By Allie Alayan
Review of Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity by Kate Harris, formerly executive director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. (Zondervan, 2013, 91 pages)
In this book, Harris focuses on the complicated life of the modern American woman. She provides a counter-thought to the idea that women need to have a work-life balance, and that women need to “have it all”. While most women want to be able to have it all, they are experiencing dissatisfaction with not being able to have it all. Harris takes note of top priorities of women (both mothers and women without kids), and reports that both list family as their top priority, while low priority is placed on friendships. Some women are feeling a tension, as they desire to be fully at home, but are also feeling drawn to their responsibilities away from the home. Harris believes that the church has a unique possibility to reach women in this feeling of tension, and that the church needs to be able to understand women in this way.
Harris recommends that women view their vocation as a lifelong response to God’s voice, and work as an invitation into deeper knowledge of God and the woman herself. Harris also emphasizes the truth that women are created in the image of God, and should view their identity and vocation in this light. Harris encourages women to embrace constraints (boundaries, limitations) as a source of freedom. Harris also encourages women to find community through friendships, and to be able to make choices through the relational support of others. Harris believes that instead of looking for balance, women should focus on coherence.
Harris provides a new perspective for women who may be feeling lost in trying to find their purpose, while feeling tension from various aspects of life. Harris offers a counter opinion from the one of modern culture (“have it all”). Harris includes many personal stories in this short book. She includes testimonies from her own life, as well as the reflections of those she has been in community with. This book reads from a general introduction of the Biblical view of women and work, rather than being a heavily academic or theological text. There is room for deeper theological implications and more Biblical foundation.
This book is very reader-friendly, as it is short in length, easy to read, and provides many graphics throughout the book to help the reader to more effectively understand and apply the statistics (as well as an introduction section with graphics for statistics). This book would provide a quick and easy book for a women’s small group at a church or in a collegiate setting. In the book, there is a section with questions to think about before you read (What does the word vocation mean to you? How has the church helped you make sense of your personal calling? Etc.), as well as a section with questions for after you read (Why is it so crucial to pursue a sense of vocation within community? Etc. ). These two sections would provide good discussion questions for a group reading this book together. This book would help women who may feel overwhelmed with the tensions of life. I believe that as a single woman, this book would also provide insight into the tensions that are felt before adding children into life. I also believe that this book would be beneficial to men to read in order to gain more insight into the tension women may be experiencing.
“In reality no woman has 100% of herself to give to each arena of her life every day without becoming woefully overcommitted. Yet it doesn’t stop many from trying- and that’s where burnout often overshadows any hope for meaningful living (p.26).”
“Discontent also creeps in when moms begin to compare their lives with other women (p.26).”
“This lack of language is not a crisis in itself. But it is illustrative of a much larger tension that exists in the lives of many modern women. We don’t merely need better ways to express and articulate all we do in a given day. We need sufficient frameworks to make coherent sense of our lives, longings, and experiences as women.” (pg.31)
“My passions feel at odds with each other, threatening to tear my sanity and/or my soul to bits.” (p.31)
“This vague and widespread sense of unrest, confusion, and complexity among women is evident in the inconsistency with which women report their satisfaction with life….In short, while women claim they are generally pretty happy with their lives, they simultaneously convey significant dissatisfaction with life’s basic rhythms and components.” (p. 32-34)
“When we understand its (vocation) deeper significance, we find a meaningful and consistent framework to help us think abour our multiple life commitments.” (p. 37)
“An occupation is, quite literally, that which occupies our time. So it’s parenting, writing, project managing- whatever it is we invest our time in. But a vocation is much more broad- it comprises all our various occupations over a life. It also accounts for our personality, our relationships, our choices, our formation- the whole of our unique personhood. Our occupations are always in flux, changing in season, and they often include the little “v” vocations or little “c” callings we sometimes use to describe our more significant roles: wife, doctor, New Yorker, mother, worship leader. In contrast, our capital “V” Vocation is a work in profess- we are ever and always living into it over the course of a lifetime. It is a winding journey to follow God’s voice wherever it may lead.” (p. 37-38)
“Vocation offers the possibility that my life and my faith can be richly and imaginatively stewarded as a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.” (p.38)
“It reminds me the tenuous push and pull of my daily realities matters because this is the only day, so far as I know, I have been given by God to live. I am not guaranteed a far-off future life where all things tidily converge into bliss. Instead, God cares that I steward the life that is in front of me right now…To believe the details of our days really do connect to some bigger purpose God has for our lives.” (p.40)
“Instead of having to prove our worth through endless striving, we can rest confidently, knowing our work and worth are inherently dignified from creation because we bear God’s image.” (p. 45)
“A full 44% of women admit they’re not sure if God is pleased with their priorities and choices- an anxiety that is reflected by the eight in ten women who admit they don’t have a very clear sense of what God wants them to do with their life. And while this number drops to 32% among practicing Christians, it still demonstrates the majority of people- even Christians- do not primarily think about their work and identity as mirroring God’s work and identity in the world.” (p. 47)
“To the extent we bear God’s image and look to Christ as the model for our own life, we must be willing to believe- as God healed the world through Jesus’ wounds- it is also through our own wounds he can heal the world.” (p.58)
“Only by hemming ourselves in to practical realities and common life and relationships will we rightly be able to take up our full work.” (p.66)
“Balance has a way of homogenizing the diverse and distinct nature of human work, too often allowing the conversation about tension and complexity to devolve into a conversation about plans and logistics, strategies for more efficient levity. Coherence allows me to hold together things that, in fact, do not abide together naturally…And coherence even allows, so long as my work and identity are rooted in Christ, that my efforts may be radically unbalanced and off-kilter at various points along the way. Under coherence I do not have to cordon off “life” as being somehow separate from “work” or vise versa when the “life” part starts to feel a lot like the “work” part. Instead, it allows each aspect of my responsibility and effort, role and desire to flourish according to its distinct and diverse nature.” (p.72)