Jul 1, 2014

Book review: The Measure of Success

*edit: I've combined my initial post with the completed review.

I was excited to hear about a new book released by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank: The Measure of Success - Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, & the Home. When Carolyn was a regular blogger I followed her thoughtful, well written posts for years and highly recommend her two previous books. And bonus, I saw this title listed with B&H publishing and was able to get a free review copy.

As a fairly new stay-at-home mom (such an awkward title - shouldn't the opposite then be stay-away-from-home mom?) I enjoy reading about issues relating to the home and family. What drew me to this book is the authors' intent to explore the topic of women and work without applying hard and fast rules or taking sides in the so called mommy-wars. Already holding my own convictions, I was interested to see how the authors would cover this sensitive but important subject.

 Carolyn sums up the book's content in her preface:
"We believe there is much wisdom to be mined from the Bible to help us think about love and labor throughout the entire arc of a woman's life. Therefore, we have segmented this book into three sections: the story of work, the theology of work, and the life cycle of work. The story of work is the biblical and cultural histories that have shaped the way we work today. The theology of work is an exploration of four fundamental concepts of work. The life cycle of work is where we take what we've learned in the previous sections to explore how to apply wisdom principles to various seasons and stages of a woman's life" 
 I enjoyed The story of work chapters, as the authors looked at modern day as well as western and biblical history to see the various ways women have worked and how their lives, roles, and homelife have been affected by different cultural events. One quote I found thought-provoking:
"When the American home became a showcase for consumption, it altered centuries of productivity and introduced a number of present challenges...in the process of demeaning domesticity, the culture neglects to validate the significance of the work done in the home to care for others. The private sphere remains a place where unpaid work has eternal merit. In accepting the culture of consumerism, homes become a monument to personal style and taste, rather than places of service to others." (pg 44)
I love the creative aspects of decorating and putting a home together and I enjoy spending time in a space that is lovely, but this quote was a good reminder of the most important purpose of our homes: to be a place to love and serve others.

In the second section of the book, the authors move through four concepts of work from a biblical perspective: Purpose, Rest, Identity and Ambition. These are my favorite chapters in the book because they are so practical. Whatever the tasks are that fill our day, it is good to remember God's purpose in giving us work, whether secular or sacred. In fact, the author reminds us that all work is a sacred calling. What we do is transformed as we serve as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23).

In thinking about identity, we are reminded that while our work is important to God, our job descriptions and titles can easily change over the course of our lives. Ultimately we find our identity in Christ and all that we have in Him, not in lists of accomplishments or titles.

The authors also address the idea of stewardship: that we are stewards of the various talents and opportunities the Lord gives us, and part of this requires being wise about what we choose to do and how much. For instance, children are a treasure given to us and mothering them well may require that we give up other things for a season. While no black and white answers are offered, I'm glad this thought was at least touched on briefly. It is simply a lie that moms today can do it all - or at least do it all well. We're encouraged to remember our eternal identity (and what's most important in the light of eternity) in order to "shape wise choices for today".

And then in the last section, The life cycle of work, the authors provide stories and examples to help us consider how to apply biblical principals of work to various seasons of life.

In summary:

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Again, I went into it thinking it would discuss more specifically the idea of moms and working outside or inside the home. While it does touch on this, I would say the authors intent was to provide a broader picture of women and work, an encouragement for women to work diligently and wisely with the talents and gifts they have been given in order to live a life well pleasing to the Lord.

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