On Quitting My Job

I’m employed by a secular company (I still struggle a bit with complementarian stereotypes, and I am nervous about admitting that to the larger conservative evangelical culture, though I think Christian culture is settling down a bit on that topic). I taught middle and high school math back in the day. But since we moved to Seattle in 2002, I have taught math at the local community college. Since we had kids, I’ve only taught one or two online classes (which isn’t really teaching at all with the computer program we use) because it allowed me to keep my foot in the door at the community college but stay at home with the boys with maximum flexibility.

During any given week during the last 6 years since I’ve had kids, if you asked me that familiar question–“What do you do?”–the true answer would be I change poopy diapers and clean macaroni off the walls. But the answer I always gave was, “I teach math at the community college,” despite the fact that it was about the smallest number of hours of anything I did in a given week.

Well, all that’s coming to an end. I am “retiring” from the community college. And I’m nostalgic. Teaching math defined my life for a long time. I used to be really good at it. Now, I’m marginally effective, though I won’t go into a discourse on the value of traditional verses online classes. My husband says I have the gift of teaching, and I have tried to steward that. I enjoyed teaching, and I enjoyed math. Watching the light come on in a student’s eyes after they had struggled with a math concept has always been an amazing, rewarding moment for me. Someday, I’ll write a post on the value of mathematics to theology, but for now, I’ll just say that those moments when a student finally understands that math has value to their daily lives make teaching it totally worthwhile.

Teaching online classes at the community college was helpful to our family for a while. However, I’m relieved to move on in one sense. It’s been a distraction from things that now are much more important to me. In another sense though, I’m sad, fighting the concern I think most moms have that their lives will get swallowed up in the meaningless practical daily tasks of raising kids, being a wife, and keeping a home. Yes, I said meaningless. Because sometimes no matter how many times someone tries to paint it as beautiful and valuable, cleaning up ravioli off the floor just seems meaningless.

I struggle like everyone else. WHAT WILL DEFINE MY LIFE?! And answering “I teach college math” when someone asks “What do you do?” has at times been a bandaid over a deeper struggle. I feel overwhelmed by the gushing river of responsibilities that is my home and ineffective at my attempts to manage it. And I so often feel GUILTY.

I don’t feel guilty because I DON’T value what I do in my home or don’t see raising my boys and loving my husband as my first priority tasks, but because I DO. I don’t need lectures on my home as my ministry. I know how important this job is. And that’s what makes it so painful when I fail. My husband thinks I’m a good mom, and that has helped me tremendously, but more often than not, I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, running as fast as I can, just to not lose track of all the good moms I’m trailing so far behind.

But, boy howdy, I can teach math!! I need to be good AT SOMETHING. And when I applied myself to teaching math, I seemed a lot better at that than cooking meals, cleaning house, or raising boys.

Teaching was a cool thing over the years because the rewards came a lot quicker. You had high school kids for 9 months (or college students for just 11 weeks). My objectives were completed quickly, and once I turned in grades each quarter for a batch of students, my obligation to them was done. I could watch them walk out of my classroom with satisfaction knowing I had met my personal objectives with them. Not so with husband and kids. I talked about the long term nature of our investment in our family here, and that seemed to resonate with a lot of you. Raising kids takes multiple decades. Marriage is for a lifetime. It’s not a sprint. It’s a long, hard marathon.

I had a conversation with a friend recently about motherhood. She and I have similar mental battles. While lots of women struggle with pride in their homes, both she and I struggle with self condemnation—certain that our children will one day, instead of rising up and calling us blessed, will call us something else, possibly unfit for publication. She said her adult child regularly tells her now that she IS a good mom and seems to genuinely love and appreciate her, and yet my friend STILL struggles with self-condemnation for mistakes she made as a young mother.

It’s not logical. But it is real in her heart. And for her and I, no amount of external affirmation can fill us in that place deep in our psyche that whispers, “Failure!” to us over and over again. Only Christ can meet us there, and only a full and robust understanding of the gospel upon which we regularly meditate and practically apply can meet us in this need.

