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Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Untraditional Tradition


“Where are you going to college next year?” is probably the number one question asked of high school senior women. Not, “How are you planning to serve Christ in his Kingdom after you’ve finished secondary education?” The less customary of the two questions, the second question, presupposes that the woman will, or at least suggests that she should, serve Christ in her near future endeavors. The question is one of how, not whether. Whereas at best, the more standard query even if it assumes without mention that the woman is to serve Christ in her future endeavors presupposes that she will do so only in the orbit of further formal education. At best the question becomes, “Where are you going to college next year so that you can best serve Lord?” Does that question sound strange only because it is not often asked? Or does it sound strange for some other reasons? Another question we might ask is why is it assumed that college is the defacto medium by which a young woman is to serve the Lord in her immediate post high school years?

As a general rule college affords the woman the greatest opportunity to land a career outside the home. Let’s even assume for argument sake that it affords the greatest opportunities across the board for pure education. Are these the only disciplines, career and academia, that the Christian woman is to pursue? Or is she to be active in pursuing other disciplines, such as the knowledge and practice of true holiness, righteousness and grace? Clearly a woman can pursue and practice godly living in the pursuit of science and a career. Yet she cannot pursue science and career if she pursues Christ centered living in a particular way that would exclude college and career. For example, a woman whose ambition is to remain in her father’s home in order to serve full time in the context of her family, church and community cannot pursue a career that requires rigorous formal education outside the home. So isn’t the obvious choice to pursue a formal education and career for the glory of God? Why not do it all after all?

God does not reveal to us the details of our calling. He gives us biblical principles to live by in order that we might work out our salvation, even with fear and trembling. As we walk along life’s path we are never, not even for a moment, to lean on our own understanding but in every way we are to acknowledge God and in doing that he will direct our paths. So right from the start we are not to come to God with our lawful desires and ask him to bless them. Rather, we are to strive to have our desires and affections informed, shaped and confirmed by the word of God’s wisdom and the Spirit of his grace. With that in mind, how many women seek God’s leading on whether or not to pursue the usual course of college? The answer is pretty much the same as how many fathers even consider any other option for their daughters? Apart from serious consideration, how can one feel confident that even an attempt at a godly pursuit of college and career is the choice God would have a woman make? Again, we are not to come to God asking him to bless our desires and choices until we have first come to him in a posture of humility and neediness, asking him to give us the desires of his heart.

So what’s a woman to do? Here are some ideas that are by no means exhaustive.

1. First off, a woman should think critically about the popular defenses for pursuing college and career. Any defense of college and career that makes appeals to blessings received simply begs the question of whether the decision is a wise one. God is gracious and good. Not only does he bless us in our unwise yet lawful pursuits; he even gives us good things in our rebellion. Accordingly, God’s kind providence that might follow any decision is never proof that the decision was a wise one. Moreover, any defense of college and career that points to the very desires for such pursuits equally skirts the issue. All our desires are tainted with sin and not all lawful desires are wise. Accordingly, lawful desires cannot vindicate the wisdom to pursue such desires. Finally, any defense of college and career that points to natural ability begs the question of how one should use those enabling gifts.

After coming to a greater appreciation that a career outside the home cannot be justified as the wisest decision based upon blessing, desire or ability, one can begin to evaluate a decision to go against older traditions that are now considered passé.

2. A godly woman would do well to acknowledge the opportunity cost of college and career pursuits. She should know, in other words, what she must reject in order to pursue college and career. There is a severe cost, namely a particular kind of Christian servitude, expensed by taking fifteen credit hours and studying two to three hours per week per classroom hour. The Apostle Paul is clear that a single person’s interests can be more narrowly focused on the Lord than a married person who must have his interests “divided” by focusing on his spouse. “The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit, but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:34 In light of this revelation, the godly woman would do well to know that in her singleness she is most enabled to pursue the Lord. Every godly woman with the help of her father would do well to wrestle with how she will spend her single years as a vessel of honor, glorifying God and enjoying him.

3. Finally, it would seem wise for the woman to consider her probable future calling as a wife and mother as she considers her intermediary years between high school and marriage. There are generally two types of considerations, one positive and the other negative. Will the woman’s post-high school, pre-marital pursuit positively impact her ability to serve as a wife and mother? Will she pursue domestic skills and learn hospitality in those years of singleness that will enable her to fulfill her calling before God? On the negative side, will the woman’s post-high school, pre-marital pursuit negatively impact her ability to prosper in her future calling, for instance by taking on financial obligations that will leave her no choice but to work outside the home and utilize day care, if not even prolong marriage and child bearing? In a word, the godly woman should be prepared to answer the question of how a college and career path or a more domestic pursuit will prepare her for her probable calling in the Lord. Maybe spending the money that would otherwise go to college for supervised travel abroad might be more beneficial in the long run!

