You may have heard about the death of the CEO of Survey Monkey, David Goldberg. He was the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of popular book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
In her book, she encourages women to pursue leadership roles in business and life and to not shy away from the inevitable mountain a woman must climb to get ahead in fields dominated by mostly men. She’s got good points. She points out that you can’t really end institutional sexism yourself, but you can be someone who refuses to be passed over for the promotion. She emphasizes hard work, not worrying about being liked, focusing on being polite and quiet when sharing ideas, and encouraging women to go for leadership opportunities.
I wholeheartedly support this idea. I think it’s amazing that women like Sandberg exist in the boys’ club that is Silicon Valley. I admire her. I am grateful that my sons will grow up in a world where they can meet women who have these qualities, fall in love with them, marry them, and have families with them. That’s a daughter-in-law I’d love to have. That’s the woman I aspire to be. One day. Maybe.
But what about right now? What about the endless amounts of laundry piling up in the basement? What about the diapers? What about the sleepless nights of being a mother to a baby who may not sleep through the night and a five year old who doesn’t sleep through the night? What about those moments of hopelessness that I feel when I buy into the lie that I can “have it all.”
Yeah, I flat out called that a lie. It is a lie. When you give 100% at work, give 100% at home, and give 100% in all your relationships, the math doesn’t work. No one has it all. In fact, I’d guess that most people just kind of do a half-hearted job and try to convince ourselves that it is all we can give because half feels like all we have left. More like a third, if you go by my math above, but I’m not really a numbers gal. Words are my gig.
And here is a newsflash that may upset some of my feminist friends and readers: it’s not just women who struggle with this. Men with a love for their families and a desire to strive for professional excellence have always struggled with this. The time slips on by, the kids are grown, and the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, etc.
So what in the world am I supposed to do about it, then? Am I less of a person if I work hard to be there for my family and take on less professional stress? Am I less of a person if I dedicate all my energy to becoming the top of my field and neglect my personal relationships?
According to our culture, yes. On both counts. And it’s not fair. And it’s avoidable if we just lean out for a quick minute and think about it.
I started writing this draft about two months ago after licking my wounds from a job that just about killed me with stress. I was not in my element. I took the job to pay the bills, and I knew it was necessary, but it was incredibly hard on me. I put a lot of stock in my own ability to do things well. I put a lot of stock in my mind and stubbornness. I put a lot of stock into meeting the demands of my ego. It wasn’t working, and more often than not, I fell flat on my face. Exhausted. I was so exhausted by the end of the school year, in fact, that I only began this post and then shelved it until I had a little distance and could chew on my thoughts and emotions for a while. I think I’m ready to dive in the rest of the way.
It is spectacular timing that our church is doing a series about God at Work, and today’s message was about calling. I know that without a shadow of a doubt I am called to minister to children and youth. I have fulfilled this calling in church, and I have fulfilled this calling as a teacher. I am currently also trying my best to fulfill this calling as a parent. One thing I’ve come to learn is that when I’m working so hard to fulfill this calling, sometimes I get so intense that when I do a poor job or am just tired, I feel like a failure. I’m hard on myself. Grace is not something I’ve ever been good at allowing myself to experience, despite my strong ability to help others learn to accept it.
So with the cultural pressure to have it all, my own imposed pressure to fulfill Christ’s calling, and the pressure I feel to do it all well, I just get worn down sometimes. I’d blame Pinterest for that, but I stopped looking at that site a while back because it made me feel so terrible about how messy my house was and how un-cute my snacks for my kids were.
That’s when my pride kicks in and whispers nasty little lies in my ear about how I am not good enough, and I am failing at everything. Then I get caught in the cycle of trying to work my way out of it and wearing myself down again, when the truth is, it’s not even about how hard I’m working to get everything right. That doesn’t really matter in the long run.
I can’t be alone in this. I know too many people who are tired all the time, regardless of the supplements they take, caffeine they imbibe, and sleep they try to make up on weekends for it to only be my own issue.
So, while I fully support someone’s choice to “lean in,” I’m going to go counter-cultural for a bit and lean out.
I’m going to take a moment and (with apologies to Luke) try to set a Biblical story in the modern time.
Jesus was visiting with Mary and Martha in their home, and He was sharing his wisdom and teaching.
Martha was pretty type A. She would have heard she was having guests and stayed up all night to plan a menu, put up little chalk place cards on the table, and served all of her artisinally prepared food in mason jars with chevron ribbons. Then she would have intermittently checked her iPhone for updates on orders coming in for her cupcake shop and sewing business. Oh, and she definitely wore her heels around the house.
Image: Martha (probably)
Mary, who had just come in with a basket of wildflowers she picked while she was dancing to Iron & Wine in a field nearby, was just hanging out, chilling at the feet of Jesus and soaking in all He had to share. She would have kept saying things like, “far out,” and “that’s deep.” Then she probably just sat and was in wonder at this amazing incarnation of God who was on her couch.
Image: Mary (probably)
Needless to say, Martha, being very proper in her cute little outfit making snacks and cleaning after her guest, became exasperated with Mary.
So, she walks in and fusses about how Mary is not really helping, and she’s just sitting around like a Millennial or something.
And before Mary can respond, Jesus says, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
And then we don’t get any more of the story. So what do we do about it? Do we stay frustrated at the fact that some people seem to have this ability to just chill out in the presence of God, or do we put away all of our striving from time to time, and just hang out listening to Jesus? Who will do the dishes? What if they never get done? Where is the guidance? WHAT DID YOU DO, MARTHA?!
Ok, now that I’ve finished hyperventilating, I’ll share what I think. It’s an extrapolation, but I’m going to guess that our modern Martha probably put her phone on silent, left the dishes in the sink, and just went to be near Jesus. She probably had a hard time sitting still for so long, and she likely worried off and on about who was going to take care of things, but she probably also just told her mind to be quiet because this was important. Being present was important. I’d like to think that after Jesus went to bed, and Martha started to clean up, Mary wondered in quietly and stood beside Martha to help her do the dishes.
So, in my rambling story, what is the point? How does that relate to leaning out? What does this mean? How do I do it? (sorry, had to get a paper bag to breathe into again).
It’s simple really. You lean in when you need to, and you lean out when you need to, and you don’t apologize for your imperfections. You try to do things the way they should be done, and you let it go when you can’t or just need to rest. And, you sometimes stop and pick a wildflower or two then sit at the feet of Jesus and just focus on existing as a human being in need of love from a Savior who is right there with you, sharing all the wisdom and love He can with you in that moment.
Then you make your sister do the dishes.