Hello Anna and Elizabeth,
…I have one question concerning your book and the mindset my father has raised me and my siblings on. My father believes that it is right to send me and my sister to college to develop skills in our area of interest (like, for me, it is music) so that we have a degree and real-world skills to fall back on just in case something may happen in the future and we need to work. …My father is extremely practical and wants to prepare us for the real world well enough because he knows he won’t be around forever. He wants to prepare us for every circumstance and that means even the thought of 1. never getting married or 2. perhaps our father might die early or, if we marry, our husbands might die early. Is it right to dwell on the worse case scenario and prepare for it?
This world isn’t stable and with the new president in office, times are going to get tough. Life as we know it might change forever and many of the luxuries and ease we’ve experienced may not always be here. So, how does one go about this? I don’t know how to reconcile your writings on preparing at home now and my dad’s wish that we get “real-world” skills to equip ourselves for the future to be able to get a stable job if need be. Our dad would certainly love for us to get married and have families and homes of our own. But he does not believe life will be easy and allow for many of the comforts that many of us once enjoyed. While he is all for preparing ourselves as women at home now, he is also pushing us towards college and being able to fall back on a real job in case everything fails.
Just In Case…
This letter represents most of the “what if” questions nagging at girls who choose to live at home, or are considering doing so. Is living at home and forgoing college and workplace a realistic and sensible decision in our economy? Will we be prepared for “real-world” scenarios and crises, “just in case”?
These are responsible questions to ask, and we commend this young woman for being practical about the vicissitudes of real life and the economy. We believe the Proverbs 31 woman was able to smile at the future (v. 25) not only because she trusted in the sovereignty of God, but also because she made herself ready for it. A sensible education for a girl should prepare her for the most likely scenarios she may face. Of course, if we spend more of our time and money preparing for worst-case scenario than working toward best-case scenario, we may not be ready for God’s best. So how should a girl prepare to be ready for anything, while working toward the ideal? Let’s start by remembering this: The best defense is a good offense.
Strengthening Our Arms… For Work.
Widowhood, never marrying, being orphaned, etc. are very real possibilities. But even in a happy and stable marriage, economic hard times, lay-offs, pay-cuts, etc. are even more real possibilities. Is there a point where a girl may have to set aside her aspirations of being at home “to be practical” — to give up “luxury and ease” to work for money?
Here’s the forgotten principle that made home-working womanhood economically viable once, in good times and bad. Industry is a fundamental feminine virtue. Biblical womanhood has never been about luxury and ease. Biblical womanhood is diligent, resourceful and fruitful, and its axiom is “no lack of gain.”
Work — even paid work — is not something a biblical woman resorts to just when times get tough. Let’s go back to our Proverbs 31 woman. By all measures today, her situation was perfect — successful husband (v23), disposable income (v16) — even maidservants! (v15). Yet what do we see her doing from the darkness of the early morning through the night? Laboring. Producing. Earning. Increasing. Even in her comfortable circumstances, she embraced the privilege of productive work, the holy dignity in labor that the Lord first demonstrated Himself. Of all her virtues (generosity, kindness, wisdom, etc.), this chapter spotlights one virtue more than any other: her industry.
Regardless of our times or circumstances, Christians need to labor; not just to earn money, to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, but to take dominion of the world under Christ — to increase, to spread civilization, to make disciples of all the nations. The goal isn’t only to sustain ourselves, or to pay for our play, but to increase and multiply. R.J. Rushdoony observes, “In any society where work is seen simply as an economic necessity and fact, there will be a decline in productivity towards the subsistence level. If men only work to eat (or to play) the meaning and the goal of work soon fades away.” (R.J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology)
But we must define our terms. “Working” does not necessarily mean holding down a steady, paying job in the workforce. Though working is, we believe, a duty for all Christians, men and women alike, we also see in Scripture that God assigns different arenas of work for both. As the “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” summarizes it:
13. Since the woman was created as a helper to her husband, the bearer of children, and a “keeper at home,” the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home, although her domestic calling, as a representative of and helper to her husband, may well involve activity in the marketplace and larger community. (Gen. 2:18ff.; Prov. 31:10-31; Tit. 2:4-5)
14. While unmarried women may have more flexibility in applying the principle that women were created for a domestic calling, it is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion (industry, commerce, civil government, the military, etc.). The exceptional circumstance (singleness) ought not redefine the ordinary, God-ordained social roles of men and women as created. (Gen. 2:18ff.; Josh. 1:14; Jdg. 4; Acts 16:14)
In the Garden of Eden, the curse God gave to the man was that he would have difficulty in providing, while for the woman it was difficulty in bearing children. Man’s duty to provide for his family was affirmed in 1 Timothy 5:8, while the Bible’s instruction to women never indicates that they are to go out to support themselves. Scripture goes into detail about how women without fathers or husbands are to be provided for, and both Old and New Testaments are filled with exhortations to protect and provide for the widows and fatherless. In other words: no matter how strained the circumstances, women should not have to become the vocational helpers of men other than their husbands and fathers for a paycheck.
But this does not mean that women can’t look for creative ways to augment the family income through entrepreneurial endeavors from home.  Though it is a man’s duty to provide, providing doesn’t mean creating a luxurious atmosphere where his wife and daughters don’t have to labor or do anything hard. Though we can safely assume the well-respected Mr. Proverbs 31 was a good provider, his wife nonetheless worked with her hands to enrich the lives of others, and increased their income at the same time — from home.
