Identity · Whispers of Faith · Women

Does the Answer to a Woman’s Identity Crisis Lie in Her Career?

(Much of this content first appeared in a seminar I gave in spring 2018 entitled “Redeemed Womanhood: An Alternative to Cultural Feminism.”)

I think all of us – men and women – go through some kind of “identity crisis” in our lives. Maybe “crisis” is too strong of a descriptor, but certainly some kind of “identity search.” At some point in our lives, we ask ourselves, “Who am I? What was I created for? What was I created to do? How will I be most fulfilled in life?” Some of us go through this in high school and college as we figure out what career to choose. Some of us go through it again around “mid-life” after spending twenty-some years doing one thing as we ask ourselves if that’s really what we wanted out of life.

But I think the “identity search” has been made more difficult for women over the years because biologically, they have an added element that men don’t have – the ability to give birth to and nurture children. Obviously being a father requires much effort and time, but traditionally, the mothers have been expected to spend more time at home raising and caring for the children than the fathers. And this often conflicts with their desire or ability to work at a career in addition to raising their children.

For hundreds of years, most women were not “allowed” to work outside the home if they had children. In more recent decades that expectation was overthrown to the point that now many stay-at-home moms feel like they have to guiltily justify their choice for not working outside the home. And the internal struggle for many women is, “But if I don’t work at a full-time or part-time career, will I really be fulfilled in life? Will I lose my identity?”

But this ultimately comes back to a lie propagated by the feminist agenda of the 1960s-70s which is: You have an identity crisis that can only be fixed by fulfilling your potential in a career.

This idea was first and foremost promoted in the 1960s by a radical book that took America by storm – called The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I had heard of this book in history class in high school, and that it was one of the major forces that moved women from being homemakers to entering the workforce in the 60s and 70s. Intrigued by wanting to know what the author actually said, I ordered the book myself in preps for my seminar on feminism and sat down to read it.

In the first few chapters, Friedan describes in great detail this “problem that has no name.” She starts off her chapter of that same title in a very dramatic way –

“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night – she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question, ‘Is this all?'” (pg. 1)

Obviously, one feels compelled to keep reading to find out what deep-seated problem would lead to such dissatisfaction in American housewives – and what Betty Friedan suggests we do to fix it. She then goes on to say, “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.’” (pg. 22)

Now – it was interesting to read this and note the reactions that came up within me as I read it. On the one hand, I was tempted to think, “How dare she suggest that women be dissatisfied with their husbands, children, and homes??”

But on the other hand, though I am not married, I identified with the dissatisfaction and identity crisis that she spoke of.

The difference between her and I, however, is in our solution to this discontent.

Betty Friedan said that the only solution (and mind you, she did say “only”) to this discontent was by going out and finding that job or career that you knew you were made for – that had “real value to society” – and only in doing that career would you feel true fulfillment.

The ironic thing is that I’ve lived that very life – working at a career that I feel called to do and oftentimes do feel fulfilled in – but in the end, it can’t ultimately satisfy me.

Why not? Because our hearts were made to be satisfied in One and One alone – and that is Jesus Christ. This is the glorious truth that replaces this lie of feminism – that our identity crisis can only be solved by finding our satisfaction in Christ.

As a tired mama and housewife, a woman might be tempted to think that she would be so much more fulfilled in a job that uses her skill set and pays her a nice salary. But as a weary teacher, I might also be tempted to think that my fulfillment could actually come from being a wife and mother.

Both of us are wrong. As Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” When we seek to fill the void that we feel within ourselves with external pursuits – even if they are good things – we will fall short every time. It might fill us for a bit, but the restlessness will return – until we finally submit our internal searching to Christ and allow Him to captivate us with Himself.

However, while I did disagree with much of what Betty Friedan said in her book, she did have some nuggets of truth. One thing she said that I actually agreed with was, “[…] when marriage is the end of your life, because you have no other mission, it becomes a miserable, tawdry thing. Who said women have to be happy, to be amused, to be entertained? You have to work. You don’t have to have a job. But you have to tackle something yourself, and see it through, to feel alive.” (pg. 414)

I have seen this happen sometimes with young women, especially Christian women, who desire to stay at home and believe they are living out the “homemaker dream.” But suddenly, it becomes more than a dream and way to honor God and more of an idol – that which is “the end of your life” rather than a means to glorify God. Their identities becomes completely wrapped up in their homes and kids because they see that as a direct reflection of themselves – instead of having their identities secured in who God says they are.

Elisabeth Elliot echoed this idea when she said, “Marriage is not the sole task to which any of us is called. Women who have no career as such are certainly called to a variety of tasks besides marriage.” (p. 105) Even if you are a wife and homemaker, there are still areas of ministry in which to be involved and pour yourself into outside of the home.

Friedan also said, “It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.” (pg. 407) This, too, is an easy snare for young women who become far too focused on their husbands (or in pre-marriage, boyfriends), and allow their identities to be wrapped up in the other person, rather than being a separate person, with unique gifts, talents, and abilities meant to serve Christ in tandem with their husband’s unique gifts, talents, and abilities.

So how do we avoid being caught up in the identity traps of careers, homes, or spouses? The Bible, of course, gives us the answers.

First of all, the only one with whom we should have our identity consumed is Christ Himself. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When we submit our hearts and minds to Christ, He stamps His own image on our identity. We still have our passions, our personalities, and our interests, but now they are divinely shaped by the One who owns our souls. Our cry for identity is answered by the call to follow Christ and carry out His work here on Earth.

And in that work – which could take every form from raising kids at home to being a Supreme Court justice to being a nurse to being a savvy businesswoman – we follow the admonition of Colossians 1:10 – “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

If we take this attitude toward whatever work we are currently or one day will be in, we will find the most meaning and satisfaction. Even the most mundane job can be filled with purpose if we are “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord.”

In the end, we have to remember that we are most fully fulfilled in life when God’s plan is being fulfilled in us. Not when we get that perfect job. Or that perfect husband. Or that perfect house. None of those will ultimately satisfy us. Only Christ can.


Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash.


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