Have you ever wondered: “Why am I here? What is my place in His kingdom? Does what I do in my career matter to God?” Those are the very things that Carolyn Custis James wondered, and they are the questions that she seeks to answer today as a writer and speaker. We had a chance to chat with Carolyn last week about God’s vision for women.
4word: What inspired you to begin writing and speaking about who women are?
Carolyn: It started out being a very personal thing for me. I lost my way. I was taught that when you grow up, you get married and have babies and your arena is the home. When I didn’t get married right after college, there was a vacuum inside of me.
Then, when I really dug into my career, I thought, “Nobody ever told me how much fun this could be.” I didn’t know work could be so interesting and fulfilling. I thought it was just plan B.
That’s what made me start asking these questions and made me start writing. I wanted to know: “Is the message in the Bible big enough to encompass every day of all of our lives?” In my second book, I really dove into that question and pulled out three things that shape my work: we are God’s image bearers, we are ezers, and we are called to the Blessed Alliance. These things are true of any woman, no matter what she is doing in her life at that moment.
Being an image bearer means we represent God. Working women are God’s representatives in the workplace, which gives enormous significance to our lives. “Ezer” is a very strong Hebrew word that is mostly used in the Old Testament to describe God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. It’s almost always used in a military context. To say woman are ezers means God created Eve to join Adam in combatting the enemy.
That’s where I get the “Blessed Alliance.” This isn’t a tug of war. It’s not a competition. In some mysterious way, God’s image shines more brightly when men and women serve Him together.
4word: Knowing how big and global God’s vision is for women, how did your perspective on your career change?
Carolyn: It made everything purposeful. It was very freeing. I think we have times for everything in our lives. I didn’t expect to be in the business world after I got married, but it was hugely important in my journey. It frees us to live the life that God gives us, to know Him in that circumstance and to trust Him by throwing ourselves into what He’s asking us to do at that particular time.
Whatever you’re doing, everything is serving. If you’re in the corporate world, you’re on a front line for the kingdom. If you’re at home with your kids, you’re on the front line. I think it’s sad that the church doesn’t affirm that, because it makes women and men feel like only ministers do the real work for God.
4word: So would you say that all callings are equally important to the kingdom?
Carolyn: I think that, when God calls us to be fruitful, it’s not just to have babies. It’s about living fruitfully. His created world is raw material; we are supposed to make something of it. I don’t think there’s any area of life that is outside the boundaries of our calling as Christians. Frankly, I think we’ve become too preoccupied with just doing things in the church. We need to be everywhere.
One thing the reformers did was to reclaim all of life as sacred, not just what you do at church. All of it matters. Marriage, work, the community of God’s people. There’s not one piece of it that’s more important than all of the others. Everywhere we are, we’re serving Him.
4word: What do you wish someone would have told you about career, faith and family right after you graduated?
Carolyn: I wish I had known how much God expected of me. I wish I had made a lot more of my single years. I think in spite of me, I did a lot, but I wish I had embraced my life instead of wishing it was something else. Because every stage in a woman’s life, God’s hand is on her. Every stage is strategic and important.
I think God calls us to embrace today and say: “This is the will of God for me, and I need to make the most of it.” When I look back over my life, those single years were absolutely critical to what I’m doing now. Those were the years I started asking questions, and I just never stopped. The struggles of those years have been invaluable to me. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if everything had just followed my script.
If you’d like to continue the conversation with Carolyn, head over to the Whitby Forum and the Synergy Women’s Network. Carolyn has also written several excellent books about God’s vision for women. Her most recent book, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, published in March, “offers a positive, kingdom approach to the changes, challenges and opportunities facing women throughout the world today.