what are a woman’s purpose, calling, and role?

Two fabulous “roles”: Downton Abbey’s  Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley


What are a woman’s purpose, calling, and role?  And why all the confusion?


Religion researcher, George Barna, startled the evangelical world last summer when he reported the latest findings on the changes in religious activity in the lives of women during the past twenty years. He found that church attendance had dropped 11%, meaning that for the first time in American history, the majority of women, 56%, no longer attend church services during any given week. He discovered that 10% less women read their Bibles during the week with just four out of ten now doing so. This comes as no surprise since the number of women who believe the Bible to be a reliable resource for life and practice has dropped to 42%. And though Barna says women “have traditionally been the backbone of volunteer activities in the church,” there has been a whopping 31% reduction in the non-paid female work force in churches!

Though the “whys” behind these facts might be endless, the questions many women are asking are common and confusion abounds. What is my purpose in life? How do I know if I am doing what God has called me to do? Is there really only one role for me because I am a woman?  These are the questions I often hear and, unfortunately, the typical answers bring little satisfaction.  On top of that, the words purpose, calling, and role are used interchangeably, causing frustration and disillusionment.  Homeschooling moms, reflective and insightful women that they are, are often the ones asking these questions.


What is My Purpose in Life?

There are many moms who wake up every morning believing that their eternal purpose in life is to homeschool their children and I am here to tell you that this just is not true! In fact, God’s purpose for the Christian must be able to be applied to all peoples, men and women, in all times throughout history, and in all places: the United States, the deepest jungles of Papua, New Guinea, the offices of the Wall Street executive, the homeschooling mom who is grading math problems, peeling a carrot, or changing a diaper!  1 Peter 2:5-9 makes our purpose clear:

 “You yourselves, like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Our purpose in life is to proclaim God’s excellencies and to give testimony of His salvation!  Though homeschooling our children may be one way we do this, our purpose, our end goal, is to bring glory to God! Our own plans might fail, all the things that we thought should happen in our lives may never come to pass; all our own personal goals and dreams might slip through our fingers. Others might be wicked, they may fail us, or there may be horrible things that happen to us or those we love. But God’s purpose can never be thwarted. He will be glorified through us because we are promised that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:29)


What is My Calling?

When the World Trade Center towers were first built, 24 year old Frenchman, Philippe Petit, with the help of friends, stretched a 450 pound tight rope wire between their top stories and spent more than an hour walking, dancing, and bouncing back and forth nearly one quarter mile above the heads of stunned Manhattan spectators.  As he finished, he was apprehended by policemen who asked him “Why did you do this?”  His response took my breath away: “Why? You ask me why?  There is no why!  It is because when I see a beautiful place to put my wire, I cannot resist!”

How many people actually have such a sense of their calling in life that they would risk everything to do it, that their response to the “why” of their life is “because I cannot resist?” What inspires you to the point that you “cannot resist?”

Every single believer is given specific callings from the Lord and they are to be used to fulfill the purpose of bringing glory to God.  Ask yourself the following questions: What are your specific gifts and talents?  What are your spiritual gifts?  What are the needs you see around you in your family, in the church, and in the culture?  What life experiences has God given to you to prepare you for this moment? What distractions threaten to prevent you from fulfilling your calling? As you consider these, recognize which things you cannot NOT do, things you cannot resist!  You will know your calling!

Thankfully, we have the assurance that we are not left alone to fulfill our callings! Scripture promises us that every single believer has both the everlasting covenant through the blood of Christ that “makes you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:20-21) and the Word of God to “equip us for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) so we are able to fulfill our unique callings!


 What is My Role?

When I was in high school, I was cast in the role of Mrs. Mooney, Charly’s landlady, in the play Flowers for Algernon. I spent hours rehearsing my Irish accent and found a great costume in the back of my grandma’s closet.  It was a fun role, but when the last scene came to a close and the stage floor was swept, I was, once again, an ordinary student.

The etymology of the word “role” is interesting.  It originated as a form of the French word “rolle,” referring to a roll of parchment paper that served as an actor’s script.  It was introduced into the English language in the early 1600’s as “role,” where the word continued to be associated with the stage. Very simply put, for a Christian, a role is a part that you have been given to play for some particular time in order to fulfill your unique calling so you can bring glory to God!

