Thursday, July 12, 2012

The “Awe-ful” Weight of Responsibility

I have a new recurring nightmare. I’m supposed to teach some large gathering and I’ve neglected to prepare. . . anything.  No talks, no snacks, no colleagues who can pinch-hit for me.  So I wing it—through sheer force of personality, I offer scintillating thoughts—and know I’m completely failing.  Maybe I’m finally growing up–until a couple weeks ago, my recurring nightmare was always academic—that I forgot to attend either a history or math class until the week before finals.
Both recurring nightmares share the same theme–irresponsibility.  I’ve failed to prepare and I’m going to pay the consequence—as will those forced to listen to me.
I was the irresponsible child in the family.  I started things and didn’t finish them; I repeatedly lost (and thankfully re-found) my gym sneakers; I hated and resisted chores.  Even worse, as the oldest child, I didn’t sacrifice for my younger siblings as a properly filial older child should—the epitome of Chinese irresponsibility.
Imagine my surprise when my youth pastor told me I was the most responsible kid he knew, and then years later taking Strengthsfinderand responsibility being one of my five highest strengths.
Clearly I’m overcompensating.
I feel a lot of ambivalence around responsibility–it’s so weighty and can seem antithetical to Jesus’s gospel of grace.  Yet I’ve been wondering lately whether women aren’t taking up our God-given responsibilities–especially for our own calls, gifts and abilities.

On one hand, women are the most responsible folks around—we take care of everyone!  We take care of our parents, our neighbors, our friends, our churches, our volunteer organizations and our colleagues.
And our kids?  Forget it.  Our overweening obsession with whether these music lessons, or that soccer team, or this academic opportunity will help my children flourish and become all they’re meant to be is proof of just how much responsibility we assume for those we love.
Yet all that caregiving can mean we don’t take responsibility for our own unique contribution to the world—outside of care-giving.  We need care-givers, but we also need women to do much more.
Sometimes I wonder whether women who cling to more hierarchical views of leadership and marriage do so because they don’t have to feel responsible for their own potential.  It’s their husband’s job.  If God says we can’t lead or teach or work, we don’t have to feel responsible for burying our talents.
My ministry’s dealing with the same dilemmas around women rising to senior levels that Anne Marie Slaughter raises in Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  Despite our value that women should be at every level of the organization and virtually equal numbers of men and women, the proportion of women decreases the higher you go.  Many of the reasons Slaughter writes about apply:  increased work hours/travel, husbands whose jobs aren’t flexible, not wanting to sacrifice that much time with children, organizational obstacles and culture.
But too often women also don’t take responsibility for our own careers, our own gifts, our own potential.  We have 5 year plans (or at least dreams) for our kids but not ourselves.
And I’m guilty here—I don’t have a 5 year plan other than knowing I’ll be one year from empty nest.
It’s both awesome and awe-ful that the God of the universe gives us talents and expects us to aid in the work of redeeming this planet.  If butterfly wings can start hurricanes, our small little contributions can change the world.
So women, let’s take responsibility for how God asks us to flap our little wings!
Now please excuse me as I go write a talk and responsibly attempt to not live out my nightmare. . .
This was the third of a series of reflections I’m writing based on Ann Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  Read The Problem with Having It All and Why We Need Women (And Others) in Leadership.
You might also enjoy some of my other thoughts on gender and/or work:
This was first posted on What She Said

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