In summary, a godly woman should think critically about the popular defenses of college and career in order that she might evaluate the prospect of college and career truthfully, without being pressed into any particular philosophy of calling. Simultaneously, the woman of excellence will weigh in the balance the opportunity costs of choosing one pursuit over another while considering the positive and negative impact any given pursuit will have upon one’s ultimate goal.

Not trusting in one's own understanding and desiring that the Lord direct one's path will no doubt require a tuning out of the world's agenda and a tuning of the heart to God's ways. Because Christianity is a radical religion we should not be suprised that choices rooted in the principles of the faith will appear extreme even to Christians - especially as the church becomes more at home in the world.

Ron

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19 comments:

KC said...

Ron,

You wrote: "Whereas at best, the more standard query even if it assumes without mention that the woman is to serve Christ in her future endeavors, presupposes that she will do so only in the orbit of further formal education."

You were being quite generous with that statement. "At best" the person could mean what you are you willing to grant but the truth of the matter is that people are not thinking in terms of glorifying God and enjoying him forever where college is concerned. That's why they don't ask "where are you going to college so you can best glorify God?"

Good post!

KC

Anonymous said...

Ron,

What do you mean by "opportunity costs"?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hi A,

By opportunity cost I mean those things that cannot be accomplished due to those things that are accomplished. For instance (and in this context), a woman who would desire to glorify God and through glorifying God enjoy him through going to college for four years will forgo, indeed must forgo, in those years the “opportunities” of glorifying God and enjoying him in other lawful pursuits. We must consider these opportunity costs. It is without question that a godly eighteen year old who is free from the time commitment of being further educated is much more free to be a channel of blessing – here and now – in her home, church and community than she otherwise could be if her primary pursuit were school. Indeed, the opportunities to be blessed with joy unspeakable through the pursuit of blessing others are extraordinary outside of the pursuit of college. These blessings that are available to give and through giving received back, sadly, are not even considered when decisions are made about those intermediary years between high school and college. We must be honest with ourselves; women who pursue college (presumably for a career or something to fall back on) are not in the same position (as those who do not) to be a blessing to their parents, siblings, church brothers and sisters, the elderly and neighbors. As responsible Christians who have been bought with a great price - that is something to be reckoned with before God as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. The godly woman will endeavor to glorify her Savior with all her heart, soul, mind and strength. Accordingly, the godly woman who would pursue college rather than serving God in other creative ways should be fully persuaded that a full time pursuit of college is the best use of her God-given heart, soul, mind and strength. In contrast, just imagine the single woman who would forgo college, even at the risk of taking on the stigma of not being more formally / traditionally educated in order to help her mother home school; or so that she could visit the aged, or work at a crisis pregnancy center. How about the gifted and talented single eighteen year old woman who would spend much of her time giving piano lessons at a much reduced cost or even for free, so that financially disadvantaged children could be blessed by learning to play? Or how about the single eighteen year old woman who would choose to bless others with free babysitting so that parents in the church could get a free night out with their spouse, which could be a strengthening to their marriage. Again, the opportunities are extraordinary to serve in this low-pressure, kingdom building way. The blessings that would be received by giving in this way would be incredibly rewarding, both here and now and eternally rewarding too! :)

When I consider these things I have to say “what a great bargain!” for the Christian woman who is so inclined to reject the opportunity cost of college in order to spend her time glorifying God and enjoying him in a manner that is now considered an untraditional industry for young women. I can only think that there are many Christian women out there who are missing the ecstatic joy of being free to enjoy God in this most useful, peaceful and satisfying way. If the blessings of which I speak are there for the taking, then I can only think that the Devil in Hell would like nothing more than to obscure this beautiful path from the view of godly women – even through the promotion of “the God glorifying accomplishments of college pursuit.” Oh if I could only paint a more accurate picture of what I am thinking! We have yet one life and we are called to make wise choices, for our life is not our own and it is but a vapor.

Ron

Anonymous said...

So woman shouldn't go to college?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Nope, never said that… :v) There’s liberty for women going to college. But be careful because there is liberty in a lot of things. The question is not whether one may go to college without breaking a moral law but rather whether it is the best use of a woman’s years after high school. Each woman, with the help of her father (and mother but primarily her father) must evaluate biblical principles as they pertain to her own circumstances, which is no less than to evaluate one’s calling before God. It is not enough to bring lawful decisions to God, asking him to bless them. Rather we must seek to have our desires and subsequent decisions informed and shaped by the Master, for our life is not our own but rather Christ (is our life).

I think there's a tendency for us all to obey God's external law and even enjoy his blessings yet with hearts that are somewhat cold and not consecrated. Obviously this side of glory our hearts can never fully be tender and consecrated. Notwithstanding, I think we can and do make many important decisions in the Christian life that do not violate God's law per se but do violate his leading. I believe most decidedly that things we are morally and ethically entitled to will be the things that distance us most from God.