Women, because we experience so many seasons in our personal lives, have the joy of filling many roles. We may be daughters, sisters, roommates, wives, mothers, homeschooling moms, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers, but none of these define us. Some roles, like being a sister, might last most of a life time but the role of mother-of-the-groom, for example, lasts for a day! We must always keep in mind that our roles will change, that they have been given to us to minister to others, and that God uses our roles to make us who He wants us to be!

Interestingly, if we consider the same twenty year time span of Barna’s research, we also see an increase in the teachings that blur the distinctions between purpose, calling and role.  One popular book marketed to homeschooling moms has perpetuated this error, making the case that the only God-ordained role for all women is to be wives and homemakers, telling us “Why is God’s role for women so important? Because when we reject it, we blaspheme His word.” An ever-increasing number of books and articles are now being written for homeschooling daughters, admonishing them that the only true role for women is found when they center their lives on the callings given to their fathers and brothers while they are single and then their husbands when they marry.

Is it any wonder that so many women, particularly those who are barren, past their child bearing years, or called to singleness are confused and discouraged?  They are being told that if they don’t function within a particular paradigm they are “non-normative” and even “outside the revealed will of God.”  This burden is doubly hard for a homeschooling mom who arrives on the other side of her teaching years, gifted, talented, and having grown in experience, knowledge and wisdom, ready for another season of life where a different role may await her.

Let us be faithful to our many possible roles that provide opportunities to be used of the Lord. Let us delight in our unique callings, which inspire us for Christian service. And let us examine our own lives in light of our true purpose, which is to glorify God.

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  1. says

    I loathe the term “non-normative.” Within these groups, it isn’t just applied to adult roles, either. My wife spent a good bit of her teen years in a certain leader’s group. (One of the nutty “betrothal” advocates.) It was definitely “non-normative” to have interests outside of goat milking and homemaking. Indeed, to have an interest in literature and independent thinking was dangerous in a woman, and she was singled out as posing a danger to the young men of the group.

    Somehow, our “non-normative” life turned out pretty well. College didn’t ruin her. Her part time job doesn’t result in neglect of the children. Instead, I am a bit “non-normative” myself by helping with child care, housework, and homeschooling. Both of us are happier than we would have been in strict roles.

  2. Amanda says

    Another inspiring article. I loved this quote: How many people actually have such a sense of their calling in life that they would risk everything to do it, that their response to the “why” of their life is “because I cannot resist?” What inspires you to the point that you “cannot resist?”

    I came out of this patriarchy movement over 12 years ago, and I still struggle with some of these stereotypes. Your articles have been such a help to me!

  3. kh says

    Thankyou so much for writing this! It really saddens me to know that there are those teaching these things to their daughters.They should be staying at home to prepare for marraige by serving their father and brothers.What??

    I cannot imagine my daughter in her late 20’s doing this.I have had discussions with other moms on homeschooling blogs and it boggles my mind! These things..serving her father..are NOT her job.They are mine. She knows how to serve her family and has done that for years but it is not her purpose in life.

    Yes..our purpose is to glorify God! For a season..my time at home homeschooling my children is very important.As I only have two left to finish teaching..I have many ideas of what the Lord may want me to do.We cannot just isolate ourselves to our family.

    There is a lost hurting world out there.We need to tell them about Jesus!

    I am just so sick of those who think everything should just be a certain way! My kids are able to reach out to people in ways I never had the opportunity to! God has made them all so unique and who would I be to ever try to stop that.

    I’m just tired of the self righteous attitude of homeschoolers(God forgave me because I was like that at one point).There are just certain blogs that I just can’t read anymore!
    Obviously,yours is not one of them..lol.Keep writing..it is an encouragement and a Blessing!

  4. says

    Fiddlrts, I much prefer the “non-normative” among us!!!

    Being a danger to the young men because she was independent minded? That was something I highly recommend/recommended! I remember meeting a young attorney who was running to public office years ago. He had 5 or 6 little ones and his wife was also a partner in his law firm, taking some time off to raise the children. I had heard both of them talk and knew what a great meeting of minds they would experience over the breakfast table and pointed out their situation to my boys. What bothers me so much about this ideal that has been established is that smart, independent thinkers often have to reign themselves in and dummy themselves down to be “godly.”

