Culture At Large

Lean in? Recline? How about ‘join the body’

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

I’m interested by how often I’ve seen a recent Washington Post op-ed by Rosa Brooks, questioning the “lean-in” manifesto of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, circulate in my social media. It seems that many people – not just working mothers - feel overwhelmed by competing expectations in different parts of their lives. It’s hard for us to sort out what are expectations others have for us - like bosses and family members and maybe other parents - and what expectations we have for ourselves.

I don’t know that it’s really fair to pin those excessive expectations on Sandberg in particular. Especially when, as I understand it, a big part of her position is that women who want to succeed at work should find partners who will do the majority of the “second shift” of housekeeping and childcare. But it is easy to start to feel resentful when you feel pulled in a lot of directions and other people seem to “have it all” with ease. Certainly it’s my experience that “having it all” seems out of reach because doing anything well and meaningfully takes a lot of work, focus and attention. It’s tiring – which is why Brooks’ opposing manifesto is a call to recline.

A great thing about the Bible - and the church - is that it doesn’t ask us to do everything and be good at everything. Paul talks about the church as a body, and each member like a body part. This metaphor is a great way to think about how much we need each other in our differences, but it’s also a reminder that if you’re an ear, you don’t have to feel bad that you’re not an amazing smeller. Paul talks a lot about different spiritual gifts and roles, and we should see this as freeing - especially in an era that seems to emphasize an obligation to do anything and everything.

A great thing about the Bible - and the church - is that it doesn’t ask us to do everything and be good at everything.

God wants us to work hard at our vocations. Paul exhorts the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” But he doesn’t say “Do all the things you could possibly do to other people’s standards.” I think our culture in general has to come to terms with people having different callings. The church is well-equipped to lead this thinking, because we have long understood different gifts. Yet sometimes I think we get caught up in cultural rules about who does what and forget to look to the Spirit for how we are called to work together as a community.

So that’s my Christian call to people relieved by Rosa Brooks’ urge to “recline” instead of “lean in.” Maybe do some of both. Let others lead where they are gifted, and put your heart into where you are called. Think less about you doing it all or having it all, and instead on your contribution to an “us” - a body of Christ and a family of God, working together. Then we can have the confidence to take a Sabbath, because we rest in God’s faithfulness through others.

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