*I am made in the image of God.

*I am a sinner marred by the fall who is being conformed back to the image of Christ through His sacrifice on the cross.

*God hasn’t just forgiven me for my sins and failures, though He most certainly has done that! But He has also lavished on me His grace, clothing me in Christ’s robe of righteousness. He sees me through Christ’s sacrifice, and I never appear inadequate to Him in that robe.

*My home is now, as my teaching was then, a place to steward my gifts for the kingdom of God. I’m a steward for King Jesus. And He will equip me for every good work to which He calls me in this season.

*His approval of me is not based on my maturity or perfection, but on Christ’s maturity and His perfection. And my failures teaching my students or raising my children are TRULY covered by His sacrifice.

As I resign at the community college, I’m letting go of that last little tie I had to a time in life when I excelled (or at least when I FELT like I excelled). And I’m going to firmly live in the middle of a place where I don’t excel. The good thing is that it pushes me out of my comfort zone and reminds me of the basic truths to which I must cling at every stage of life—those big, robust truths encapsulated in that little word GOSPEL.

[Disclaimer: this post is not intended to influence either for or against working moms. It’s about our identity in Christ and security in Him. Period. ]

17 Responses to On Quitting My Job

  1. Barefoot in the Kitchen October 1, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    I am a new reader to your blog, but I wanted to say thank you for this post! And more so, thank you for your honesty. I am not a mom, but am praying about marrying my boyfriend and if this happens, I will become a step-mom to two kids. As much as I see the Lord's hand in my journey, I struggle with fears of failure and inadequacy in the step-mom department. Your post about following the Lord into areas where you know you are called to be, but lack confidence really blessed my heart. Thank you!

  2. rebecca October 1, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    I loved this post! I was used to excelling in everything—what I couldn't do excellently, I just didn't do—and then I had my kids. Looking back now that they're grown, I'd say that by God's grace, I did a good enough job. But since I knew others who seemed naturally better at mothering, I felt inadequate. Your list at the bottom of the post is very helpful and a good reminder to us all. (I learned over time that almost everyone who does any introspection at all feels inadequate to parent.)

  3. Kristie October 1, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    Thank you, thank you for this reminder of where the gospel meets me in my feelings of inadequacy as a wife and mother.

  4. H.E.R. Impressions October 1, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    Thanks for sharing. I don't naturally excel at homemaking or motherhood. I would so much rather work a full-time job, but that's not what I'm called to do at this point in my life. Blessings to you as you focus on raising your family. I'm certain God will use your gifts in ways you can't imagine at this time. You are not teaching math for a season, but that season will end with something perhaps even better.

  5. Jenn A October 1, 2011 at 4:35 am #

    I totally relate to everything you said. I regularly struggle with guilt over my failures as a wife and mother. Thank you for this post.

  6. Alice October 1, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    Oh goodness me, thanks for saying it out loud! What a helpful reminder. X

  7. Emily October 1, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    This line rang true and brought me to tears as soon as I read it: “And for her and I, no amount of external affirmation can fill us in that place deep in our psyche that whispers, “Failure!” to us over and over again.”

    Thank you for this post, and your reminder again of exactly how the gospel meets us right here in this.

  8. the mcleans October 1, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    thanks. i needed that this morning!

  9. Janet F. October 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Math is very precise. Evaluation is cut-and-dried and it is clear when a task is completed. Homemaking and motherhood? Not so much.

    I made an abrupt shift, upon a mid-life marriage, to homemaking and being a stepmother with 50% custody. I found that my new job had some of the same features of self-employment, with all of the same, flexible potential for excellence, workaholism or self-indulgence.

    I think an evaluation standard, defining “excellence,” must be defined in each home according to the circumstances God allows for each season and under His authority–without comparison to others whose skill set and life issues differ.

    Many blessings as you journey forth, having cut your last, remaining tie to the comfortable and familiar.

    P.S. This is my first post, but I've been following your blog for several months. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and struggles.