This used to be a mainstay of biblical economics. In times when women used to turn to their spindles and looms rather than to novels and soap operas, they didn’t have to feel financially helpless or useless. Production, rather than consumption and entertainment, was their way of life, and thus their way of life was never in jeopardy. Nor were “real-world skills” something they kept stored away “to fall back on” — “just in case” they lost their life of luxury and ease — they were developing and using them every day.
We believe it would be wise for every young lady to amass a number of skills that could be used to generate income. Business, in its most basic sense, involves exchanging goods or services for money. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who figure out what services are in demand, or needed. They develop marketable skills. We see that the Proverbs 31 woman had multiple marketable skills, and there was a demand for her services: her fine linen sold, and merchants bought her belts (v24). People will always have needs, and any smart girl should be able to spot one and find a way to meet it.
The tricky thing about marketable skills, though, is that they have to be actually marketable. Demands change: what was needed a hundred years ago may be useless to people now, and hand-crocheted doilies cannot compete with web-design today. When considering mastering any skill, we should ask, do people really need this? Our own hobbies, interests and fancies should come in second-place to what people around us need. Girls who learn to think outside of themselves and take responsibility for others will be well-armed to navigate the real world, not only as adults, but as leaders.
Some question that girls who have only lived at home will really be prepared for the “real world.” A real woman should already be living in the real world, whether orphaned, abandoned, widowed, or part of a loving family. Those of us blessed with happy families and comfortable homes shouldn’t use them as a buffer zone from the concerns of the real world, any more than as an excuse to be lazy and incompetent. It would be great if every girl knew how to manage a schedule, plan meetings, buy groceries, pay the bills, defend her faith to antagonists, balance the check-book, take a plane, start a business, give a presentation, change a tire, buy a house, make clothes, deal with emergencies, butcher a chicken, write a book, and learn any new thing as she needs to know it. Living in the real world is actually a great way to learn these real-world skills. Families do these kinds of things all the time, and girls who are very involved in their families’ affairs should get a lot of experience navigating the world the way real people do — even more than those who pay an exorbitant sum of money to learn so-called real-world skills in the artificial, insulated environment of a college campus.
But Don’t I Need a Degree?
That depends on what you want it for. You don’t need a degree to make money, as Bill Gates has sufficiently demonstrated for us. You don’t need a degree to handle or use money, to start a business, to buy low and sell high, to exchange goods and services, to prove that you have a skill, or to produce things people need.
If you want to impress a bureaucratic hiring agency and get a job in the workplace, a degree will likely help; but then, if you are a good businesswoman, you must consider whether this privilege is worth the $100,000+ it generally costs (not counting the time involved) and whether your earnings would equal your investment. One thing that will not help your husband is bringing a mountain of school debt into your marriage. This has happened to many of our friends — some even felt they had to put their dream of motherhood and homemaking on the shelf, even after marriage, so they could work long enough to pay off their degrees.
But even a degree will not guarantee security, any more than not owning a degree will guarantee poverty.
Appealing To Fathers
One thing we appreciated about the letter above is the way the writer demonstrated a respect for her father’s wishes, as a daughter should. We also have a lot of respect for fathers who want their daughters to be well-prepared and capable, ready to take on the world. (We have a father like this ourselves.) If your father loves you enough to care about your future, be especially grateful for him, and do not despair if his methods seem different than yours. A father who has his daughter’s best interests at heart is generally open to sensible, rational and humble suggestions from her — especially if his daughter has established a good rapport with him, and he knows he can trust her to be working with him and not against him. If a daughter thinks she may have discovered a better way, she should be able to appeal to him respectfully from Scripture, and able to suggest solid alternatives. Moreover, she must be able to diligently follow through with those alternatives. Often fathers send their daughters off to college because they know their daughters are not diligent or motivated enough to educate themselves or be productive at home.
The times certainly are uncertain, and more may be required of us as things become more unstable. Three things, however, remain certain:
1. We cannot rely on earthly promises of security (degrees, “stable” jobs) — only on biblical promises of security (the blessings of God upon obedience and diligence). In these unstable times, we will need to rely less on those things that will change and more on the things that will never change. The benefits of government accreditation, paychecks, personal peace and affluence, and the illusion of stability could pass away; the value of hard work, ingenuity, and faith will not.
2. Faithfulness is blessed; compromise is not. We will not deserve the blessing of God if we we respond to calamity by compromising our principles, disregarding gender roles, or acting out of desperation instead of faith.
3. Work is noble, and required of every person — “Not having to work,” or eating the bread of idleness, are not for Christian women. Every girl in every situation should strive after the example of the fruitful Proverbs 31 woman.
Both those who put their trust in a comfortable, easy lifestyle and those who put their trust in worldly pragmatism have reason to fear “what ifs”; but a productive, creative woman full of faith will have no lack of gain. Let us then strengthen our arms, work willingly with our hands, and smile at the future.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33
1. When we use the word “home,” we are referring to the borders of the family estate and endeavors. The Proverbs 31 woman’s family was clearly her first priority, and her work was in the context of her family, though it sometimes took her outside her “house.” We believe the principle here is that a woman works with and for her family, within the jurisdiction of her father/husband — whether her family works at home, on the road, in an office, in a family store, or in the fields.
2. This was more true in cultures where the society and economy were established according to biblical principles, such as colonial and pioneer America. In countries where work was despised, and woman’s function and value was primarily a decorative one, women were in a very vulnerable position. In feudal Europe, for example, a young gentlewoman without a wealthy father or large dowry often had to resort to either a mercenary marriage, becoming a spinster governess, relying on the charity of unpleasant wealthy relatives, or “falling into ruin.”