  5. says

    Amanda, believe me, it takes a long time to get past spiritual abuse, which is really what all this nonsense is. Every time I read the admonition to the Pharisees that Jesus gave, I am reminded of these sorts of things. Hang in there…it does get easier,though I think there will always be those things that linger….like any other kind of post traumatic stress!

  6. says

    kh, I haven’t taken the time to finish my review of the Botkins sister’ books and also plan to review both the original and revised versions of McDonald’s Raising Maidens of Virtue one of these days. These books are nothing more than an attempt to peddle paradigms……

    I am tired of it all as well and have great hope as I read comments from moms like you who truly get it about what has happened to homeschooling!

  7. says

    The wonderful thing about “non-normative” is you can subtly put people into guilt without ever admitting that you are making things up. I realized this was infesting my mind when I realized I felt like I could only work if I felt bad about it. It’s not technically a sin, but it can only be done if it’s absolutely necessary and you don’t like it.

    Also, it is absurd for anyone to say that women are to have the totality of their life summed up in being a wife, mother, daughter, etc. and yet men also are husbands, fathers, sons AND get to have jobs, purposes, callings, too–and then claim such a view is not limiting and demeaning to women. It just is. So be honest about it.

  8. Pressing On says

    Yes, keep preaching it, because the lies are still out there. That’s what they are, aren’t they? I’ve come to the point that I want to call a spade a spade on these things.

    I always find myself with a dark pit in my belly when I hear someone spouting these things. “I want my daughter to grow up to embrace true womanhood as a mother and wife.” Mmmm. Where does it say that in the Bible? Certainly these are high callings, but they are just callings among many roles that woman are given the kingdom.

    I tell my children that I want them to love and serve the living God every day of their lives. What a joy that HIGH CALLING is!

  9. says

    My take is simple. If women were meant to all do exactly the same thing why are we then not exactly the same when it comes to state of mind and talents? If god gives different women different talents god also gives different women different callings. There is nothing wrong with being a stay at home mom or dad and there is nothing wrong in working outside of the home for either parent as I see it. We all just need to find the right balance and that is the real struggle. I have a baby daughter of 4½ months, I will stay home with her for a while and then her father and later she will go to kindergarten. I am glad to be able to give her time with both her parents and also be able to give both parents a chance to develop themselves in other ways as well as being a parent.

  10. Rachel Rogers says

    This article was revolutionary in my life. It expressed some things I had not yet been able to conceptualize and put into words. I do have a question. In this article, I understood you to imply that motherhood is one of many roles. I assumed that you also meant that it was not a calling, however when I listened to the July 22, 2010 podcast, (1st of 3 interviews with the author of Quivering Daughters), you said very clearly that you are called to be a mother. Could you go into more detail as to the distinctions between role and calling? That would be very helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  11. says

    Hi Rachel!

    I think it is hard to sort through the differences between these words and concepts, especially when people try to force you into roles or callings that are not meant specifically for you or re not meant for you at a particular time in your life. To me, being a mom in general is a calling for those of us who have been blessed with children. But it is also a role that changes with the seasons of life. I have been the mother of toddlers but that role has changed to mother of adults etc. Those roles change but because I have been gifted with motherhood, it is also a calling. But callings vary among people as do roles. Does that make sense? Tell me if I am making it more confusing!!!

  12. Rachel Rogers says

    Thank you for your reply. As I have pondered this, I think some of the confusion has to do with lots of conflicting teaching using these terms. Perhaps the terms gifts and relationships might add clarity. I agree with you that our purpose is to glorify God. I would add that God gives us gifts to use to that purpose and relationships in which to use those gifts for that purpose. These gifts add individuality and uniqueness in the approach to roles or relationships. When they are traded for cookie cutter solutions or “roles”, the church, the family, and others around us lose the special gifts God intended. I am thinking of I Cor. 12:18. You made an interesting point that motherhood is a long term relationship including many roles. Maybe that is part of the confusion. We confuse the length of the relationship with the varying nature of the relationship. Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss this.

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