Ron

Diana said...

this is an intriguing post, one that i did not think of when i was graduating high school, pretty much because i always assumed i would go to college.
i understand being extremely "career driven" can hinder a woman from pursuing God as a wife and mother. it takes great wisdom and balance and humility. especially the humility, because it is easy to get tempted to find identity in a career rather than as a wife or child of God.
however, given the circumstances of my life, i praise God for choosing college. the time i spent away from home helped me to grow closer to God and gave me opportunities to share with others about my faith; people i would not normally interact with.
also, having a degree has allowed me to get a job that pays me well so i can bless my family. i am trying to work as hard as i can now so i can save as much as possible for later. i have every intention of being a stay at home mom (it is my dream job!) and because of the degree i have, i have the credibility to work from home if ever need be.
but thank you for this food for thought!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hi Diana,

I’m glad you found the post thought provoking. I agree with you that being “career driven” can (and I believe will) hinder a woman from pursuing God in her calling as a mother and wife. And yes, it is all too easy to succumb to the temptation of having the career define the person. Good insights!

I appreciate your transparency in saying that you never considered these things because you always “assumed” that you would go to college. That touches upon one of the points of the post, which I tried to relay to Anonymous. We are to ask God to bless our desires and choices after we have first come to him in a posture of humility and neediness, asking him to give us the desires of his heart.

You said you are “praising God for choosing college” because of the good that came out of that pursuit. Of course all the believer’s choices will work out to the good. (Romans 8:28) But as I tried to point out in point #1, we may not conclude that we made a good decision simply because blessings follow. Maybe you mean that you are praising God not for your choice of going to college per se, but rather for the good he brought about in your life due to a choice you made on your own apart from seeking God’s wisdom and leading toward another possible direction. I’ve had to do that many a time, Diana! God is very good and gracious!

God will always cause his people to “grow closer” to him, and it would be a rare occasion that he would not give his people “opportunities to share with others [their] faith.” When I visited the prison I saw that God extends these kind providences for his elect prisoners behind bars who by their own bad choices have found themselves growing in grace. I know in my life that some of my worst decisions have been the occasion for some of the greatest blessings, but I would not want to attribute the blessings to the decisions, not that you are doing that. I simply want to make that clear for other readers. My point is simply that we should be careful about praising God for our choices, when what we really should be praising God for is the blessings he delights in bringing out of choices that are propelled by desires that were according to our own assumptions.

Having a degree that helps one pay the bills needs to be considered more exhaustively I would think. I spoke of “opportunity cost” (point #2) in the post and I also spoke about considering how a woman’s choice of college will impact her ability to fulfill her calling later in life, both as a wife and mother. Under opportunity cost I focused on spiritual opportunity cost. I could just as easily have included the opportunity cost of forgoing work for four years. I have found that from a purely dollars and cents perspective college for most Christian women is a bad economic decision. Let’s say college only costs $60,000 and that a young woman would only earn a total of $40,000 in her four years following high school. Without even considering appreciation on investment, the woman who goes to college is $100,000 in the whole upon graduation. The incremental salary bump due to a college education would have to be significant to make up that amount of money in a short period of time if the woman ends up becoming a stay-at-home Mom soon after graduating from college. Moreover, if the woman takes on college loans herself, then there are certain obligations she will then saddle her husband with upon graduation. This can also impact future decisions, as I discussed in point #3.

In the final analyses, “God’s kind providence that might follow any decision is never proof that a decision was a wise one.” The question is not whether good things follow any decision, for God is always good. The question is whether we are leaning on our own understanding or God’s. The point of the post is that the woman of God is to consider the opportunity costs of choosing one pursuit over another, while also considering the positive and negative impact any given pursuit will have upon one’s ultimate goal.

Unworthy but His,

Ron

Anonymous said...

As always, very thought provoking.

One can legally stop their formal education after the 8th grade, as Amish girls do. I'm curious as to why you focus on the transition from HS to college as a decision point.

Anonymous said...

Ron,

I'm glad that you mentioned being educated in a more formal way. I just learned of a woman whose father, after high school, offered her the option of traveling and studying a list books and writing papers on them. She turned down the offer and now regrets it. She feels it was a missed opportunity to learn and experience that which she will never have the time again to learn or experience. How many of us have found ourselves in colleges/universities where we are studying material we have no interest in studying but have to in order to graduate. I "wish" I had had the opportunity to study and travel whatever and wherever I wanted without the guilt that it wasn't enough if I didn't go to college.