  10. Roberta October 2, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    As a young mother with a strong willed child I pictured her as what God wants us to be–close to Him. She now is active in her church and said to me the other day that I taught her what it means to be a mother when she cleaned up vomit after her daughter got sick. She remembered me being so sick when she was sick with the stomach flu and cleaning up after her!

  11. Jessica October 2, 2011 at 4:34 am #

    Unsurprisingly, I've struggled with many of these same issues (“unsurprising” only because these problems seem to be inherent in human nature). When asked what I “do” (the instant moment of judgment in our meritocracy of a society), I've often responded that I care for my sick children… BUT, I studied biochemistry and theology, and aim to one day work in the church. Not because I don't see my work as mother as valuable, but rather because I feel fairly convinced that no one else does. As shallow as that is, it has been a personal struggle to stop caring when people judge me as generally useless to society and the overall population of intelligent people. I'm used to being thought excellent and skilled in practically everything (silly, but true). Motherhood is supremely humbling (as is “wifehood”), and I am certainly at the bottom of any list of “admirable homemakers”…. and probably even “adequate” homemakers. I truly don't have much relish for vacuum cleaners and such. But, if I've learned anything, it's that “mother” and “wife” are excellent roles for sanctification (and so far, that may actually be all I've learned…) Thank you for an insightful post. I think I will challenge myself this week to answer the ever-present occupation poll with ONLY “wife” and “mother”. 🙂

  12. Jen October 2, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately as a woman in her early thirties who recently became a wife. Until now, my identity has been mostly wrapped up in my job–mostly because my jobs were all-consuming and highly stressful. Now, I think, what if my husband gets a job somewhere else and we have to move? I would have to stop working for the first time in my life! I would “only” be his wife. Terrifying.

  13. Seda October 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    I know that this was probably not your intention, but I cried when I was reading this post. I am very familiar with the voice that shouts “failure!” and “useless!”
    Motherhood has been so good for my sanctification. I now understand (only slightly better) Paul when he wrote, “women shall be saved through childbearing.” I know this to be true for me. Having family and children saves me from myself; it saves me from the temptation to think that I am able to do anything apart from Christ.
    Thank you for writing.

  14. Luma October 3, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Thank you! Finally, someone who is not afraid to say that sometimes the menial tasks seem meaningless. I struggle in the same ways, Wendy. And you're right, only Christ can take away the self-condemnation.

  15. Rachael Starke October 5, 2011 at 4:12 am #

    And this is why the blogosphere is *awesome*. Because women like me discover women like you, and that neither of us are alone.

    I hear you on every point. I tell women regularly that all my natural gifts and abilities are outside the home. Almost everything about *good* parenting is unnatural to me. Which is why I'm married with three girls – so that my numerous weaknesses are the means of God glorifying Himself in giving me Jesus' strength.

    But anytime you want to wax lyrical on God being a mathematician, go for it Our school just went through a major nuclear war after our new, godly principal changed the math curriculum kind of suddenly. I spent a week researching different approaches to math and learning 1. how much I didn't know and 2. how math has so much to say to post-moderns about the beauty of absolute truth, embodied in a Savior.

  16. Liz October 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. I work very part-time in a field that I love and stay at home with my two young boys the rest of the week. I was amazed at well you articulated feelings that are very common to me (and apparently to many other women as well!). The wise words you provided encouraged me this morning.

  17. Anonymous October 12, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Your honesty moves me.
    I stay at home with my three littles, and I love it, truly I do – but if one were to judge me on the state the state of my household, well, I would certainly receive a failing grade. But, here is what I am learning, that good mothering (and wife-ing) is more about the unseen than the seen. It is more about the spiritual atmosphere of our homes than how many loads of laundry are piled on the floor, waiting to be folded. And, frankly, I am quite helpless to affect that atmosphere positively without a complete reliance on Christ to meet me in my weakness with his strength.

    Hmmm…that was a bit of a tangent. Well, I was bookkeeper until my 2nd child was born, and it took me at least 2 years to be comfortable not having a occupation that the world would see as valuable. But – it really isn't about what the world thinks, is it?