk on the phone, then they would turn on the TV, and they never really got down to studying. Then they wondered why they didn't do well in school.
The lesson here is to be diligent. If you are going to study, then study. If you are going to relax, then relax. If you are going to socialize, then socialize. If you are going to exercise, then really exercise. But really do it. Be diligent at the task you are about.
Lydia was also an extremely devout woman and devoted mother. She was as diligent in her provision for material needs as she was in providing for her spiritual health. Are you as diligent in the things of the spirit and your spiritual welfare as you are in the provision for your material needs? With all that Lydia has going on, where is she when the Sabbath comes? She is worshiping. For six days she worked, and the seventh day she reserved for God. When she puts her faith in Christ, what does she do? She responds by giving whatever she has in service. She takes on a couple of missionaries and provides shelter for them including food and any other provision they need at her home. Paul and Silas are in jail and when they are released they return to Lydia's house because it is the center of all Christian mission activity in Philippi. In fact, one of the wonderful things is that Philippians becomes one of the strongest churches in the New Testament. Perhaps this is a result of the service of Lydia.
In Revelation 2, you see a reference to the church in Thyatira. Paul never went to Thyatira, yet there is a church there. How could that be? Well, one possibility is that Lydia went back to that city and began to share her faith with others. She took what she had and put it in God's service.
This is an important point. She had no great calling like Paul did, yet in response to Christ and the change in her life, she took what she had at her disposal within the time constraints she had and she used everything for God. She used her home, she used her money, and she used her business sense and her testimony.
Lydia was also devoted to her family. How do we know that? Well, when she responds in faith, her whole household follows suit. Her children are extremely obedient to her. You can't have obedient children unless you have a strong relationship with them. In fact, I want you to learn a formula: Rules without a relationship spells rebellion. If you try to set children without a relationship with your children, you are asking for trouble. Yet, this woman's children are following her, which means that she has a very strong relationship with them. They respect her authority and they obey her.
In the process of working outside the home, are you devoted to God and to your family? Are you as diligent in the things of the spirit as you are in the things of this world? For six days you work for yourself, and the seventh day you give to God. It is important to tithe our time as well as our money. Take ten percent of your leisure time and tithe it to the service of God. If you are in a time crunch, begin where you can. Take Lydia as an example. She began where she could. She opened her house. Perhaps you want to open your house to a covenant group. Lydia used her discretionary money for mission activity. You can do that, as well, if you have discretionary money. She used her business sense and she began to witness in her workplace for Christ. I would say if you are too busy for God, then you are too busy and you need to set some priorities in your life.
The third thing that I see is that Lydia led a very balanced life. She was able to be devoted to God and to her work because she had a very good balance. Stephen Covey writes a book called First Things First and says that successful people have correct priorities in their lives: God, Family and Work. There is a balance between these things and when you keep them in balance, you have happy employees who make good employees. If you work too much, it will cause your body to break down and become ill, you will have family crises and broken homes, the stress level will become very high, and the bottom line is that you will be very unproductive in your work and perhaps very unsuccessful because the key to success is balance. You see this in very successful people's lives. They typically have a very good balance, and you see this in Lydia's life. She balances work, time for her family, and work and service to God. How do you know that she is spending time with her family? It's right there. She has gone to Thyatira, and where is her family? They are with her. How do I know that? When she accepts Christ, the entire family is there to be baptized with her.
Anything that it took to balance work and family, Lydia did it in a very laudable and creative way. You need to think about carving time our for your family in incredibly creative ways. She did it by buying a second home and taking her family with her wherever she went.
Look at your own life. Is it balanced? Do you have time for all the priorities in your life, particularly God, your family and your work? Is there anything that's out of balance? If you are not sure, ask your spouse if you are married and be humble enough to hear the bad news.
Learn the lesson of the tire. If tires are at all out of balance, they wear out very quickly in one place. I bought a good set of tires that was guaranteed for 65,000 miles. However, they only lasted for 11,000 miles. Why? Because they were out of balance, and I never put them back into balance because I didn't know that could happen to tires. The same thing will happen in our lives. They will wear out and pop in certain areas if we don't keep things in balance. For some people, the pop is their health, for others it's their marriage, and for others it's their kids, and for others it's their worship or their service or citizenship.
Typically, most of us are out of balance in our work. If that's your case, it is important for you to simply work smarter not longer. Work during lunches, go to work earlier or work after the kids are in bed. Ask your boss if you are able to work at home. If you are on a long trip, think about taking the family with you or plan your vacations around very long business trips. When my kids were very young and before they started school, I was gone a lot of evenings in my work. We decided to let the kids stay up until 10 or 11 o'clock or even midnight so that they could have time with me. Exercise will help you work better. If your body is fit and if your stress level is down, you can work better. Keep your work within limits. Sometimes, that means simply walking away. If you are unable to keep work within limits, consider changing jobs at least while the children are still at home.
I think Lydia was able to keep this balance due to the simplicity in her life. I think this is a key. If you are going to be a working mom, simplicity is an absolute requirement. Again, we see this in Lydia's life-work, family and service are the fabric of her life. There is no mention of her running around doing extracurricular activities or belonging to organizations or clubs.
It was easier in the days of Blue laws. In Pennsylvania, nothing opened on Sunday. They repealed the Blue laws, and now everything is open on Sunday. For us as Christians, establish a Blue law in your home-No work on Sunday unless it is required as your occupation. Set priorities in your life. There are a lot of good things that we can do, but not all of these things are necessary. Your role as a parent is not to be the chauffeur. It is more important for your children to hang around you and to have a relationship with you so that they can absorb your values than for you to take them four or five different places. There is a rule at our house-One activity at one time and no more. It is very unlikely that your children will ever become professional athletes. It is more likely that they need to be with you and get to know you and learn your values, so spend more time with your family instead of running them around.
If you are a working mom, simplicity means that you have to accept the fact that your house will not be all that clean. Or, if that's important to you, hire a cleaning service. You cannot do it all. There is no such thing as a super mom. Every super mom I've ever seen has broken down at some point. Usually, it is from age 45-50 and they wind up on five or six medications with heart problems.
De-clutter your house. Don't buy the latest technology or entertainment toys. Buy those things which help you interact with your family and/or make up your own games. We created a carnival in the basement of my home with prizes and everything for under $10. It was the best thing I've ever done.
If you have a problem with devotional time, buy a Bible on CD or tape, read during your lunches, and pray in the shower. Get outside yourself and perform one form of service, but only one.
For many of us, overhead is driving the problems in our lives. If your life is too complex, you need to get rid of everything that comes with a monthly fee. Do you really need 225 channels, do you really need the Internet, do you really need Nintendo, and do you really need... I ask that question all the time. Give your kids chores, eat out more, buy frozen, use the crock-pot, or cook extra and then freeze the rest. If you really need time, forget the news and the newspaper. You can do very little about what happens in the world.
Is God against the working mom? No, He is not but don't make the mistake that many have made and that is letting things get out of hand. Instead, be diligent, be devoted to God and to your family, keep a balance and keep things simple. If you can't do these things, re-evaluate your life while the kids are still at home. You can always go back to work, but you can't always go back to your children.
Used by Permission of White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church.
©2002 by R. Pfeil; All rights reserved