A College Educated Mother at Home

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

A,

I was trying to focus on the decision that is typically exercised by the young woman (as opposed to her parents.) In the case of one who might stop her formal education after eighth grade, that decision falls squarely upon the parent not the student. Having said that, the principles I touched upon are pretty much the same. Obviously the opportunity cost for the eight grader of not moving on in certain subjects becomes greater and the opportunity cost to minister for the eighth grader are much lower since she would still be laying hold of the basic rudiments of the faith that would enable her to be effective in most areas of ministry.

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"I "wish" I had had the opportunity to study and travel whatever and wherever I wanted without the guilt that it wasn't enough if I didn't go to college."

This, I believe, touches upon one of the main reasons many women go to college. There can be a stigma of not going. Consequently, we too often find woman at universities just getting by in majors that will have little utility after graduation. After graduation such women often find positions having nothing to do with what they were to have been studying! In less rigorous degrees, lectures are hardly necessary so the pure education could have been obtained on-line or from Borders! :)

Anonymous said...

Ron,
Food for thought. It seems like you are getting caught up in semantics in calling Diana to task for "praising God in choosing college." Are you assuming that she did not pray heartily in discerning God's will in this matter?

Let's not get excited... said...

”Are you assuming that she did not pray heartily in discerning God's will in this matter?

The only assumptions one could possibly make would be predicated upon Diana’s communication about herself. Diana acknowledged that she had not considered these things because she had always assumed she would go to college. Consequently, no matter how “heartily” she might have prayed, she by her own admission, and much to her credit I would think, seems to acknowledge that she did not pray for God’s leading into a non-collegiate pursuit. By her own say-so she always assumed she’d go to college and consequently, I would think, prayed in accordance with that pre-commitment as opposed to praying for insight into other possible avenues that would not include college.

It seems like you are getting caught up in semantics in calling Diana to task for "praising God in choosing college."

I’m not sure what “getting caught up in semantics” means. As was said to Diana, “Maybe you mean that you are praising God not for your choice of going to college per se, but rather for the good he brought about in your life due to a choice you made on your own apart from seeking God’s wisdom and leading toward another possible direction. I’ve had to do that many a time, Diana! God is very good and gracious! That, of course, would be a good thing.” I would hope that Diana would be pleased with such a charitable rendering of her statement.

Grace and Peace

Anonymous said...

let's not get excited,
Here's my point. Just because Diana assumed she would always go to college doesn't mean she did not pray fervently about her direction - college or otherwise. In other words, I think you may be assuming yourself, that she never prayed about a non-collegiate pursuit. I think we need to be careful about invading other people's heart, motives and life direction.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Dear Anonymous,

The young woman said more than what you have relayed. Not only did she say that she always assumed she'd go to college; she said that she never considered these things of which I spoke - the primary thing being an alternative path than college - because of that governing assumption. Her assumption, in other words, precluded her from considering these things. Please consider that the very reason this woman gave for her not ever thinking about these things was indexed to her own assumption (a presupposition of sorts) of always going to college. Who am I (or you for that matter) to question the consistent and intelligible meaning of another person’s words?

Certainly you are not willing to argue that someone actually prayed about that which was never even thought about, are you? Since this young woman volunteered that she had not thought about these things, I’m willing to believe that she neither prayed about them. If you would like to believe that people from to time pray about things they don’t even think about, then don’t let me stop you. :)

Finally, and possibly most importantly, I find it somewhat out of place that a warning would be issued concerning invading one’s heart, motive and direction of life given the written testimony of this thread.

Blessings,

Ron

P.S. This is not a message board. If you wish to make a comment on the thesis set forth, then indeed - please share your thoughts. I will be constrained to refrain, however, from publishing comments that resemble the last one.

David A Booth said...

Ron,

I think your question - “How are you planning to serve Christ in his Kingdom after you’ve finished secondary education?” - is a good one to ask both young men and young women.

It is very easy to be caught up in a system of simply doing what is expected of you. At least, that is what I did when I was 18.

David

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Amen Brother.

I understand I might not see you when I'm at your church the last Sunday of April. I'll be up your way for a wedding on Saturday.

Ron

Diana said...

Just to clarify, Ron was correct. I did make my college decision under a pre-assumption that I would go to college. Yes, I prayed about where I would go and what I would study, but in the naiveté that a child of 17 possesses, I prayed with a slightly closed mind. Ron was also correct in adjusting my statement to say that I praise God for how He graciously worked out my decision. I have no regrets as to what I chose, but still wonder what God would have done with my life had I not selected the particular path I chose.
Don't worry- I wasn't offended by any semantics and I appreciate Ron's wisdom. Perhaps I have different views on the necessity of college in today's society, but I also very much appreciate the incredible ways a woman can serve without the commitment of an academic pursuit.
Blessings!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Diana,

Thank you for weighing in as you did. I didn't think I read into anything you said. It's always good to be vindicated!

Blessings,

Ron