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When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
I realize that using the phrase “women’s work” might get me in some trouble. There was a time when this expression was used for activities like cooking and cleaning, chores usually assigned to women in the traditional American family. If women worked “outside of the home,” typically they were nurses, teachers, secretaries, and such. But, in the last fifty years, many women have discovered that they are capable of doing much more, including jobs that once were reserved for men. The gap between “women’s work” and “men’s work,” if you will, has narrowed considerably. Women now excel in many roles that were once filled mainly, if not exclusively by men.
Still, there is one kind of work that has been and continues to be “women’s work.” I’m talking about giving birth. This is something women do. Yes, these days, husbands usually participate in the birth process as coaches of their wives. But there is no question that when it comes to bearing children, this is work done by women. They are the ones who labor.
Why am I bringing this up here? Because we tend to think and speak of work inadequately. For us, work is mainly that for which we get paid. Someone who isn’t receiving pay might say, “I’m not working right now,” even if he or she is actually working plenty (taking care of a home or children or aging parents, looking for a job, gardening, promoting justice, etc.).
From a biblical perspective, work includes far more than what we do for a living. In fact, the very first biblical imperative for human beings says we are to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen 1:28). In discussions of work, we often take this metaphorically as part of the cultural mandate (or creation mandate). That’s fine. But we mustn’t overlook the literal sense of the language. The first work we are to do as humans created in God’s image is to make more humans. Women, of course, play a primary role in this process as those who carry unborn children and give birth to babies, and who then care for them in a special way. So, in the Christmas story, Elizabeth was working when she gave birth to her son, John. And Mary was working while she carried Jesus in her womb and, in chapter 2, when she gave birth to him.
When we think of work from a biblical perspective, then we will value far more than we sometimes do the work of bearing and raising children. We’ll see that to talk about work/life balance, with family only on the life side of the equation, is to miss something essential about how God has made us. We’ll also come to appreciate the immense value of work that is done without compensation. We’ll see our lives, our families, our colleagues, and our neighbors from a fresh, biblical perspective.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you use the word “work”? Do you think of work mainly as that for which one is paid?
What kinds of work do you regularly do for which you are not paid?
If you are a parent, do you think about your parenting as part of your work? If so, why? If not, why not? What difference does this make?
How does thinking about work from a biblical perspective change the way we see ourselves? How might it change the way we see others?
Gracious God, thank you for Elizabeth’s faithfulness in the work of carrying and giving birth to her son. Thank you for her ability to be fruitful in this particular way, and for the joy it gave her.
Help us, Lord, to think about our lives and our work from your perspective. In Western culture, we can put so much emphasis upon work as that for which one is paid. What we do for pay can define who we are, giving us perceived value or telling us that we really don’t matter. Help us, gracious God, to see ourselves as created in your image. Help us to see our work as all the ways we contribute to this world.
All praise be to you, O God, because you are the worker and because you made us in your image, to join you in the work of this world. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Fruitfulness/Growth (Genesis 1:28; 2:15, 19-20)
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